Temple Grandin, in her new book Animals Make Us Human: Creating the Best Life for Animals talks about the “core emotion systems in the brain” and that humans and animals have the same core systems. Her discussion of the SEEKING core emotion system got me thinking about customer experience design.
The SEEKING system (always written in caps) is “the basic impulse to search, investigate, and make sense of the environment” (Grandin quoting Dr Jaak Panksepp, a famous researcher in this area).
- ” SEEKING is a combination of emotions that people don’t usually believe go together…wanting something really good, looking forward to getting something really good, and curiosity….”
Grandin points out that SEEKING is a very enjoyable and necessary emotion in animals. Animals whose brains are wired up will push buttons to stimulate their SEEKING brain area. Animals who can’t express SEEKING behavior (for example, captive animals in badly designed environments) get depressed and mentally damaged.
So what does SEEKING mean for businesses and customer experience design?
First let’s look more closely at SEEKING — there are nuances that are important to understand.
The key elements of SEEKING are:
Satisfying curiosity. This is the investigation of new things. People and animals are programmed to be pay extra attention to new things and investigate them. This investigation is emotionally stimulating because there’s the risk that the new thing could be Bad, or the potential that it could be Good. So part of the stimulation and enjoyment of this part of SEEKING, is the sense of danger and risk, but also the feeling of potential good new rewards.
Learning and performing actions that lead to rewards. Grandin talks about how animals actually enjoy training — learning tricks and special behaviors — when the training method is properly aligned to SEEKING. People and animals both very much enjoy interacting effectively with their environment to get good things for themselves.
So there’s two sides to learning and performing:
- being faced with new challenges and new learning opportunities,
- continuing to demonstrate previously learned behaviors and getting the rewards for that.
Grandin talks about the key to training an animal for a new behavior is to give a reward for the smallest initial action in the right direction of the behavior — once the animal starts beginning to do the right movement, you reward, and keep rewarding as they keep going. So the learning animal gets a positive “blip” the instant they start doing the new behavior, and then more, and then more — that’s how the animal knows that they’re on the right track.
After the animal has successfully learned the behavior, the trainer can back off and only give the reward at the end, and the animal will happily do the whole behavior, in anticipation of the eventual reward. In fact, the trainer doesn’t always have to give a reward every single time, after the behavior is learned. The animal may be disappointed that one time but will continue to do the behavior, as long as they get a reward most of the time.
Getting rewards. Rewards are the final prize that motivates the SEEKING system — but it’s not just about getting the reward. Doing the action, making the effort, is essential.
Studies of two animals — a learning animal and an observer animal, both of whom got treats when the learner performed successfully — show that the learner animal is excited and engaged, but the observer animal is more blase. Our genetics have evolved to make sure that we enjoy the action of SEEKING — not just the final reward.
We know this — people talk about how “it’s the journey, not the destination” and the “effort is what makes the prize worthwhile.”
It’s important that rewards be available but not too available. Frustration is part of SEEKING. When an animal wants something but can’t have it right away, they get frustrated — just like a person. Frustration is part of the “wanting-anticipating” energy in SEEKING that drives action and learning.
The secret is to have enough frustration to stimulate the action, learning and problem-solving — but not too much frustration, or the animal/person will get overwhelmed and shut down. Good animal trainers become experts at noticing when a particular animal is getting overwhelmed, and they immediately change to a previously learned behavior so the animal can feel engaged and successful again.
If you buy into this SEEKING idea — there’s lots of implications for business. I’ll be speculating about some of these in future blog posts.
Bottom line: SEEKING is often a neglected part of many companies’ thinking about customer experience. We talk about “customer satisfaction” and “delighting the customer” and “retaining the customer” and “brand loyalty.” We tend to think of these as being about the customer having “the really good thing” — i.e. the customer buying, owning, using and promoting our product.
But the customer’s SEEKING system isn’t just about “having” the reward (the product). Customers SEEKING are investigating new things, learning and demonstrating skills, and getting some rewards from all that, along the way. It’s not about the one big reward at the end. It’s about a whole set of behaviors along the way, and a bunch of little rewards and promises and stimuli along the way. Some businesses are very good at this, and design this into their product and customer experience. Again I’ll be looking at some of these companies in later posts, in terms of what they can teach the rest of us.