There is a good deal of research on the relationship between emotion and long term memory. I have blogged about this before. It came to mind today because I was volunteering at a food bank, which is my favorite thing to do. I would rather do this than take a vacation to an exotic island.
The research shows that looking back on past events (i.e. long term memory), what matters is the peak emotional feeling and the final emotional feeling of the event. So no matter if your vacation was a day, a week, or a month, if you had one really incredibly exciting activity and the last activity was enjoyable, you will have good long term memory of the vacation, even if the rest sucked. And the opposite is also true. If you had one really terrible disappointing activity and argued with the reception desk on checkout, you will have a very negative emotional connection to the memory, even if the rest of it was great.
Why did this come to mind while volunteering today? The last thing I did was grab a cup of coffee to go. They have one of those single serving machines. One of the other volunteers was working on that counter and she said in a really snitty voice “please throw your trash away this time.” I am usually good about throwing away trash and other basic consideration things and I didn’t remember leaving trash anywhere, but I will take her word for it that I had. Of course, there isn’t much trash in these things. All I could have left was the used coffee pack. Not exactly a mess. I am guessing there was something else behind her comment.
But it bothered me because I really value being considerate and polite. One of my favorite memories was being complimented on the way out of an airplane by the flight attendant who told me I was the most polite passenger she had ever served. And this was ten years ago. And since this was the last thing I did before I left, it ruined the day. On the way home, I was thinking about how happy the rest of the morning made me and wondered how such a little thing could have brought me down so far, so fast. Then I remembered the research and it dawned on me. I should have gone back in and loaded a few more delivery packages before leaving so that wouldn’t have been the last thing.
As usual with my posts, you have to get to the end to find out how to apply this. In both team management and in customer service management there are some insights you should draw from this. Imagine you are running a retail establishment. What is the last thing that the customer experiences on the way out? If it’s the cashier, then you want to hire/train/motivate cashiers to be very friendly, not just good at math. If you are managing a hotel, you want the checkout process to be exceptionally smooth.
For the team manager, you can focus on the peak activity. No matter how challenging and stressful a job is, if there is one really fun exciting event, let’s say once every month or so, then your employee satisfaction, productivity, and retention will go up. Think about something you can do, just every once in a while, that will bring a big smile to each employee’s face. Perhaps for one it could be simple recognition – a pat on the back and a “you really did a great job today.” For others, it might be being surprised with a pizza at the end of a long shift.