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The Emotional Customer Experience

Why understanding customer emotions is essential to the customer experience

Today’s marketers know that empathy is important, and the only way to empathize is to understand the emotions your customers are feeling at every touchpoint of their customer journey. According to Harvard Business Review’s study, The New Science of Customer Emotions, “research…shows that the most effective way to maximize customer value is to move beyond mere customer satisfaction and connect with customers at an emotional level – tapping into their fundamental motivations and fulfilling their deep, often unspoken emotional needs.” Customers are more likely to buy (and buy more frequently) when they feel connected to a brand emotionally. In other words, emotions permeate our experience, including of course, our experience as customers.

There is a popular story that illustrates the importance of understanding customer emotions perfectly. A child left his stuffed animal, Joshie the giraffe, behind at a Ritz-Carlton hotel, and the parents called to try to locate it. The giraffe was found, and the staff promised to send it back to the family – an expected response that left the parents feeling relief that their child’s stuffed animal would be safely returned to them. However, the staff did not simply return Joshie, they took pictures of the giraffe around the hotel to document his “vacation” and sent the giraffe back to the family along with a binder of photos documenting Joshie’s extended stay.

The key here is the emotions that were evoked in this family’s customer experience – serenity and joy. Initially, the parents experienced the expected feelings of relief (an emotion found within the “Serenity” group) upon hearing that the stuffed animal would be returned to their son. The hotel could have stopped there and had relieved, satisfied customers with a slightly increased possibility of returning to the Ritz-Carlton. But they didn’t, they went a step further to delight (an emotion found in the “Joy” group) the customer. By moving the customer further along the emotion landscape, from Serenity to Joy, they not only solidified the loyalty of the parents but created a stronger emotional connection such that they wanted to share their story. By going a step beyond, the Ritz-Carlton successfully established loyal brand advocates who shared their positive experience (and the emotions elicited by that experience) with others.

When you take the time to understand your customers’ emotions and how they feel at each point of the customer journey, you can target specific emotions that produce a stronger emotional connection. These emotions can mean the difference between a customer who is simply satisfied or happy, and a customer who has such a strong emotional connection that they become brand advocates, contributing to word-of-mouth references that are proven to be the most valuable form of marketing around. But do you know how to create these emotionally-charged customer experiences in your own customers?

The trick is to find out what the customers’ emotions are and decide whether they are the emotions you want them to feel. If not, rethink your strategies and target stronger emotions to build a better connection. Determining the “correct” emotions for your brand requires a holistic perspective. Creating emotional connection requires not only understanding how the customer feels, but also which rational/functional elements of the experience are evoking certain emotions. In his book, Thinking, Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman describes how the human mind is a combination of rational (System 2) and emotional (System 1) thinking, working in tandem to drive our behavior or decisions. Although the majority of cognitive activity is System 1 and emotional, it is important to gain a holistic perspective of the customer. You must go beyond one-dimensional analysis of only emotions and you need to use techniques and tools that analyze both the rational and emotional aspects of the customer’s mind.

For example, let’s say you identify that your customers are feeling unpleasant emotions such as frustration or anger at an early stage of their journey with your brand. You need to pinpoint the source of this frustration – which specific functional features or processes are evoking the unpleasant emotions – and work to enhance these rational elements in order to mitigate the negative emotions. From a more positive perspective, if you know which emotions are prevalent among your most loyal customers, you can identify the rational elements (features, processes, etc.) that evoke these highly-motivating emotions and leverage them with other target audiences to grow your base of loyal customers.

The best way to determine what the “correct” emotions are to target is with a tool that gives you a holistic perspective. Martec’s Emotion Intelligence (EI) solutions utilize comprehensive emotion dictionaries along with powerhouse computing to dig into what customers declare via written or verbal responses and to decipher their true, authentic feelings, going beyond surface-level responses. As opposed to physiological approaches, language-based EI analysis can be done in congruence with just about any type of research process you may already have in place. Qualitative research? Simple. Just add in some specifically-worded discussion topics. Surveys? No problem. Just plug-in a couple specific questions that will elicit more (and better) open-ended responses, and you’ll get the data needed to analyze respondents’ emotions. There are even options for analyzing the data you already have available from past market research – with the right team, emotion can be pulled from that as well.

These kinds of actionable insights will take your brand to the next level in emotional connection with customers. Emotion Intelligence helps you do this using an adaptation of Plutchik’s Wheel of emotions to categorize emotions in an understandable way, providing results that are straightforward enough to understand and act upon, not abstract ideas that leave you wondering what to do next. With Emotion Intelligence, you don’t need a scientist in the room with you just to explain what all the charts and data mean. The insights are presented in an actionable way that makes it easy to implement real-world CX solutions.

Customers’ emotions are a moving target, rippling in response to individual circumstances and market forces, which is why understanding emotions is a critical part of any CX program. With the new language-based emotion research techniques and tools, marketers can move one step closer to reading the minds and hearts of customers and truly understand how to create and foster the ideal customer experience.

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