What happens when we treat customers as friends – or foes

Patrick D’souza discusses the animal kingdom, and how whether we think of people – including customers – as friend or foe, affects our interactions with them.

In addition to my day job in marketing, I’m studying behavioural science at the Australian College of Psychology, part-time. The lecturers there have opened my mind. The current subject is ‘Research: the Evidence-based approach.’

Besides teaching the scientific method of analysis, it also has a ‘small’ portion of stats – so we’re reliably told. People get a little freaked out with mathematics and stats. It’s not my field, though I have done quite well in it in the past. What I found interesting in lecture one conducted by my professor, Ben Morrison, was the way he presented stats – as ‘our friend.’

The way we present a ‘subject’ or ‘object’ determines how people will perceive it and react to it. In the case of stats, presenting the subject as a friend, supporting the argument with high past success rates, tutorials and tools available to students to ensure they learn it comprehensively enough to clear the subject, make a difference to one’s ability to actually do so.

Related: D’souza on mirror neurons, and how they can be used to influence consumer behaviour »

It’s evolutionary psychology at its basic level. There is a lot of evidence to suggest that we come from the animal kingdom. In a way, it’s kind of alarming to observe behaviour because so much of it is ‘animal-based.’

In ‘friend or foe’ analysis, for example, we realise that for ‘communications’ among people or customers to be successful, we must first see them as friends. The sub-conscious mind will and do the rest of the work – ensuring our communications to an individual or group are successful and having a desired effect.

If we see a person or customer as ‘foe’ however, the reverse will occur. Our subconscious mind will ‘freeze’ our brain – the brain is a muscle, if it is not moving, it is not working. If this occurs, we will neither register what the other is saying, nor will we be able to respond appropriately, and thereby, effectively.

An interesting process occurs when we see a person or customer as a foe

A danger signal is alerted in our brains that hits our amygdala region – the region responsible for processing fear and danger among other things. Based on our perception of the threat, our fear response is activated before our brain has assessed the threat in a logical and methodical manner.

The result is, we ‘react;’ most often, inaccurately. (see the James-Lange and Schachter-Singer theories on this if you’re keen to know more http://webspace.ship.edu/tosato/emotion.htm)

We take a potential friend for a foe, and by treating them that way, ensure they become one. Friend or foe instincts, when managed, can help us move from ‘reactionary’ to ‘reflectionary’ and improve customer relations, interpersonal ones too.

By slowing reactionary speed, we improve cognitive skills and relationship skills in the process too. It’s a skill that is essential to marketing if building relationships with customers and other stakeholders in the business are considered key to it.

It is also a skill that is worthwhile acquiring in personal life. As it greatly aids and abets the creation of relationships within it that define success too!


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Patrick D'souza
BY Patrick D'souza ON 17 June 2016
Patrick D’souza is a part-time student of Applied Psychology at the Australian College of Psychology (ACAP), Sydney, Australia. He holds an MBA (High-distinction) from the AGSM (Australian Graduate School of management), UNSW as well as Bachelor in Accounting. He works in marketing for one of Australia’s top private equity, debt and capital management firms. You can connect with him on Twitter @patrickbdsouza1