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At the recent CIPD L&D show I attended a session about developing a coaching culture, where both the Hilton Group and Cineworld Cinemas were talking about their experiences.

Stuart from Cineworld set the context for their business. Historically reliant on younger generations who go to the cinema to hang out with their mates, their market is shrinking as young people stay home and chat to their friends on Facebook, online gaming, etc, and so there is increasingly less need for them to leave the house to socialise. In addition, customers were telling them that one cinema is much the same as any other – customers don’t differentiate between Cineworld, Vue, Odeon or any other.

This led Cineworld to consider their position in the market and how they could stand out from the crowd. With input from their teams, they decided they needed to bring fun and passion to their values, to strip away the rules and bureaucracy – so the teams can create ‘an experience’ for the customer that will have them want to return.

As someone with a passion for customer being central to any business, I really get this. I love that they asked for the views of both customers and staff, and were bold enough to ask their teams what they thought of the values of the business, compared to both their own personal values and what they thought the business values should be.

The bit that’s kept bubbling in my mind is the word ‘experience’. The last position I held in Boots before starting my own business was to create a new and inspirational customer experience in beauty. I get it. The high street needs to change what it offers customers to get them offline and on-street.

But what if customers are given this ‘experience’? They emotionally connect with the brand – great. They feel good shopping or spending with that brand – also great. They tell their friends about it – a retailer’s dream customer! But what next? I can’t help feeling that by providing this kind of ‘experience’ we’re pushing customers even further onto a treadmill of ‘hedonic happiness’. The kind of happiness that will give them a buzz and a sense of feel-good excitement but which won’t last and which will only leave them wanting the next fix of happiness.

And so, to keep the customers coming, the retailers will need to step it up a gear to an even greater, more exciting, more experiential ‘experience’!!

Where does it stop?

But also, what’s the alternative? Well, the alternative to hedonic happiness is ‘eudonic’ happiness. The longer lasting kind of happiness which is achieved through our Human Givens needs being met. These Human Givens are our needs for security, autonomy & control, community, attention (both giving and receiving), close relationships where you can really drop the mask, being emotionally connected with others whereby you ‘get’ them and they ‘get’ you, status, achievement, meaning and privacy.

I notice that the experiences which retailers provide could meet some of these needs, if they do it really well. The sense of community because you’re somewhere that those around you are ‘like you’. A sense of attention because, if done well, the staff make you feel special and tell you how great you look in that dress you’re trying on. A sense of being emotionally connected because the brand ‘gets’ you and you ‘get’ it. A sense of status if you’re in a shop buying brands that will make your friends in awe. And maybe a sense of achievement that you can afford to shop in a particular store.

But there’s a big one which is missing, and one which I wonder, if it should continue to be missing, will drive a need to stay on that hedonic treadmill, keep us needing the fickle quick-fix happiness buzz. And which, if we don’t get that elsewhere, could lead to an imbalance of needs and, ultimately, unhappiness. And the big missing one? The need for meaning or purpose.

Having meaning is something which Victor Frankl (in his book ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’) identified as essential to getting through the challenges of life – of course his experience being rather more significant than most of us see today. But it’s now something which organisations are recognising as a core part of having engaged employees – employees who are happy, who enjoy what they do, who want to come to work, and who will give more than necessary because they believe in their organisation’s purpose. And who will be well. Mind and body are one system so if our mind is well, thanks to the right balance in our human needs, our body will be well.

So perhaps those lower absence rates attributed to engaged employees aren’t just about people being more committed to their work. Perhaps their healthy mind is creating a healthy body and an overall balanced wellbeing.

I wonder what impact it would have on the bottom line if more focus was given to looking after this balance. By employees, by leaders, by the business.

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