Customer Experience and Value Add: Make it Personal, Emotional, and Sensory


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Being raised in an emotionally expressive Italian family, it’s no wonder that I’ve been attracted to the emotional side of business and the importance of “emotional value” in customer experience creation.

emotional value

Over the years, I’ve gravitated toward thought leaders who’ve echo my belief that “all business is personal” and to my view that “behind every purported rational decision lurks a powerful emotional driver.”

Love and Profits

Dating back to 1991, I was taken by the writings of James Autry as he broke with traditional boss/employee power hierarchies and encouraged a more personal/emotional approach to leading people. Writing in his book, Love and Profits, James noted, “Good management is largely a matter of love. Or if you’re uncomfortable with that word, call it caring, because proper management involves caring for people not manipulating them….Management is a sacred trust in which the well-being of other people is put in your care during most of their waking hours…. So management is a matter of being ‘in relationship.’” From James Autry’s and my vantage point, leading through “love” and “relationship “ are authentic emotional drivers for employee engagement.

Predictably Irrational

Behavioral economist, Dan Ariely’s work on emotional decision-making has also been ground-breaking and inspirational; particularly, when it comes to consumer behavior. In this blog post from 2008, Dan noted:

We used to think about decisions as cold calculated, detached, computations that examine the costs and benefits, but recently we have gained a higher appreciation for the role of emotions in our decisions and for the fundamental ways in which they change us…. Emotions are an integral part of who we are, a part that represents our evolutionary history, a part that is a basic and necessary component of our behavior.”

Dan’s Nobel Prize winning research and books like Predictably Irrational continue to highlight the effects of human expectations, arousal, and “high-emotion” situations on decision-making, purchase behavior, and loyalty.

Emotional Value Across the Journey

Thought leaders and researchers like James and Dan champion the importance of incorporating emotional value into every decision we make when serving others (team members, direct reports, suppliers, shareholders, and customers). Our value and the value of our goods and services is often fully realized when people, processes, and technology align to make our deliverables personal, emotional and sensory.  

To demonstrate the importance of the sensory connection, for example, one need look no further than the evolution of virtual reality. From my first exposure to early Oculus Rift innovations to more advanced deployments leveraged by my clients and others, I’m convinced that virtual reality is emotional reality.

Evolving VR

If virtual technology to date isn’t immersive and intensely emotional enough, new breakthroughs are taking this brain-absorbing tool to a new level. Writing in Venture Beat, Dean Takahashi previews a new semiconductor being developed by Tegway called ThermoReal. According to Dean:

“ThermoReal is a thermoelectric device that can generate heat and cold upon demand and translate that feeling into your hands as you hold touch controls in VR. It is a new kind of human-machine interface….. I put on a VR headset and held the ThermoReal controller in my hand. As I touched something flaming, I felt actual heat. And when I touched something cold, I felt the coldness for real. And to make me feel pain, the ThermoReal device generated both heat and cold at the same time. It was an electrifying experience.”

Whether it is the heat, cold, or pain of ThermoReal, or the surprise and delight customers feel when they are remembered from visit to visit, brands that deliver emotional value are, in turn, emotionally valued by their customers. Those who simply deliver practical value are at the mercy of those who can deliver that same value, with a touch of the personal, emotional, and sensory.

How About You?

What are you doing to drive emotional value? How are you making it personal, emotional, and sensory particularly at the “moments-that-matter” for those you serve?

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Joseph Michelli, Ph.D.
Joseph Michelli, Ph.D., an organizational consultant and the chief experience officer of The Michelli Experience, authored The New Gold Standard: 5 Leadership Principles for Creating a Legendary Customer Experience Courtesy of The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company and the best-selling The Starbucks Experience: 5 Principles for Turning Ordinary Into Extraordinary.


  1. It may be my age, (60,) but I agreed with these sentiments until the whole thing about virtual reality came up. As a regular traveller and shopper, I have never had an experience with a machine – no matter how sophisticated – that could have vaguely approached some basic courtesy from human beings. If this is where we’re going in the future, I want no part of it.

  2. Fully agree with with both part of the article. I do have a strong believe in business2buisness is always at the end turning into people2people where emotions are a huge part of decision process. How it will change in time of AI and IoT I am not sure but trying to follow the trends. The other element that you raised is a role of leaders. Especially today a servant approach to your team with love, passion and making people better both individually and a the team is long time and ( at least for me ) the only sustainable way to manage the great companies.

  3. Aki, I also have a profound preference for the uniquely human but have had to accept the reality that machines will increasingly approximate emotional engagement. I wish to emphasize the special human emotional connections while being aware of trends in technology – so we stay the masters of machines!

  4. Waldek, thank you for your comment here and for your separate email. I am struck by your “dice” approach to leadership, perspective building and team work. It reminds me (on a much grander scale) of the visual power of a book like “Zoom” or “Re-zoom.” As for the servant approach, I am convinced it will always prevail in the end…

  5. Hi Joseph: Value is a human construct, and since humans are inherently emotional, I am confused by the term emotional value. I can empirically calculate the cost to produce something, but its value is assessed based on a person’s emotions.

    After reading Ariely’s book, my takeaway was not so much that people make decisions based on emotions. To many of us involved in marketing and sales, that has always been evident. The insight that I derived from Ariely’s research is that buying decisions are regularly – predictably – irrational.

  6. Hi Jospeh, thanks for this comments. Once I made a comparison of servant leadership to … curling when by sweeping the ice and facilitation the journey of the rock we make the team win.

  7. Andrew, I contrast emotional value from “instrumental” or “practical value”. You are right that Dan’s book is rich with examples of reliably irrational decision-making processes including the role heightened emotions like “arousal” predictably play.

  8. I assume instrumental and practical value are the same or equivalent. What distinguishes them from emotional value?

  9. Andy, I think of practical value as someone being given “gruel” as sustenance. By contrast another person might be given a succulent feast of their favorite delectables (practical value plus emotional value). If you are the restaurant serving gruel you may satisfy the appetite, activating the satiety center in the ventromedial hypothalamus. If you receive the customized, pallet pleasing offering you would fire the same gut/brain feedback mechanism offering your body practical value and satiation plus you would drive emotional value through limbic system activation and the release of pleasure neurotransmitters (endorphins,serotonin dopamine, norepinephrine). That’s my primitive view. I would love to gain your insights. Thanks for the thought provoking questions.

  10. I think our understandings of the mechanics of neurobiology in buying decisions remain nascent. And even though economists argue heatedly about how people assess value, I’m more inclined to follow their research to inform my conclusions on this topic.

    If I’m hungry and buy a bag of M&M’s to take the edge off my appetite, am I considering only the “practical value” of this candy? What if I decide to part with just a little more cash to buy the “king size” bag? Am I doing that to satisfy some higher, “less physical” need? (Satisfy hunger now, enjoy frivolous snacking later). What if I decide that my personal health is sufficiently valuable to forgo the sugar high altogether, and I spend double the amount of the bag of M&M’s on an (ostensibly) healthier granola bar to satisfy my hunger craving? I think these questions demonstrate that value to customers is incredibly difficult to parse, even when one is flat-out guessing. With so much uncertainty, I question whether it’s even a useful exercise.

    In the final analysis, however, I find the term “emotional value” only injects more confusion into the debate. It suggests that there is such a thing as “unemotional value,” which is illogical for the reason I stated in my earlier comment.

    Humans have physical and non-physical needs. How much they choose to pay to satisfy them – or not – depends on the value they perceive. Whether through barter or an exchange of money for goods, all purchase decisions are expressions of emotions.

  11. Andy, emotional value has proven to be a construct that has resonated with my clients. Maybe we are talking about differing levels of needs not unlike Maslow. Many people justify purchases with their frontal cortex (pragmatism) although those purchases are clearly limbic system driven. I know the science has advanced far from my days in graduate school, with much PET scan research supporting such findings. I respect your point about “king size” vs ordinary size M&Ms (in my view neither are needs but instead reflect purchases triggered by brain and marketing associations). In any case I am grateful to your deep thoughtfulness and the kindness of your discourse! Thanks for the insights.


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