Are Your Customers Frustrated or Disgusted? Why You Should Care


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A typical Saturday morning starts with our routine. Get up early, get out of the house shortly after 8, and grab a quick breakfast with the 10-year old son before getting him to his piano lesson. If we get out of the house more than 30 minutes before the lesson, we may stop on the way and get his favorite huge cinnamon roll. If we are within 30 minutes of the lesson time, then we stop by our favorite coffee shop quickly to get a pastry and chocolate milk. Same was the intent last Saturday. With less than 30 minutes to get to the lesson, we made our way to the coffee shop. It was a pleasant surprise to get into the store and see it was actually not too busy, not even the drive-through. I thought we should be able to order and eat quickly without rushing for once before heading to the lesson. Well, that expectation was met with a huge disappointment through moments of frustration and concern.

Ordering the Food

Despite the fact there was no one else in front of us in line, our ordering process was lengthier. First it was due to me, as I opened the app to pay and realized I didn’t have enough money loaded to cover the expense. I quickly gave up to pay using my credit card, but the very sweet cashier said, “Oh, take your time,” in a very laid back way. Very nice of her, but at the same time, it was very clear based on my body language I was in a hurried, get-it-done-and-go mode, and not a laid back one. I replied, “Oh, I can’t wait for that, we got to go”. Transaction complete, in terms of payment.

Waiting for the Food

We ordered a couple food items from the pastry case, all to be eaten cold, and the items were available in the case. You would think someone would grab them and give them to you quickly. My son’s chocolate milk was in a pre-packaged box, which he had already grabbed from the case, but I was worried that my coffee may take time. Well, all expectations were completely wrong that morning… My coffee was made quickly, but we waited for more than 5 minutes to get our food. We sat there waiting. It was not because they didn’t have enough staff, there were seven of them. One at drive-through, one at cash register (the same sweet person who is too laid back), one making coffee (one of the more effective ones that morning), one person in the back microwaving food, and a few others I didn’t see till later. Considering there wasn’t a line before me, I’m not sure whose food was being microwaved before delivering mine. Another staff member delivered one item a couple of minutes later, the item that I would consider my son’s “dessert” after his “breakfast” bread. I told him that we’re also waiting for our breads, and he replied, “I’m sure they will deliver those soon”. I’m not sure what he was busy with that he couldn’t check into it, given I seemed rather uncomfortable, pacing around the pick-up area, and specifically requesting attention.

Eventually we got the food, 10 minutes after we entered the store, which left no minutes for us to sit down and eat. My son ate in the car, and I didn’t get to my bread at all. I was excited about the prospect of getting my tasty bread at the beginning of the experience, but I was disappointed and frustrated by the end, within 10 minutes. Next time, I will think twice about stopping by that coffee shop when I have 15 minutes to order and eat, nor will I consider it to be my first choice. Why couldn’t the staff of this nice shop read my cues to react and revise their behavior to provide me a desired, good experience? Were they following a guideline or a script with no room for flexibility in service to meet customers’ specific needs?

Emotions Impact Future Purchases

It may seem like a tiny situation, no big deal, such things happen all the time, right? That is the point! That is exactly why it is important to think about these small incidences that repeat in various situations. Several small incidences collectively make up one’s perceptions of experiences with a particular brand. Consumers’ perceptions of their experiences with brands aren’t only built-up based on the functional aspects of the experience, but also on how they felt through those experiences. If the experience made them feel good or bad, it drives how they will describe their perceptions of that brand in one word or in a survey. Moreover, bad experiences are more memorable in general than good ones, by about a 1 to 3 ratio as mentioned by studies. It takes three good experiences to overcome the negative impact of one bad experience. This is why it is important to understand how the experiences we create and deliver impact our customers’ emotions. Which then impact customers’ overall perception of our brand, their loyalty, and purchase decisions.

A Difficult Metric to Measure

In this day and age, where there is a growing focus on customer experience, companies frequently focus only on functional aspects of the experiences they deliver as actionable strategies. There is definitely no or very little focus on emotional aspects of the experiences by companies (unless the company’s product/service is an emotional experience, such as a Disney vacation). This is due to it being hard to measure and then to act based on the emotions customers go through as they experience the brand. However, by understanding different emotions triggered by experiences, and by identifying the specific triggers of those specific emotions, customer-facing teams can improve on their strategies around handling customer situations.

Pick Up on the Cues

Front-line employees can be trained on how to read a customer’s emotions and respond in specific ways to address those particular emotions. This will allow employees to recover from negative experiences and turn them into positive ones to create memorable moments. In my example, if I seem hurried and concerned about getting to someplace, the staff could read me, recognize my rush, and look into my order to see if they can get me what I needed quickly, especially because they seemed available. Whereas if I were to seem to be disgusted and disappointed because my food is cold, the staff could hear me and offer to warm up my food. Both negative feelings, but two different feelings, and therefore two different behaviors by the company to meet my expectations and secure my “loyalty”.

Additionally, product or service owners and operational units who are responsible for creating and managing experiences can leverage this understanding of different emotions and their triggers. Through this understanding, they can fine-tune elements of experience they create for their customers. For example, based on brand perception of this coffee shop being a fast solution (among other things), they have customers who expect a fast order and delivery. Accordingly, they can build the order/delivery experience to instruct the cashier to take the order, get the payment, and deliver the food at the same time. That is, if the food is a cold item that is readily available in the case, and all they need to do is to grab it and put it in a bag and hand it to the customer. This then would be an expected experience at every location of this store, and customers would have expectations set accordingly and therefore be “satisfied,” having had their expectations met. Or more importantly, avoided disappointment and other negative feelings.

It’s Time to Start Understanding Emotions

It’s an art to read and understand consumers’ emotions. No, it is not easy to train for, but there are cues that staff can pick up on. There can be suggestions on how to handle the situations based on those cues, allowing staff flexibility to go outside the script to handle each customer with care. This ability to understand consumers’ emotions and tailor experiences accordingly will be the next differentiating factor for companies in providing top-notch customer experiences. Let’s start by acknowledging, identifying, measuring, and understanding emotions and what triggered them. As we do that, we will gain clarity on how we can act on this information to be able to improve customer experiences and differentiate ourselves from the pact.

Funda Whitaker
I lead the Strategic Research & Insights teams at InMoment, managing a group of highly-experienced researchers and CX consultants who design, execute, and deliver strategic market research projects for our clients. I have been with InMoment (and its preceding organizations) for over 20 years holding a variety of positions from research and project management to department leadership, with experience in various client sectors conducting a variety of research techniques. I also consult for CX program design and insights. I obtained my master in Marketing Research at UT Arlington.


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