Customers and Employees, and The Emotional Drivers They Share As Stakeholders


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Over the past thirty years, much of customer and employee research has focused almost entirely on the cognitive, rational, and functional elements of decision-making and behavior. Why? Well, researchers are (mostly) logical, and the cognitive and rational certainly looks logical – – and emotions, or emotional context within the enterprise culture, can be challenging to measure.

Employee research progress has lagged behind the more progressive approaches to understanding customer value and behavior drivers. For years, especially in qualitative research, professionals endeavored to get at employee “feelings” involved when making job-related decisions, but that didn’t help very much. As noted by Sigal Barsade and Olivia O’Neill in a recent Harvard Business Review article, “Manage Your Emotional Culture” (January-February, 2016), “Most companies pay little attention to how employees are – or should be – feeling. They don’t realize how central emotions are to building the right culture.”

The sea change that occurred in marketing over the past decade, that is the movement from push to pull, has been profound. The consumer now has access to both formal and informal (online and offline word of mouth and other socially-based) information. Consumers are actively generating their own content; and this shift in decision-making control has forced concomitant change among corporations and researchers. It has, in the process, also created an awareness that stakeholder, i.e. principally employees and customers, must be more actively considered.

And, to parallel this trend, academics were actively studying the impact of emotions on various types of perception and decision-making. There has been a great deal of this, on subjects ranging from metaphor elicitation to emotional and personalized weight processing. Daniel Kahneman’s book, Thinking Fast and Slow, has been especially important for researchers as they endeavor to understand how subconscious emotions and memory impact decision-making and behavior. As my colleague Howard Lax stated in a recent post on the importance of emotions: “Emotions create connections or “hooks” that people can and will recall. Emotions give meaning to experiences and make them more relevant to our lives. The more meaning we attach to an experience, the more importance we give it, the more likely it is that we will feel emotionally connected in some way and the more likely that we will remember it. Experiences that don’t stir emotions simply have less meaning for us, making them more likely to be forgotten. The bland is inherently forgettable, like tasteless food and white noise.”

Creating value, and generating optimized loyalty behavior, have a lot in common with love. Building from the song “Love Is A Many Splendored Thing” (recently celebrating its 60th anniversary, having been recorded by Philly group The Four Aces in 1955), perceived value and marketplace behavior are the result of experience(s) which, whether tangible or relationship-based, influence emotion and leave elements of memory. Memory shapes impression and trust, leading to action. It’s a lot like love, leading to a (hopefully) lasting relationship.

Flash forward to the movie “Moulin Rouge”, where Christian once again quotes the Beatles song title, and adds: “Love is like oxygen. All you need is love.” Experience is the oxygen (or the nitrogen) that feeds the array of emotional responses, the most powerful of which stay in the stakeholder’s memory (as key positives or negatives). From memory comes belief and trust (or rejection), which in turn, leverages loyalty (or disloyalty) behavior.

If this seems in any way a linear process, be assured that it isn’t. The many splendors of driving b2b or b2c customer, or employee, behavior are complex; but if the components are well understood and incorporated into strategic and tactical initiatives, these insights will help achieve desired marketplace or workplace actions.

And, just because an enterprise succeeds at reframing and redefining experiences (often through devices like journey mapping), they should also understand that sustaining perceived value and stakeholder commitment and loyalty is quite another matter. Reality, along with ever-changing stakeholderer needs and tastes, dictates that the trust necessary to leverage decision making and behavior is extremely delicate and fragile. Once achieved, it needs to be guarded and protected. Again, like love.

Nowhere is trust more at constant risk than in financial services – banking, insurance, and investments. This stands to reason, since most consumers put great emotional and tangible return/coverage emphasis on protecting their earnings and nest eggs. Because this industry suffered such loss of trust during the recession, the companies that proactively show that they can create value and trust will be strategically differentiated, both in terms of culture and stakeholder value delivery. In TED-type fashion, there are several basic techniques for making this happen in the financial services industry:

1. Minimize irritating inefficiencies. For example, high-tech and virtual approaches may be great for the financial institution, but they often annoy and frustrate customers and put strain on employees.

2. Make the experience proactive and personal. Customers want to feel that interactions are personalized, and that their needs are a priority. This also brings employees into closer proximity with customers, enhancing their commitment and job experience.

3. Practice transparent and frequent communication. A company can’t go too far wrong if it assumes that the customer and employee wants to be kept current on important transactional details (without having to ping the provider); and, at the same time, the customer wants the provider available to answer questions thoroughly and conveniently, another area where employee behavior is featured..

4. Emphasize simplicity. The financial services industry gets a fairly well-deserved rap for making many insurance, investment, and banking transactions and decisions too complex and time-consuming. The rule here should be, as MBNA used to preach (before being acquired by Bank of America): “Think of yourself as the customer.” Customers will always lean toward simplicity because it feels more honest and open And, again, this works on the employee side of the equation as well.

5. Understand your customers. Don’t just find out what satisfies them. Find out what creates and undermines personal advocacy and bonding behavior, identify where experience can be improved. This ‘rule’ applies, equally, to employees.

And remember, irrespective of industry, love (and other positive emotions) makes the stakeholder world go around.


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