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Have a Frustrated Staffing Client? Grab Them by the Shoulder

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Social experiments are fascinating, especially when we can apply the lessons learned in business.

Last week, I read about one conducted in Poland which you may find interesting – because it may help you more effectively help a frustrated staffing client.

Here’s a quick synopsis of the experiment:

The “Fear-Then-Relief” Experiment

Researchers tested a hypothesis that the “good cop, bad cop” “fear-then-relief” phenomenon applies in a variety of scenarios (not just police interrogation).

To accomplish this, they created an experiment to determine whether startling people before asking them to complete a questionnaire would increase compliance with the request. In other words, researchers tested whether startling a subject mentally disarmed them – so that they’d be more open to saying “yes” to whatever happened next.

In the experiment, a researcher posed as a blind person who came up behind a subject and grabbed them by the shoulder as they walked through a doorway. The blind person simply said, “Excuse me.” Once the subject realized they were grabbed by mistake (i.e., their momentary fear turned to relief), a researcher approached them and asked the subject if they’d be willing to complete a short questionnaire for a school project.

In this experimental “fear-then-relief” group, 56% of subjects agreed to complete the questionnaire.

But in the control group (i.e., the people who were not startled by the blind person), just 30% agreed to fill out the questionnaire.

Conclusion? These psychologists found that a rapid seesawing of emotions from negative to relief made people more compliant. In this experiment, the fear of being grabbed by an unseen person quickly turned to relief (when it was clear that the blind person posed no real threat). As a result, subjects were much more willing to help complete a questionnaire – in fact, the “fear-then-relief” phenomenon improved compliance rates by 86%!

Why should you care about a social experiment conducted by Polish researchers?

Well for starters, you can modify their technique to calm angry staffing clients – and set the stage for service recovery.

Am I suggesting you actually grab an angry staffing customer by the shoulder? Of course not.

But if you are working with a frustrated client, you should realize that, right or wrong, you’re the “bad cop” in that customer’s mind. The simple act of introducing a “good cop” (i.e., a colleague or manager) can bring a sense of relief to the client – immediately calming them a bit and making them more open to your service recovery process.

Transferring an upset client to someone in your firm who is “better able to assist them” isn’t a silver bullet. But, it may defuse tensions just enough so that you can deescalate the situation and work toward resolution.

Outstanding service recovery can be what separates your staffing or recruiting firm from the rest of the pack. Experiment with this technique to see if introducing a “good cop” brings a little relief – and allows you to deliver even better service!

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