Service and Experience with J. H. Halm: The best time to start anew

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If all a business regains from the bad service experience is a satisfied customer, then the business has actually lost out.
J. N. Halm
  • A look at the fresh start effect

We have all experienced it before. At one time or another, we have felt that vim—that urge to begin afresh with newfound verve. That surge of power that makes us set new resolutions every now and then is something we have all had to deal with at one time. More often than not, this feeling of power comes with a certain renewed optimism that puts a spring in our step. We feel we can achieve just about anything.

This feeling is so universal that there is even a name for it. Psychologists call it The Fresh Start Effect—and from the look of things it happens to be quite powerful. According to scientists, the Fresh Start Effect is the propensity for people to work towards achieving a goal right after a special occasion or key date has passed.

The world’s religions are even built on the concept of the Fresh Start. People sin.  They repent. They seek forgiveness. They are forgiven. They begin a new life. They are given a clean state to start on. As Christians put it, they are “born again”. That is the concept of The Fresh Start at work.

In a 2014 article published in the Management Science journal, researchers from The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania in the United States found that people were “more likely to tackle their goals immediately following salient temporal landmarks.” The key phrase in the preceding statement is “salient temporal landmarks”. In other words, the landmark has to hold some sort of importance for the individual. It should just not be any other day. It has to be a significant day.

Interestingly, one of the most significant landmarks in the life of many individuals, organisations and even countries is the New Year. Regardless of when the New Year starts where one lives, the start of that annual cycle is very significant as it marks the closing of one cycle and the beginning of a new cycle. All over the world, states and their governments rely on this same cycle to draw up budgets and institute plans that affect entire populations. The Fresh Start Effect has therefore been credited with that propensity of individuals to make New Year Resolutions at the end of one year or at the beginning of a new one.

It is important to remember that aside the New Year, there are other “salient temporal landmarks”, as described by The Wharton School researchers. These include but not limited to the outset of a new week, month, or semester, a birthday, or a holiday. If The Fresh Start Effect is to be believed, then besides New Year, these are the other best times to initiate changes in one’s life.

The Wharton School research study referred to earlier gave some insights into how the Fresh Start Effect actually works. Titled “The Fresh Start Effect: Temporal Landmarks Motivate Aspirational Behavior,” the main study from the research from The Wharton School was made up of three field studies.

In the first of the three studies, the researchers found that people tended to Google search more for the term “diet” right after at the start of each new calendar cycle such as the beginning of the week, month, and year. Searches for the word “diet” also increased right after federal holidays. Evidently, people’s desires to eat well and to look after themselves better increases with that start of the new period.

In the second study, the researchers collected data from a fitness centre affiliated with a large university in the United States. As with the Google search study, the results indicated that gym attendance increased at the start of each new week, month, and year. Clearly, when people want to stay in shape, they feel it is best done, when there is a new season starting.

The third study involved a website that helps individuals achieve their personal goals (www.stickk.com). The site was created by two professors from Yale University and it is meant for individuals who want to achieve worthwhile health goals such as to exercise regularly, lose weight, maintain weight, quit smoking, or run a race. Users have to sign a “commitment contract,” in which they specify an amount of money that they would lose if they fail to fulfil that commitment by a certain set time. The user has to indicate if that money will go to a friend or to a charity.

The final part of the stickK.com plan is to designate someone who will monitor the individual to verify if the one met the set commitment. After going through several commitment contracts, the researchers from Wharton School found that users of the website were more likely to create commitment contracts at the start of a new week, new month, New Year, holidays or right after their birthdays.

Clearly, there is a certain inclination or predisposition we have to want to start important things at the start of important dates. But why is The Fresh Start so effective? The researchers give an important clue. People tend to break time into discrete parts. Therefore, when they are closing of one portion or segment of time, people tend close that period of time with all the mistakes of that period. People mentally write off the past period and restart afresh. This is why another term for The Fresh Start Effect is the Performance Reset Effect. It is this ability to reset and restart that gives people that freshness to tackle new goals.

I am of the opinion that the Fresh Start Effect is Nature’s way of equipping human beings to make it in this life. By our very nature, human beings are prone to faults. We make mistakes every now and then. Without the ability to reset and restart, life would have been pretty terrible. All the mistakes of the past would be haunting people each and every day. However, thanks to the Fresh Start Effect, people are able to close an old chapter in their life and start a new one—even if it is just after seven days.

It is true that individuals and organisations should be able to effect changes at any time during their lifetime—and many do so successfully. However, what The Fresh Start Effect on New Year’s Day brings is an added impetus. The coincidence of the new period of 365 days and the need for a change is very powerful. New Year. New You. That is the mind-set that accompanies every New Year. It is therefore smart for one to take advantage of it to achieve one’s goals. If the Fresh Start Effect is that powerful, then it stands to reason that the best time to make changes to any organisation might be right after the New Year.

There is another reason why the best time for businesses to initiate a change is right after the New Year. Employees would be coming to work under the influence of The Fresh Start Effect. Many would have made their New Year’s Resolutions during the holidays. Therefore, it makes sense for the organisation to time its new changes to coincide with those of its workers. Since there is already an air of change that characterises the New Year, it becomes a lot easier for real change to occur. Since employees will already be at their most motivated in the New Year, it makes sense to put any initiatives around the same time.

In my experience, many businesses desire to institute changes within the organisation. More often than not, these are changes that would make the organisation more service-friendly. Many businesses are well aware that the quality of service they deliver is not as good as they would want it to be. Leaders of these businesses want to see a change and many put in the effort to see that change happen. They invest in new processes, new training regimes, new gizmos, etc. All these are truly laudable initiatives. However, if the on-going discussion is anything to go by, then it seems these initiatives might not yield the necessary results if the timing of the initiatives is off. In other words, the timing for change is as important as the change itself.

To get front line employees to be firing on all cylinders and giving off their very best, it is important that customer service strategies, including training programs are done very early in the year. I would even go ahead and suggest that these changes are initiated within the first month. To wait till the tail end of the first quarter is too far off. Individuals would have been set in their ways by then. The motivation that the New Year would have brought would have dissipated by then. Research has shown that willpower is very much like a muscle. Its strength wanes after a period of use. It is clear from the on-going that people’s willpower are at their highest when they are most motivated, i.e. at the beginning of the New Year.

So if you have plans of making some changes in the business this 2022, please, the best time to have started was last week, right after work resumed for the 2022 calendar year. The second best time to start with the changes is this week. Take advantage of the Fresh Start Effect to start afresh.

 

 

 

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