James Kane on Trust, Our Brains and the Science of Loyalty

December 2, 2015

[albert chau]
[albert chau]

“Our brain looks for shortcuts and makes relationships all the time. The brain looks for patterns and clues on who we can trust and what we should do,” said James Kane during the closing General Session on Nov. 10.

Kane, who is a leading researcher in the science of loyalty and a book author, talked about how to build loyal relationships in the digital space. He shared an impressive and colorful introduction on his upbringing, career, likes and dislikes, explaining that by “sharing a minutia” of his life, he made a connection with the audience.

“When we share our lives with others, we establish connections and give the brain information that it can recognize,” he said. “There are four types of relationship levels: hostile, transactional, predisposed and loyal. We set expectations and then deliver based on these.”

Likes, follows and pins don’t do much for loyalty, Kane said. “Loyalty is about the future. You can’t buy someone’s business; you must earn it.”

He likened clients to being “satisfied like cats,” who aren’t anxiously awaiting your arrival like dogs, who are more loyal. “Satisfaction is a mood; satisfaction is the past; satisfaction is about them. Loyalty is a behavior; loyalty is the future; loyalty is about you.”

Humans learn to live in large social groups. We are totally dependent on other human beings and have emotions — unlike animals, he said. Emotions like fear, envy, love, loyalty, hate and danger control our behavior.

So the key to loyalty and the question you need to ask is: “Do you make my life safer, easier and better?” Kane said. “It’s the paradox of choice — people don’t want to decide for themselves. Don’t give people too many choices.”

Forging relationships and seeking authenticity

The brain seeks three things: trust, belonging and purpose. If you provide people with this, then they will be loyal to you.

“Trust is not personal; it’s just about dependence. We’re blinded by what customers think rather than by what we think,” he said. “We don’t judge our experiences by the outcome, but by the process.”

It’s about how you get there. You don’t get credit for being trustworthy — that’s expected. “It’s about managing those expectations,” he said. “If you can’t meet a client’s needs, then they won’t trust you. They are paying you for an expectation.”

Regarding belonging, people surround themselves with things they care about. “Cubicles were actually the first 3-D Facebook pages,” he said. “We follow people because we believe in the same things and have shared interests.”

Recognition, insight, proactivism, inclusion and identity are all things we need and care about — they explain who we are and what we do, Kane said. We need to inform and see within, be helpful, and anticipate what’s truly needed and not what people actually ask for.

“Transparency is the world we live in,” Kane said. We need to hold people accountable, be honest and have purpose, which entails vision, fellowship and commitment.

“People identify with people like themselves. And we need to get past these challenges when people aren’t the same as us,” he said. “Can you get past the superficial and make a connection beyond?”

Amy Jacques

Amy Jacques is the managing editor of publications for PRSA. A native of Greenville, S.C., she holds a master’s degree in arts journalism from Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School. She also holds a bachelor’s degree in advertising from the University of Georgia’s Grady College and a certificate in magazine and website publishing from New York University.


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