Why do we focus on the negative? How to gain a better balance in your CX program!

Having a successful CX program is not all about fixing problems. It is also about understanding the strengths of your CX delivery and capitalizing on them. Unfortunately, however, we all tend to focus on the negative, especially when it comes to CX feedback.    

Many years ago, when we first started our CX feedback programs, I heard one objection from prospective clients: “We will be flooded with complaints! How are we going to handle them? We don’t have the staff!” In another instance, we started a CX program for a large OEM, and the program had been running for around nine months when a senior manager called our contact to complain. The senior executive told our contact that he could not believe the numbers. “They were too good. We are not performing that well.“  

The company was, and is, performing well. Yes, they have complaints, but the organization is not overwhelmed. Contrary to what some prospective (now current) clients thought, they were not overwhelmed with complaints. Managers were able to handle the issues and learned some things. 

Why do we tend to focus on the problems first?   

Unfortunately, according to the research firm Decision Lab, we are wired to pay more attention to the ledger’s negative side. If humans receive both positive and negative feedback in similar magnitudes, we respond more strongly to the negative feedback. This trait shows up in infants around the age of one, as they react more strongly to a negative facial expression than a positive one. In more formal terms, this tendency is called the negativity bias.   

This negative “wiring” is likely rooted in heredity. Focusing on the dangers kept our ancestors safe from harm. Being aware of risks saved one from getting eaten by the saber-tooth tiger. 

As we grow from young children to adults, the negative or “fix-it” comments receive more attention. Think about your experiences in school, at work, and at home. Even if you earn praise for your achievements, you likely still focus on the negative. This trait is human nature, as the image suggests.   

Negativity Bias: Good | Why is Life So Unfair? | Bad

What to do about the negativity bias in many CX Programs? Use it to your advantage! 

Recognize that the negativity bias is present in employees and customers alike. You can’t change this fact; you can only manage it. So here are some ideas for better managing the negativity bias and creating a tremendous customer-centric culture.   

  • When customers face a transaction, they often assume the worst—product not available, repair not complete or done incorrectly, etc. Remember, they also suffer from this negativity bias, perhaps bolstered by past experiences. A friendly facial demeanor, a welcoming tone over the phone, and an email or text written with the customer’s perspective help defuse this negativity. We found that if customers mention a friendly, caring staff as something that went well, the NPS increases by almost seven points. If they mention it as something that could have been better, the NPS plummets by nearly sixty points. A friendly smile does matter! 
  • Recognize good performances. In a world trained to embrace the negative, actively look for your employees’ successes. Do not be blinded. Remember, you very likely possess a negativity bias yourself.  
  • “Good jobs” from a customer are even more powerful. Years ago, at the suggestion of a senior client manager, we implemented a simple Good Jobs process. When a customer mentions an individual for doing a good job, the interview is tagged, and our system sends an email to the relevant manager(s).    

Over the years, as the CX has improved, so has the frequency of Good Jobs. On average, when we first implemented this program, we received approximately one Good Jobs flag for every 12 completed surveys. Last year, it was down to 5.5. An unsolicited comment from a satisfied customer is effective feedback! When provided with a great experience, customers will overcome their negativity bias if given the chance. In addition, effective frontline folks benefit by learning that customers appreciate them. We all like to feel appreciated. 

Strike a balance between the negative and the positive feedback.   

  • Keep in mind that the human brain reacts differently to negative feedback. According to IEDP, an executive education firm, “positive emotions generally work in an opposite way to negative emotions. So, while emotions like fear, anxiety, stress, and anger narrow our focus, inhibit our concentration, and decrease our cognitive abilities, positive emotions can do the opposite. When we feel upbeat and happy, we are more likely to have an inclusive focus than a self-centered outlook and perform better on cognitively demanding tasks.” 

The last sentence in the previous paragraph highlights the need to strike a balance. Positive feedback opens up the thinking processes, making for more effective problem-solving.   

  • Do not ignore or minimize mistakes made in CX, as mistakes and weaknesses exist. We have several clients that use a formal improvement process for various activities, in addition to CX. Their approaches of making small improvements sends employees a message that changing those processes thought to be sacrosanct was okay and expected. The other thing these managers did so well was to create a positive problem-solving environment that encouraged change. Remember, your mind performs differently when not worried about the saber tooth tiger! 
  • Excess praise or fault-finding does not make you believable. If you hear that everything you do is wonderful, you may start to think nothing is. Avoid being over the top with either flattery or critiques. 

Please keep in mind these points in your CX Program

  • We all possess a negativity bias, some more than others. Customers bring it to the CX interaction as well. We cannot change this fact, so work with it.   
  • Learn from the mistakes but don’t dwell on them. People do not think as creatively in a negative environment. Great creativity makes for better CX.   
  • Not all is broken about your CX process. Acknowledge the weaknesses, work to correct them, and build upon what you are doing well.     
  • Perhaps most important is to realize that just eliminating the problems in your CX efforts will not necessarily create great customer experiences.   


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