We had an interesting discussion recently about the new neuroscience discoveries of the brain and how they impact the difference between expected, desired and delighted quality service. Many organizations have elaborate summaries of what quality service is and is not, how to deliver it and the expectations of employee behavior in various service situations. We call them service platforms or service standards and they cover everything from how to answer the phone before the third ring to how to address a customer who desires to escalate a problem to senior management. These all would constitute a quality service body of knowledge (QSBOK) that includes expectations about leadership, strategy deployment, service management systems, process management, measurement and analysis, information management and environment and infrastructure.
Why are we motivated to complete goals?
From a neuroscience perspective, all of these QSBOK systems would make sense, in terms of defining and building quality service expectations, if we perpetually operated out of our prefrontal cortex (thinking, logical brain). In fact, neuroscience suggests that when we define specific goals – rather than generalized expectations – our brain selectively notices incoming information that either contributes or influences the goal. And while we gain satisfaction from completion of goals, we are actually more motivated by what still needs to get done. Based on this information, goal-setting relative to quality service becomes a fundamental to quality performance.
The Approach vs. Avoid Response
Our motivation to achieve quality service based on the Quality Service Body of Knowledge triggers either an approach or avoid response. If we trigger an approach response stemming from our excitement and hope about tackling a difficult quality service task, we release the neuro-chemical dopamine into the brain. When we experience an avoid response perhaps because quality service is one more thing we have to do, we release the neuro-chemical serotonin that triggers the fight/flight response. When a goal feels right and there is motivation to move toward it, we will see the behaviors associated with the Quality Service Body of Knowledge. However, when we see risk and an inability to achieve the quality service goal, the released serotonin chemical will elicit negative emotions of fear and anxiety, resulting in avoidance of the Quality Service Body of Knowledge.
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyhi, in his book, Flow: the Psychology of Optimal Performance, describes eight characteristics that generate performance flow:
- Working on a challenging activity that requires skill
- Being able to concentrate on it
- The activity has clear goals
- It provides immediate feedback
- It generates deep, but effortless involvement
- There is a sense of control
- Concern for the self disappears
- The duration of time is altered
The Aha! Experience
In addition neuroscience has shown that a “calm” brain is better at creating conditions for the aha! experience quality service experience, than one in which activity, speed and short-term outcomes are prevalent. When it comes to our brain performing at its best – less is more.
A Tried and True Thought Process
When the brain is too busy and stressed or threatened, the prefrontal cortex, with its conscious and controlled thinking processes, is shut down by the stronger forces in the limbic system (the lizard brain or primitive, subconscious brain). The limbic system bases thinking on automatic patterns that have proven to be “tried and true.” On the reverse side, when a reward state exists, the prefrontal cortex stays active and integrates positively with the limbic system and optimal performance is achieved. When a leader inspires, supports and engages around quality service in a positive, constructive manner, optimal quality service performance is released. When the reverse is true – and fear and threat exist in the environment – you can have all the quality service body of knowledge in the world and it won’t deliver quality service.
Limbic System and How It Conserves Energy
One other neuroscience aspect that is also fascinating is the way the brain conserves its energy when a process is known. Let’s imagine that we are learning a new quality service tool or skill. During that time the prefrontal cortex is heavily engaged in the learning process. But as soon as the skill has become routine and known, the brain moves it over to the “subconscious” limbic system for handling. That is why routine customer service often falls flat because we are actually no longer engaging our thinking brain. The subconscious limbic system has taken over and performs the “expected” quality service task in automatic pilot with little or no energy.
Our goal then becomes how do we keep quality service in the prefrontal cortex (the thinking brain) where service delivery and standards are fresh, dynamic and interactive? As soon as we have systematized the quality service processes, we run the risk of a dead brain performing perfunctory tasks. For “desired” and “delighted” service, the prefrontal brain must be actively engaged. That piece of the puzzle is missing in most Quality Service Bodies of Knowledge.
I’m part of the ASQ Influential Voices program. While I receive an honorarium from ASQ for my commitment, the thoughts and opinions expressed on my blog are my own.