Do you think customer emotional reaction to your service plays an important role in whether the customer will buy from you or use you again? We think so. Our consulting firm, Beyond Philosophy, bases its work on that belief. Whether it’s why you buy from your favorite grocery store or IBM, purchase decisions are not just about physical things such as the right price, product and a convenient location but also the feelings that the service evokes, such as trust, comfort or just the fact that it’s the safest bet.
Therefore, in a world where goods and services are increasingly becoming the same or are easy to imitate, there is real value in evoking the right and avoiding the worst emotions in consumers. As the physical offer becomes more equal among competing suppliers, it is these emotional values that become differentiating in the minds of the consumer.
Managing customer emotions is the next frontier for companies seeking competitive advantage in the marketplace; its value is derived from the creation of emotional bonds of loyalty between a company and its customers and the strong influence of emotions on what we remember. For instance, do you remember your first day at school or when the train broke down on the way to work? These intense events are the kind of things that lodge in your memory.
In a grocery store, this could be difficult to pinpoint because the experience can be bland. But customers will remember the negative things like irritation because of long queues as well as how they felt the last time they shopped—in other words, the last event and anything intense that happened, whether positive or negative.
Controlling these emotions is, therefore, very important. Anything negative or below expectations can be damaging to your organization. For instance, you may buy a pizza a hundred times from the same location, but it is the one occasion when the pie was undercooked that you remember.
This is why service recovery is so important.
Increasingly over the coming year, we predict that emotional management will come to the fore as companies realize the value and competitive advantage to be had through evoking the right—and avoiding the wrong—customer emotional responses. The hotel sector is already recognizing emotional value, according to Jonathan Barsky and Lenny Nash of Hotel & Motel Management, who say, "The emotions a guest feels during a hotel stay are critical components of satisfaction and loyalty. Guests who experience the loyalty emotions are less price sensitive. If guests at mid-scale hotels feel these emotions, they will pay on average $10 more." (Hotel & Motel Management, 2002)
In our consulting work, we have determined both the value of emotions to a business and which emotions an organization should try to evoke. Our research survey of 890 consumers and 33 business leaders in the United Kingdom and the United States clearly shows that companies are finding that emotional influences beyond simple satisfaction are critical and differentiating.
In one exercise with a large healthcare provider, we mapped the positive and negative emotional responses of consumers along an emotional barometer, as well as the actions—the "emotional cookies"—we could use to alleviate negative emotional states. Typically, this would be things like identifying "frustration points" in the customer journey.
To extract emotional responses, we mapped out the customer journey—or moments of contact a customer has with the healthcare provider. We recruited six to eight people for focus groups, in which we discussed the emotions being evoked. These groups were selected with the hospital to cover the main stakeholder groups: patient, family, staff and customer.
Source: Beyond Philosophy
We found that the negative feelings associated with severe healthcare problems such as cancer were tempered by things within the customer experience. One surprise was the way patients made emotional judgments on the quality of care based on small things not related to the physical care process itself. For example, at a point where they didn’t understand whether a certain medical procedure was working, patients would base their judgments on things like a snack being out of date. Therefore, the real opportunity for a healthcare provider is to deliver the small and familiar things in a big way to create faith and confidence in the unknown.
Furthermore, there was a tendency for healthcare staff to misinterpret the emotional condition of patients along the moments of contact, in many cases perceiving the emotional state to be much more negative than the reality. The discrepancy became a major challenge, because medical science tells us that patients’ emotional well-being is responsible for almost a third of their long term clinical outcome.
As a result of this process, the hospital has instituted customer experience as a core strategic objective and is rolling out a CE program based on moment-mapping across all of its service lines. This includes a system-wide program with moment-mapping manager certification and practitioner training.
Customer experience is the battleground, and the "tanks and guns" in that battle relate to how you manage the emotional responses of your consumers to your service.