5 Must-Dos in Designing an Emotionally Engaging Experience


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Think of how many times you had an impulse to buy a more expensive brand and later convinced yourself that you did it because the quality is much better. Truth is that in most cases you did it because you trust the brand more or you feel a sort of sympathy towards that brand and want a product that will make you feel good and boost your confidence etc. Human beings are powered by emotion, not by reason. As Neuroscientist Antonio Damasio found, emotions are prime candidates for turning a thinking being into an actor. He spent a decade studying people who had received brain injuries, in which only the part where emotions were generated was impaired. He found that they could logically describe what they should be doing but in practice they found it very difficult to make decisions about where to live, what to eat, etc. As professor Raj Raghunathan from the University of Texas puts it “we are ruled by our emotions first, and then we build justifications for our response. We want to be considered scientific and rational, so we come up with reasons after the fact to justify our choice”. We at Beyond Philosophy know that at least 50% of the experience is emotional and often happens at a subconscious level (i.e. beneath the water level) thus we are often not aware of the true drivers of our behaviour. If you want to truly connect with your customers you need to design an emotionally engaging experience. Here is what you need to do to achieve it following some best practices:

1. Focus on emotions associated with the purpose of your organization

Having worked and measured the emotional engagement of several dozens of Fortune 500 companies we looked back at our data to see which organizations have the highest scores on our emotional index so we can draw best practices from them. The two organizations with the highest scores on most positive emotions were Tui Travel and British Council. The common platform for success in achieving an emotional bond with their customers for both proved to be that they aligned the targeted emotional experience with the raison d’être of their organization.

This is really important as firms usually make decisions based on individual goals and objectives, a handful of hard metrics, and by finding compromises across conflicting executive agendas. What’s worse is that often decisions aren’t coordinated at all. By establishing a clear guiding light you’ll ensure more consistency and work towards a common goal and will require less control mechanisms.

For Tui, as a travel & leisure company, sending millions of people abroad, the most important thing is to bring the people safely back home, and the second most important thing is that their customers have a relaxed and happy holidays so they remain their customers. The emotions to focus on steaming from this definition are “safe”, “happy”, “pleased” and “unhurried”.

British Council defines its purpose as to enhance the British cultural relations through some of Britain’s best assents – the English Language, the Education and Arts etc. So in order to deliver on its purpose, they felt they should first earn the people’s trust, inspire them and ease the cultural relationships and transfers (for example study English, do an exam, fill paperwork for admission in a UK university, etc.). Trust, Inspiration and Ease (or as they are referred to internally TIE) are their strategic focus and are built into everything they do. Whilst “Inspiration” is overarching strategic imperative on the tactical side in the actual experience it translates to: people being focused, stimulated, energized and interested in their studies and interactions.

2. Design the experience outside in, starting with the customer expectations in mind

I know that this sounds like a no brainer but in our work we still see so many organisations that have organised their experience around partners, channels etc. The primarily driver for the way things are set is what’s easier for them and how they are organised internally as opposed to how the customer would like things to be set.

Tui has designed experiences specific to families and couples. First Choice is their subsidiary brand designed for families and they focus on all inclusive stays in holiday villages, whereas Thomson Couples focuses on premium stays with no kids around at all.

British Council on the other side has ensured that their B2B departments abide by the same principles as the more customer oriented part to ensure the nurturing of a consistent culture and habits in the organisation. Thus we were really surprised when we saw the emotional profile of the people dealing with their contracts and purchasing department to be very similar to that of the people taking an exam at British Council.

3. Build emotional cues into the experience

Once you’ve defined what you want to stand up for and the impressions and feelings you want to leave your customers with you are into experience design. The experience design has become as much a business art as product and process design. Undoubtedly you have the basics in place so you should focus on building cues that support the impressions and feelings you want to leave your customers with. These don’t have to be big and costly things. Oftentimes companies spend millions on big costly items (e.g. new CRM, renovation, new machines etc.) but neglect to design the actual experience around those (e.g. think of a new smart self-service coffee machine, ticketing machine or an elevator with no buttons that you are left on your own to figure it out). A good approach to the experience design is the use of Journey Mapping where you also display customers’ feelings at each journey step.

For example Tui starts to plug the message of safety with the send out of the e-ticket (e.g. “your ticket is safe for you in your My First Choice area”). As the e-mail continues customers even see a dedicated “health and safety” tab. Other safety cues in the pre-travel stage include giving the home embassy address and phone numbers in the foreign country etc. There are also verbal cues throughout the journey e.g. “our team will be there to meet you”, “first and foremost for your safety” during boarding and on board the plane / ferry, emphasising the safety aspects during the hotel tour etc. It is important that all cues are consistent. Therefore the subtle safety message cues are also given consideration during recruitment as Tui strives for its reps to portray maturity and shines away from the usual 18 year old reps for the industry.

For British Council, making people feel focused, stimulated and energized by their studies wasn’t enough to accomplish their mission. To encourage the cultural transfers they needed to focus on one more emotion – “exploring options”. The cues built for that included displays with materials in house about various opportunities to study in UK, go on an exchange program, do arts etc. as well as organise networking opportunities to facilitate the transfer.

4. Ensure the delivery of your promises e.g. all parts should add up together

Here comes the tough part. It is even more important these cues are not just a marketing trick and the company keeps its promises. Many companies say “trust” is important to us, or we want our customers to feel at home with us and yet they give negative cues such as pens on chains or hangers locked to the wardrobe rail in hotel rooms. In an earlier blog I outlined what to do to avoid the experience betraying the words.

To ensure the safety cues don’t end up with marketing, Tui operates a “Text & Mobile” service, 24/7 helpline and should there be an accident they will find a doctor, provide support and help with the paperwork.

Similarly, British Council has embedded TIE (Trust, Inspiration & Ease) into their recruitment & selection, induction and training materials, internal communications to staff, appraisals of not just have people done what was expected from them but how did they do it and coaching.

5. Aim low and leave room for trial and error

Here are the good news. You should aim lower. A new research by Stanford and Harvard Business School found that when you give someone a smaller and more concrete and realistic task (e.g make someone smile) vs a more nebulous one (e.g. make someone happy) they are more likely to succeed and thus boost their own happiness. “This effect was driven by the size of the gap between expectations and reality. The efforts of those assigned to make someone happy fell short of expectations–leading to less personal happiness–whereas the efforts of those assigned to make someone smile more accurately matched expectations–increasing their happiness”.

The research also showed that people can be taught this fact to help them maximize their well-being. Simply reminding yourself that small acts of kindness have big impacts on yourself and others can help you recalibrate your thinking to aim for more concrete and effective goals, which in turn make you happier.

As customers’ expectations change rapidly driven not just from you, or what happens in your industry but also by other companies they deal with who lead the way (e.g. Amazon, Apple, Starbucks etc.) you need to constantly innovate. There are fewer innovations when people are afraid to do errors. We have recently gathered former clients from different parts of the world who had a success with their customer experience programs and one thing was common that led to their success – the room for trial and error they had.

Eliminating all errors makes it hard to compete in the trial-and-error process that’s required for a company to adjust, because there are no trials without errors. Or you might be in danger of death by efficiency!

For more on the topic read the HBR paper by J. Pine and J Gilmore, Welcome to the experience economy, C. Duhigg’s book, “The Power of Habit” or listen to our webinar.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Zhecho Dobrev
Zhecho Dobrev is a Senior Consultant at Beyond Philosophy with 7 years of management consultancy experience and more than10,000 hours devoted to becoming an expert in customer experience management. He has worked with a wide range of sectors and countries. Some of his clients includeCaterpillar, FedEx, American Express, Heineken, Michelin etc. Zhecho's expertise includes conducting customer research on what drives customer behavior, journey mapping, customer complaints, measurement, training and more. He holds an MBA and Master's degree in International Relations.


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