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Wednesday, July 2, 2014

It’s the Educonomy, Stupid

“It’s incumbent upon all the leaders in our country -- education, business, and government alike -- to turn a made-up word into a reality. Let’s build the world’s first educonomy,” said Brandon Busteed, Gallup’s executive director of Education. Busteed delivered this compelling message to top U.S. education policymakers on June 30, 2014, at the Education Commission of the States’ National Forum on Education Policy Agenda.

Busteed’s remarks, which aired on C-SPAN, revealed insights from Gallup research studies exploring the links between education and long-term success in life and work. During his speech, Busteed emphasized that education leaders need to measure and focus on the outcome that matters most to Americans: finding a great job. He explained that, as a nation, there is nothing more important we can do than build the world’s most effective “educonomy” by seamlessly integrating our educational system, our employers, and our job creators. 

Watch his speech in its entirety:

Download Busteed’s presentation. For more information on how Gallup gives education leaders tools and advice to help teachers, students, and schools succeed, visit the Gallup Education Knowledge Center.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Engaging Students Is the Key to Teacher Effectiveness

By Mark Pogue, Senior Director Strengths Education

Growing up in the ’60s I had the unusual privilege of attending a small elementary school, Lake Elementary, where my grandfather was the principal. He performed all the normal activities you’d expect from a teacher who also doubled as the principal for our small school: teaching 6th grade, coaching basketball and baseball, all while managing the small facility that served the needs of so many students throughout the years. But what was most remarkable about attending Lake Elementary was the emphasis my grandpa put on relationships and the importance of each individual student. 

I can’t tell you how many times I heard “he was the best teacher I ever had,” "he always seemed to know just how to challenge me,” and “next to my parents he’s one of the most important people in my life.” Hopefully we all had at least a few teachers in our lives who had the kind of impact my grandpa did on students’ lives. All in all, it was probably only a handful. However, times may be changing. In a new Gallup-Education Week survey, an overwhelming majority of superintendents emphasize the importance of engagement in the evaluation of teacher effectiveness. 

These superintendents acknowledge how tough it is to find great teacher talent and just how important talent is to fostering teacher effectiveness. Ninety-four percent say student engagement is crucial to measuring teacher effectiveness. And that statistic is followed by only 6% saying years of teaching experience made a significant difference in effectiveness. Our superintendents believe we have to find and recruit teachers who start with the talent to be successful and then develop it.

Students in my grandfather’s classes were engaged, and all the teachers were held to that same expectation. At 65, he was still making the rounds at recess, making every student in his school feel special and important. With those feelings also came the sense that something was expected of us. If we were special and important, we had better not squander our potential on anything less than being a success and getting the most out of what we’d been given.

There are obviously a lot of factors that contribute to student success, and the superintendents emphasize most of them in their responses -- excellent curriculum, removing barriers for disadvantaged students, strong teacher talent and performance. Reading through the results in the new Gallup-Education Week survey, I’m encouraged both by the sense of urgency in our school leadership and that so many of our districts’ leaders want to be spending more time with students!

Visit our Education Knowledge Center to learn more about helping students, teachers, and schools succeed.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Three Ways to Engage Consumers On Social Media

By Ed O'Boyle, Global Practice Leader

Ever since Facebook first introduced brand pages in 2007, companies have been flocking to social media. Many business leaders believe that the more they post and share about their products and services, the greater their chances of attracting customers and generating revenue.

But just-released research from Gallup’s State of the American Consumer report suggests that much of these efforts have been misguided.

Social media are not the powerful and persuasive marketing force many companies assumed they would be. Gallup finds that a full 62% of U.S. adults who use social media say that these sites have absolutely no influence on their purchasing decisions. Another 30% say these sites have some influence, and just 5% say they have a great deal of influence.

And although companies may think that people who “like” or follow them on social media are an attentive audience, our research suggests otherwise. Of consumers who report liking or following a company, 34% still say that social media have no influence on their purchasing behavior, while 53% say they have only some influence.

When compared with more traditional forms of social networking, social media initiatives may actually be the least effective method for influencing consumers’ buying decisions. Gallup research has shown that consumers are much more likely to turn to friends, family members, and experts when seeking advice about companies, brands, products, or services. Social media sites have almost no sway.

These findings raise a question: is there an inherent flaw in the idea of using social media to drive purchasing, or have companies just been using social media poorly? The fact that some portion of buyers credit social media with having real influence suggests the latter may be true. Consumers are drawn to social media because they want to take part in the conversation and make connections. But many companies continue to treat social media as a one-way communication vehicle and are largely focused on how they can use these sites to push their marketing agendas.

To positively influence purchasing through social media, marketers should learn to use it to listen and interact. Consumers are more likely to engage when the brand-related posts they encounter are:

  1. Authentic. Social media sites are highly personal and conversational. And, as Gallup finds, consumers who use these sites don’t want to hear a sales pitch. They’re more likely to listen and respond to companies that seem genuine and personable. Companies should back away from the hard sell and focus on creating more of an open dialogue with consumers.

  2. Responsive. The social media world is 24/7, and consumers expect timely responses – even on nights and weekends. Companies must be available to answer questions and reply to complaints and criticisms; ignoring negative feedback can do considerable damage to a brand’s reputation. Instead, companies must actively listen to what their customers are saying and respond accordingly. If they made mistakes, they must own up to them and take responsibility.

  3. Compelling. Content is everywhere, and consumers have the ability to pick and choose what they like. Companies must create compelling, interesting content that appeals to busy, picky social media users. This content should be original to the company and not related to sales or marketing. Consumers need a reason to visit and interact with a company’s social media site and to keep coming back.
When companies focus their social media efforts on pushing product and not cultivating communities, they overlook the real potential of these channels. Gallup research has consistently shown that customers base purchasing decisions on their emotional connections with a brand. Social media are great for making those connections -- but only when a brand shifts its focus from communication to conversation.

A version originally appeared on the Harvard Business Review Blog Network.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Gallup Examines the State of the American Consumer

The financial collapse in 2008 and the ensuing Great Recession have changed American consumers. Millions of people lost their jobs; spending and investment evaporated; and bankruptcies and foreclosures intensified. Consumers lost confidence -- not just in the U.S. economy, but in their own financial security, too. These negative effects continue to stall economic growth.

While many factors affect growth predictions, much of the nation’s ability to rebound rests with consumers and how much money they are comfortable spending. Gallup research indicates that consumers today are feeling better about the economic climate in the U.S. and are spending more money. However, their spending has not reached pre-recession levels. For many consumers, the economic downturn left lasting financial and emotional scars.

These findings are from the State of the American Consumer: Insights for Business Leaders report, which Gallup released Monday. The report shares data from Gallup’s ongoing study of U.S. consumers from 2008 through 2014 and examines how consumer spending, confidence, and expectations have shifted because of the economic downturn. It offers advice on how companies can more effectively measure and manage their own customer engagement in this new normal and on how leaders can improve customer engagement and organizational performance.

Here are some key insights from this report:
  • Gallup’s Economic Confidence Index, although still in negative territory, shows that American consumers are more confident in the U.S. economy now than they have been in the past six years. The index averaged -16 for the first quarter of 2014, which is 32 points higher than the average for 2008.

  • Daily spending in the first quarter of 2014 reached an average of $84. While this showed an improvement over recent years, daily consumer spending still trails behind the 2008 average of $96.

  • The percentages of U.S. workers who said they were worried about job security or reductions in wages or benefits were nearly as high in 2013 as they were in 2009 and nearly double the levels seen in 2008.

  • Gallup research has found that customers who are fully engaged represent an average 23% premium in terms of share of wallet, profitability, revenue, and relationship growth over the average customer. In stark contrast, “actively disengaged” customers represent a 13% discount in those same measures.

  • Companies that engage both their employees and their customers gain a 240% boost in performance-related business outcomes.

  • Retail banking customers who are fully engaged bring 37% more revenue per year to their primary bank compared with those who are actively disengaged. 

  • Just 5% of consumers who use social media say these channels have a “great deal” of influence on their purchasing decisions, while 62% say they have no influence at all. Gallup research reveals that friends, in-store displays, television commercials, and even mail catalogs and magazines have more influence on consumers’ purchasing decisions than social media.

  • Consumer electronics shoppers who are fully engaged make 44% more store visits in one year than shoppers who are actively disengaged. On average, they spend $373 per shopping trip, while actively disengaged shoppers spend $289 per trip.
For more findings, read the full report and visit Gallup’s Customer Engagement Knowledge Center.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Emotional Hijacking: Why Logic Doesn’t Work With Angry Customers

By John Timmerman, Senior Strategist, Customer Experience and Innovation

We’ve all seen it, and it’s never pretty. A customer doesn’t get what he feels entitled to, management doesn’t fix it, the customer goes from annoyed to angry, and the situation heats to the boiling point. Most of us wouldn’t let a customer service problem get so far out of hand, but sometimes such issues cause an extremely negative, hard to control, and irrational reaction: an emotional hijacking. By the time the screaming customer leaves (or is ejected), the rest of us want to leave, too. It’s an ugly thing to witness, and it’s bad for business.

But many companies’ policies deliberately put customers in that situation, making embarrassing meltdowns almost inevitable. Here are two system flaws that contribute to the problem:

1. Many businesses are more concerned with avoiding loss than attaining gain. At its worst, this attitude causes businesses to suspect every customer complaint as a scam, and view an enraged customer as a potential threat, not a victim of emotional hijacking. Ultimately, this creates a Fort Knox of policy to prevent customer fraud. It’s my observation that less than 1% of customers are trying to game the system. The real bad guys are managers who handcuff their employees, preventing them from helping 99% of the customers because of the 1% risk factor.

2. Management often sends all front-line staff and call center employees to customer complaint training and expects them to come back with everything they need. I have made that error myself. I had a department of employees who were highly talented problem solvers, and I channeled every customer complaint to them. This seemed like a brilliant idea, because the department was very efficient and we were rapidly closing all the open incidents. The feeling of brilliance quickly vanished when I discovered that the customers did not feel better after their complaints were resolved. It appeared my very capable department lacked the ability to display empathy and make an interpersonal connection. This department was perfect for fixing process issues, but not people problems. 

Six Rules to Prevent Emotional Hijacking

Gallup research shows that the best customers are the emotionally engaged ones. They add 23% profit over the average (disengaged ones cost a business 13% profit), are much more loyal, and enjoy praising the companies they’re engaged with. When an emotionally hijacked customer is shrieking at one of your employees, you may think his engagement is a lost cause. But Gallup’s science indicates that engaged customers tend to become more engaged when a company messes up -- if the company fixes the problem properly. And by “properly,” I mean the following six things:

1. The first rule for resolving an ugly scene is to prevent one. Policies should be biased toward giving the customer the benefit of the doubt. Very, very few people are going to have a screaming fit to get a free order of fries. Most angry customers have a legitimate reason to be angry, and front-line employees should be coached to hear them out -- and empowered to help the customer. If the problem reaches a manager, it’s gone too far.

2. Hire employees with a predisposition for customer service. Employees who are predisposed to help customers are best equipped to deal with highly charged emotional situations. I’ve noticed they often have the talent themes of Empathy and Woo, which the Clifton StrengthsFinder indicates allow them to create connections with customers. Those who are best at solving customer problems are often a little assertive and analytical as well -- to solve a problem, after all, one has to be able to cut to the chase and find a solution. Employees who don’t have these qualities need to have a colleague who does, as well as air cover from senior management to override policy and solve customer problems. And to keep an emotionally hijacked customer from screaming and flailing on the ground, these employees have to work fast.

3. Don’t hand off problems from one customer service representative to another. The customer is suffering and has little energy to cope with multiple people. A Gallup survey of one company’s hotel guests showed that passing the customer from one employee to another significantly increases his perceived severity of the problem -- by 20% with just one hand-off on up to 132% when four or more people are involved -- and when it takes a hand-off to solve a problem, customer satisfaction with problem resolution will drop by 60%.

4. Agree that the customer has reason to be annoyed. Emotionally hijacked customers will settle down if they feel they’re dealing with an honest person who acknowledges that there’s a real problem. The emotionally hijacked customer strongly needs to be validated.

5. It’s not just what you say, but what you do. No amount of soothing words will do any good if company policy prevents the solution from happening. There needs to be alignment among front-line staff, what they say, what they’re permitted to do, and leadership’s willingness to rectify company errors.

6. Be transparent and straightforward. People who aren’t thinking clearly can’t understand a lot of complexity. It may even make them angrier. Explain what you’re doing and what will happen next as simply as you can.

Make sure the employees you put in front of the emotionally hijacked customers have the talent and leverage to fix customer complaints. Problem solving training won’t give you much ROI, unless these tools are in the hands of employees who have the natural ability to build a relationship, find a solution, and leave a lasting positive impression.

Regardless, you can be sure that a lasting impression will be made. Customers who witness -- or have -- an angry outburst will associate your company with either the memory of an ugly scene or the recollection of a calm, empowered employee fixing a problem. Which impression your company makes is up to you.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Fraternity and Sorority Membership Linked to Higher Well-Being for College Grads

As incoming college freshmen weigh the pros and cons of pledging a fraternity or sorority this fall or next spring, they should consider this: Being part of the Greek system may have benefits that reach far beyond their college years.

A new Gallup survey, released Tuesday, of more than 30,000 college graduates across the U.S. finds that those who were members of fraternities or sororities are more likely to be “thriving” in their well-being and engaged at work than college graduates who did not go Greek.

Gallup partnered with the National Panhellenic Conference and the North-American Interfraternity Conference to conduct this research. It is a subset of the initial Gallup-Purdue Index survey released last month, which studied the characteristics of the student experience that are most important to long-term outcomes for graduates. The report found that college graduates who had inspiring mentors and professors, who took part in long-term academic projects and extracurricular activities, and who had an internship or job where they applied what they learned are more likely to have higher well-being and work engagement later in life.

The 16% of college graduates who were members of Greek organizations are more likely to report being emotionally supported and having experiential and deep learning activities while in college, all of which likely have contributed to their higher work engagement and well-being.

Fraternity and sorority members’ engagement advantage indicates that they are more likely to be intellectually and emotionally connected to their organizations and enthusiastic about their work. Overall, 43% of fraternity and sorority members who are employed full time for an employer are engaged in the workplace, compared with 38% of all other college graduates. Importantly, these differences are statistically significant after controlling for key demographic variables, including gender, race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status.

Additionally, fraternity and sorority members are more likely than all other college graduates to be thriving in each of the five elements of well-being (purpose, physical, social, financial, and community). Thus, fraternity and sorority members are more likely than their non-Greek counterparts to find fulfillment in daily work and interactions, to have strong social relationships and access to the resources people need, to feel financially secure, to be physically healthy, and to take part in a true community.

Individual Greek members and chapters have unfortunately been associated with issues involving hazing, binge drinking, and sexual assaults, and Greek organizations should certainly continue their efforts to prevent these negative events from happening. But it appears that, on the whole, the Greek experience has notable long-term benefits.

Read the full report to learn more about these findings.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Egyptians Back to the Ballot Box...Again

By Mohamed Younis, Regional Consultant

Out of all the data sets I have tracked and studied as an analyst at Gallup, none has been as fascinating to watch as our World Poll data from Egypt. Egyptians’ life evaluation ratings reveal dramatic fluctuations in hope and despair, and their changing attitudes about the direction that leaders are taking the country could give the unassuming analyst whiplash.

After Hosni Mubarak’s fall from grace, Egyptians’ hopes for the future were sky high. Initially, the data reflected Egyptians’ elation that Mubarak had stepped down, and the vast majority of Egyptians shared hopes that their lives and their country’s global standing would improve as a result. Additionally, the world was celebrating Egyptian civic participation and peaceful demands for change. Hopes were so high that by mid-2012, Egyptians had one of the highest levels of confidence in the transparency of the electoral process (89%) in the world, on par with most Scandinavian countries.

Egyptians also knew what they wanted. When asked what the country’s leaders (whomever they would be) should do next, the answer was simple: Jobs. It was not “instituting Sharia law,” or tackling crime, or anything else. Egyptians consistently told Gallup that their leaders should focus on the economy, unemployment, youth unemployment, and job opportunities.

Despite Egyptians’ high levels of confidence in the electoral process early in the transition, by the summer of 2013, only 34% still had confidence in the honesty of elections. A majority of Egyptians, 55%, described their standard of living as getting worse in a country where life evaluation scores -- even prior to political instability -- looked more like those in the Palestinian Territories and Yemen than a large middle-income country. The percentage of those falling into the “suffering” category reached an all-time high (34%) two weeks before Mohamed Morsi was ousted. There are many theories still percolating on exactly what went so wrong under Morsi’s rule, but the bottom line is that Egyptians saw things getting much worse. More importantly, they were not satisfied with the slow rate and direction of change they saw taking place around them.

Since Morsi was removed from power, Egypt has witnessed its most polarized political landscape in its modern history. Where there was once nearly universal celebration of what the street movement seemed to have accomplished after Mubarak’s removal, today there are debates and question marks about where the country is headed. Morsi’s removal has strained relations with some strategic allies, but improved relations with others. Some may even argue that nothing in Egypt has changed. Such critics point to the fact that a now-retired military leader seems slated to win in a landslide victory at the polls.

Yet one variable has changed. The most important factors in Egypt’s stability are no longer based on decisions that military leadership or religious scholars make. It’s not whether Egyptians want to cancel the Camp David Accords. It’s not whether the next president lands the long-debated IMF recovery package for the country. It’s not even whether the security situation -- the worst in most living Egyptians’ remembered history -- stabilizes. The most important factor in the new Egypt is the public’s level of satisfaction with the rate and direction of change they see happening around them.

What fundamentally mobilized many Egyptians against the Morsi presidency was the feeling that things were getting worse quickly and there did not seem to be a clear and coherent path out. In fact, the front-runner and expected victor in the presidential elections on Monday and Tuesday has already alluded that if he is unsuccessful in office, he too may be looking out on streets filled with angry protesters. In a country that over generations became known for its somnolent attitude toward the failure of leadership, the only thing that has truly changed in Egypt might prove to be the most important. 

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