Jul 20, 2011 by Betty Adamou
Have you ever been in a bad mood? Yes, I hear you cry. Some of you may be in a thunderous mood right at this minute, in which case the way you read and receive this very blog post can be different to someone else. Others may be in a great mood. Maybe you had sex this morning and you’re a very happy bunny indeed. So much so, that you’re going to be nicer to your colleagues and clients and treat yourself to a Latte. Starbucks will do better because you got some.

You’d be pretty surprised at how the smallest nuances of our moods and experiences can alter the outcomes of our actions. I’ve recently read a book called ‘Elephants on Acid’ by Alex Boese which discusses bizarre experiments from the history of science. Some of the research he talks about is very grim albeit useful and it made me think about two things – 1) The strong link between psychology and research. 2) Why we don’t really involve ‘psychological methods’ in our own research.

As an example which is also detailed in his book, in 1984 two researchers collected data on 114 diners in a restaurant. The waitresses were asked to do three ‘touch manipulations’.

1)    To not touch the diners at all

2)    To place her hand on the diners palm while delivering their change after paying

3)    To place a hand on the diners shoulder.

The ‘no touch’ condition generated the smallest of tips. Poor waitresses. Touching the shoulder earned the waitresses 18% more in tips and touching the palm won, earning them a whopping 37% increase in tips. If you are unconvinced by this, Alex goes into more detail and also discusses follow up studies which involve proving that the following to-do’s increases tips as well: waitresses who are better looking, drawing a smiley face on the bill, introducing themselves, smiling, kneeling down to take orders/repeat orders and even touching female diners when the table is a couple.

At this point you may be wondering whether the last focus groups you did involved any touching, smiling or attractive moderators? Maybe they did and maybe that affected your respondent’s answers. Perhaps they became more favourable towards the moderator and the product/brand/service being discussed.  Perhaps even, on the way to the viewing facility, they got chatted up by a hot tamale and it made them more inclined to rate everything more positively. Maybe your client was McDonalds but your respondent’s skipped breakfast/was starving, so were more favourable towards the Sausage and Egg McMuffin choice. You get my drift…

It isn’t just physical nuances that make a difference though. Audio ones do too. Those of you who are UK based will have undoubtedly noticed a period where every time you called your bank/phone network,/insurance company etc they were putting you through to a call centre in the East, whether it was in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh or other neighbouring countries where, it is viewed, that running call centres there are less expensive. You may have also noticed that now when you phone those very call centres you’re greeted by a Northern Accent. Suddenly, every voice is Scottish, Irish, Manchurian (from Manchester) or Liverpudlian (from Liverpool). Apparently thick cockney London accents don’t fare too well with customers.

I put this theory to the test myself. While I was at university I worked in a call-centre next to my apartment for a diabolical company – let’s call them Direct Kitchens. In the beginning, with all my enthusiasm and chirpiness I got quite a few appointments despite my melodious cockney tones.

I guess this was beginners luck, but I’m sure the happiness in my voice probably did help my conversion rate. After working in that office day after day, sometimes until 10pm at night, you can imagine that my gusto somewhat waned. I wasn’t getting any appointments, which wound me up even more, and I was in a spiral of call-centre related doom. So, I did what any desperate 18 year would do for a £20 bonus. Yes my friends, I put on a Scottish accent…

Don’t judge me – it worked! Suddenly not only was I getting more appointments but customers were generally nicer to me. They didn’t tell me ‘where to go’ or hang up as much. Great! I soon stopped the Scottish accent thing though when one customer was accidentally called twice and said “I already booked an appointment with a Scottish lady”. You can imagine my colleague was perplexed. We didn’t have any Scots in our office.

During my time at Direct Kitchens, we also discovered that smiling when you spoke helped your conversion rate, standing up at your desk and wearing smart clothes, even though the customers couldn’t see us.

Even though my script, my working hours and where I sat didn’t change, the accent was undoubtedly the cause of such positive results. It’s very true what people say “It’s not what you said, it’s the WAY you said it” – a bit like singing a Nursery Rhyme at a slower pace and with a bass line or playing a chirpy song in a lower chord on the piano.

Audio is a strong influencer. Music is a strong influencer. People who have suffered bouts of depression or a break-up often talk about ‘songs that got them through it all.” On a Friday night my friends will put make-up on and high heels listening to Rihanna because it puts them in the ‘party mood.’

The TFL (Transport for London) Tchaikovsky Treatment
Such changes in behaviour and attitude due to music are currently being tested in London’s very own underground system and in Hong Kong’s MTR. I noticed that in Central, Wan Chai and Causeway Bay stations in Hong Kong they play chirpy classical music during the rush hour (5pm-7pm).  For years now I’ve also noticed that in London’s Seven Sisters, Finsbury Park, Wood Green, Brixton and Hackney Downs stations they also play classical music (this is purely because these stations have seen the highest crime rates and antisocial behaviour. TFL don’t play classical music in London’s plush Knightsbridge or Westminster stations unsurprisingly) but TFL have got it a bit wrong from time to time. In an online paper one irate person says they were playing the Funeral March at the 8:30am rush hour. I and several hundred other travellers recently found our ears filled with the strains of Mahler – to be precise, the slow movement of his Symphony No 1, a spoof funeral march based on “Frère Jacques”. Whoever chose to pipe this through the station loudspeakers at 8.30 on a Monday morning must have a slightly twisted sense of humour.

Wikipedia says: “In January 2005, London Underground announced that it would play classical music at stations prone to loitering by youths. A trial had shown a 33% drop in abuse against staff. This had been first tried, with success, on the Tyne and Wear Metro.”

Richard Parry, TFL’s director of strategy and service development said “Our research says that 80 per cent plus say it makes them feel more relaxed, and 85 per cent plus that the music improves the general environment of the station.” The research Parry refers to was conducted by TFL in 2006, when commuters were questioned at five stations across the network. Let’s hope they weren’t being touched by grinning and gorgeous moderators.

At the TDMR conference in Chicago this year, The Rockstar Scientist as we called him then, or Dr A.K Pradeep (@akpradeep) CEO of Neurofocus, told us that visual changes can alter our shopping experience. We like to do things in threes, we like curves more and ‘respond better to primary colours’. He and Mark Thomson, Media Director at The Royal Mail have done as much as to imbue these findings in their business cards. Both men handed me business cards with curved corners and primary colours (one is blue, one is red). Mark, however, took it to the next level. At the BIG conference this year he told us that the reason his business cards are backed with shaved red velvet and smell like strawberries (honestly, they do. I’m smelling his card now) is because in a study, the smell of strawberries was rated the nicest smell of all and business cards with texture tended to be kept for longer.

These changes to behaviour, responses, attitude, crime and even how likely you are to lose a business card or not, all have psychological/science related research in the background. This, someone wise once told me, is the difference between paradata (data about the process by which survey data is collected, which includes times of the day interviews are conducted, length of interview and mode of communication) and metadata (data providing information about aspects of the data such as purpose of the data, standards used, creator or author of data)

It makes you think doesn’t it? How careful you have to be when speaking to your respondents, be it face-to-face, over the phone or even the ‘tone’ you use in an online survey. If we use long ‘posh’ words in screeners are we confusing or alienating our respondents? If the CATI call-centre teenager is Scottish or Pakistani, how will this fare with the results? Who the hell has the time or money to measure these nuances? Not many companies. Maybe one day we’ll have a research charity to give hand-outs to the most deserving to create paradata based studies. I hope they call me to test out the good looking moderators.

Betty Adamou is CEO and Founder – Research Through Gaming Ltd