The first 30 seconds

by Blog, Communications

The first 30 seconds    By Jonathan Fine. December 7, 2016.

What a strange species we are. We used to think language and tools marked us out from non-human animals but now we know that, if there is a differentiator, it’s stories. We never stop inventing fictional narratives in which to live.

Some of these fictions have enabled us to cooperate with total strangers on an unprecendented scale, and the biggest of these fictions are religion, money, corporations and nation states. These intersubjective fictions have made loads of useful things possible, like peer reviewed science and complex, decentralised markets in a panoply of goods and services.

There’s a very interesting man called Gad Saad who loves annoying proponents of political correctness. He’s also the founder of evolutionary psychology and he’s worked out not just how male gift giving is different from female gift giving, but why, and what buying a Ferrari does to a man’s testosterone levels.

He says things like:

“Roughly 90 per cent of songs have mating as their central theme, and this holds true regardless of cultural setting or historical period.”

So you can see he’s not much of a romantic, but his point is there are biological drives to all our consumer transactions.

Homo sapiens make buying decisions using all their senses: what they hear, see, feel and smell, yet Gad Saad will tell you this is only half the story; in fact evolutionary imperatives honed over millions of years still weigh in heavily on every decision despite our illusion of free will. He tells us why we buy juicy burgers and why in repeated tests men always feel most attracted to women with a waist-to-hip in the range of 0.68 to 0.72.

It all goes against the politically correct discourse of the day but whatever you think, the data — spanning countless cultures — stands up. Saad’s message is essentially that we are programmed to make decisions about our mates, food and consumer products in fractions of a second owing to evolutionary imperatives.

There’s a particularly heightened emotional experience when people walk into a dental practice for the first time. All sorts of fight or flight reflexes kick in, with adrenaline, an inability to think straight, and straight up panic very often. But are there ways to mitigate these turn-offs?

Remember, it’s not just what you see, it’s what you hear, smell and feel — walking from a tiled floor to a luxury carpeted floor, for example, makes you much more likely to stay in a room. I spend a lot of time talking to clients about retail appeal. I get them to take a picture of their practice at 10am on Tuesday from outside, across the street, and the reception, the toilets and the surgeries.

Try it, it’s a revelation. Frankly you’ll be shocked. People’s sensitivity when they’re arriving is so heightened owing to evolutionary programming telling them they are vulnerable, and so they notice everything: the wiring, dirty floors, blinking bulb, cluttered reception desk, scruffy uniforms, bad hair on your staff, tattoos, name badges they can’t read, tired mags. They instinctively look for the bad things, not the good things, and it all starts on the street. What do they see? What does the signage do and how clean are the windows? What’s in the windows at point of sale?

Your new patient has 30 seconds to decide whether they’re in the right or wrong place. It’s a queer thing about human behaviour that we tend to look for things that are wrong, not right, when we go to a new place. So the dirty windows, grubby floor and cracked reception desk all conspire towards a feeling of uneasiness.

In the better practices great attention is given to first impressions and this is reinforced right through the building with waiting rooms, surgeries and toilets working the way they should do in a five star premium hotel. So put your practice to the test. Take the photos, then go and get a neighbour and ask them to tell you what they see. You’ll be surprised.


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“It’s not just what you see, it’s what you hear, smell and feel”

Jonathan Fine, MD

Author: Jonathan Fine