There are many studies arguing that human beings are psychologically wired to look for, recognize and react to negative things more than positive things. Research has shown that we are quicker to press a button in response to words such as “cancer”, “bomb” or “war” than we are to words like “baby”, “love” or “friend”. There are more negative emotional words (62%) than positive words (32%) in the English dictionary. Research also demonstrates that someone can pick an angry face out of a crowd quicker than the face of someone laughing or smiling. Negative experiences are also stored into our long-term memory quicker than positive ones.

Pretty depressing, eh? The thing is, as disheartening as this all sounds, this kind of thinking has guaranteed the survival of the human race; it has kept, and still keeps, us alive. This kind of thinking stops us from walking out in front of cars (or running into the mouth of a waiting dinosaur).

It also means that, if you’re asking your customers for feedback, they’re more likely to account for their negative experiences, but this doesn’t mean that they didn’t have any positive ones! The disproportionate way our brain has of filtering data, however, will have a significant impact on whether a customer chooses to spend money with your organization again.

When working with clients, we encourage them to understand and measure their value by using the following equation:

Value = Benefits minus Costs²

Here, all the negative experiences (at the rational, emotional and socio-political levels) is represented by the word ‘costs’, and the positive experiences (at the rational, emotional and socio-political levels) is represented by the word ‘benefits’. Due to the research above, we have squared the negative element, meaning that – in order to hold value – your ‘benefits’ need to outweigh a multiplied ‘cost’.

Imagine you’re out for dinner. The venue is pleasant, the food delicious and service efficient. At the end of the meal, after spending 90 minutes enjoying what the restaurant has to offer, your bill arrives and you’ve been overcharged, meaning you spend the next ten minutes trying to get someone’s attention, explaining the issue, waiting for them to verify the mistake and print a new bill. Now I’d like you to imagine going home and the first person you see asking how your dinner went. Be honest now, how would you respond? Let me share mine:

“It was really nice, but you’ll never guess what almost happened with the bill.”

Have a think about your customers’ journeys and their holistic experiences while spending time with your organization: have you accounted for how many more times a customer will look out for, remember and talk about their negative experiences? Are these outweighed by the positive things they will experience through working with you?

How do you make the positive experiences (or positive responses to when something goes wrong) more memorable and easier to recognize than the potential negative ones?