A recent Wall Street Journal column by Robert M. Sapolsky entitled, “Brain Reflexes That Monitor the Pecking Order”, shared research on hierarchal dynamics that I found fascinating.
I was also highly amused that the groups studied were Rhesus monkeys and college students.
Scientists have learned that they can quickly identify a group of Rhesus monkeys’ dominance hierarchy by noting which monkeys stop what they’re doing to watch another monkey. When a dominant (Alpha) monkey is within view, a subordinate monkey will stop its own activities to pay close attention to it.
Research has shown that these monkeys’ brain circuits fire off when evaluating whether or not the Alpha monkey’s presence is good or bad news. They decipher whether to be hopeful or anxious in the presence of a higher ranking monkey.
Conversely, the Alpha monkeys tend to pay no attention to the lower ranking monkeys. They simply do not reference them.
Low ranking monkeys tend to ignore their fellow low ranking peers, as well.
But that’s monkeys, right? As you may have guessed, we senior members of the opposable thumbs club exhibit remarkably similar behaviors.
In another study, researchers had college students rank others belonging to various student organizations by popularity levels. When they later performed brain imaging tests, they found that the more popular a person shown, the higher the brain activity of the test subject.
When looking at the “most popular” people, a second circuit of the brain involved with trying to understand someone else’s thoughts and perspectives fires off.
The more popular or powerful another person is perceived to be, the more effort is made to figure out what they are thinking.
And like Alpha monkeys, the most popular college students tended to show little interest in understanding what less popular people were thinking. (And yes, that prior sentence is quite possibly my favorite sentence I’ve written all year.)
I’ve been researching various service providers for the past few weeks for an upcoming project. The companies I’ve attempted to contact range from very small shops to pretty high-tech operators to nationally known companies.
The experiences have highlighted to me how quickly a person or company’s image can become tarnished.
A bit of half-joking advice I’ll be adding to future presentations with small business folks is that someone in every organization needs to be assigned “The Contact Us Czar”.
More often than not, this feature is used by people who are curious and cannot find suitable answers elsewhere on a website. Or (go figure) it’s a person with honest-to-goodness interest in becoming a customer. At a minimum, these folks present great opportunities to initiate interaction.
What I have found in my recent, unintended, not-all-that-scientific research is that many companies are simply awful at follow-up to inquiries.
To bankers’ credit, the few that I tried were far from the worst. I, at least, got automated responses that acknowledged my message.
Follow up was spotty in most cases, but not awful. Of course, the one in which I used their website to set up an appointment was unprepared for me when I actually showed up at the branch.
At least half of the non-bank companies I attempted to reach through their own “Contact Us” function never responded.
Curious, I did a little more prodding to make sure each of these companies (especially the smaller ones) were still in operation. They all were.
In one instance, I let the partner of a professional services group know I never heard back, and he cringed. He said he wasn’t sure how “his folks” had set it up or who was supposed to be monitoring it. I kidded with him that the unintended message being delivered was they were too busy, too unorganized, and/or maybe just not interested.
We’re all out there asking folks as often as possible, in as many ways as possible, to give us consideration. We do it online, via phone, in-branch, and through every marketing channel available to us.
Yet, it’s odd how many of us aren’t quite prepared for what happens when folks then give us the interest we’re asking for.
How impressive are you and your team prepared to be when they do?