Engage Your Customers Emotionally to Create Advocates


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I placed my items on the belt at the supermarket. The clerk scanned and bagged them. The amount was displayed on the screen. I handed over my credit card and smiled. I, then, realized that no one had said anything!

The clerk swiped my card. I signed. And just as I was leaving, I said to her, “It would have been nice if you had said, ‘Thank you.'”

She replied, “I don’t need to. It is written on the receipt.”

Ever since that day, I have been on a campaign to see the number of customer experiences I can have without people saying a word. It is surprising how many there can be.

Ever since that day, I have been on a campaign to see the number of customer experiences I can have without people saying a word.

Unfortunately, many organizations think their job is to process customers. But at Beyond Philosophy, we believe all organizations are on a journey from Naïve to Natural, in the way they are orientated around the customer.

Sixty-seven percent of organizations are transactional; they treat customers as a transaction, something to be processed. They are looking only at what we would call the physical, or the rational, aspects of the customer experience. They do not appreciate that 50 percent of a customer experience is about how a customer feels. But in researching my book, The DNA of Customer Experience: How Emotions Drive Value, with the London Business School, we proved that emotions drive or destroy value.

When the clerk failed to thank me, I felt “irritated”; I felt that the organization didn’t “value” me. As a consequence, even though the store is actually closer to my home, I now drive past it to shop three miles away. This store that’s farther away makes me feel “valued,” and I feel the people there “care” for me. In other words, they emotionally engage with me.

Our research suggests that there are four “clusters” of emotions that affect value. Two clusters of emotions, “happy” and “pleased,” lead people to become advocates—not just recommending a business or product but also doing so without being prompted to.

To design an experience that is emotionally engaging to create advocates, you need to map the journey. While many methodologies, including Six Sigma and Lean CRM, are good at redesigning a process; their aim is operational efficiency. Any improvement to the customer experience may be only a byproduct. They focus on the physical and rational aspects of the experience and do not look at the emotional side. This means they effectively are ignoring half of the experience.

A process we developed, called Moment Mapping®, enables you to design an emotionally engaging customer experience. We identify the combustion points that drive the destroying cluster of emotions and embed “emotional cookies” that will evoke the desired emotions that create customer advocates.

Consider what happened with a U.S. bank that asked us to redesign its branch loan experience. When we mapped the “as is” experience of customers, we found different customer types, including these three:

  • Principal’s office. These younger people were nervous about asking for a loan. One described the experience as feeling “like I was going to see the principal, and I had done something wrong.” These customers tried to do as much as they could online. But to secure a loan, they had to submit to an interview and sign papers.
  • Dignity. These older people just felt embarrassed. They had been brought up with the belief that you shouldn’t borrow money and “pay your way.”
  • Sophisticates. These experienced loan buyers were very knowledgeable. They entered the experience feeling confident and assured, and they wanted to complete this as quickly as possible.

When we mapped the “as is” experience; the customer would be invited to the branch and asked to sit in a waiting area that was open and in full view of all customers. This was a major “combustion point,” which, we discovered, had had a different emotional effect on each group.

For those in the “principal’s office” group, Waiting just confirmed that those in the “principal’s office” group were going to see the principal! Our hidden cameras revealed them fidgeting and sitting on the edge of their chairs. The longer they were kept waiting, the more intense was their feeling of inferiority and the greater their concern.

Sitting in a waiting area in full view of everyone contributed to the discomfort of those in the “dignity” group. They tended to sit with their backs to the other customers and “hide” as much as possible. In one of the branches, “dignity” customers preferred sitting behind a large plant!

The “sophisticates” who thought the whole process was a waste of time found waiting very frustrating. We could have called this group “the prowlers.” About 65 percent of them didn’t sit. They prowled around, waiting to be called in, so they could leave and get on with something more productive.

We recommended that the bank alter the experience for each of these groups and design-in these “emotional cookies.” There were some common aspects that would help all these particular groups in different ways. For example, people in all these groups wanted to be seen quickly, although it was for different reasons. So the bank implemented a more efficient appointment system. We also trained all the branch staff on the characteristics of the groups and explained how to identify them.

We proposed that “principal’s office” customers be put at ease by branch employees who were not sitting behind desks. We also ensured that the employees spend time making small talk with these customers, explaining what was going to happen.

For those in the “dignity” group, we allocated a longer period of time for their “confession” of why they needed the money. Our research showed that, when they did this, they would feel that a burden had been lifted. We also moved the waiting areas into a more secluded place to help customers in this group.

For the “sophisticates,” we speeded up the process. We also enhanced the background checks to ensure they were not bad payers. We made sure that no time was wasted on settling them down at the beginning of the interview. It was very businesslike and efficient, to make sophisticated customers happy.

As a result of the changes, loan conversions increased by 17 percent, and referral and loyalty increased.

By looking at customer experience from an emotional point of view and designing these emotions into your customers’ experience, you can have a dramatic effect on revenue and customer advocacy.

Colin Shaw
Colin is an original pioneer of Customer Experience. LinkedIn has recognized Colin as one of the ‘World's Top 150 Business Influencers’ Colin is an official LinkedIn "Top Voice", with over 280,000 followers & 80,000 subscribed to his newsletter 'Why Customers Buy'. Colin's consulting company Beyond Philosophy, was recognized by the Financial Times as ‘one of the leading consultancies’. Colin is the co-host of the highly successful Intuitive Customer podcast, which is rated in the top 2% of podcasts.


  1. I appreciated and enjoyed reading this article very much.

    It dawned on me however that what we have after trimming away the fat is a symptom of a much greater cancer. Indifference and Apathy.

    Gone are the days of Golden Rule selling. The principle of selling to others as you would like to be sold to negates absolute efficiency in that certain actions and steps are taken to express how much you appreciate the customers patronage, and the opportunity to service their respective needs.

    Many are today too short sighted to realize that immediacy isnt the key in successful selling. The reward for your efforts arent always made manifest in teh short run; however the rewards do come. In actuality sooner than you would think when you are actually paying attention to the task at hand and not to your compensatory cache.

    These are the days when many sell out of a pure and unadulterated desire to grow rich. Selling devoid of principle and the understanding of the “Psychology of the Sale”, never amounts to customer loyalty, satisfaction, or retention.

    We live in a thankless world if I may be so gloomy as to say. Salespeople are the occupational barometer of this system of things/thinking that we live in and adhere to today.

    The upside is those organizations that understand this, not only do their part to sustain decency and well mannered selling techniques; they also set themselves aside from the rest of the selling herd by connecting with their customers, and in so doing providing them the very human and equally important human product as well as whatever commerical product is being marketed.

  2. Often the least paid personnel in retail work at the point of sale. Yikes! The customer may have responded to an advertisement, had an entirely wonderful experience with a floor sales associate carefully selecting the right product(s), but when they get to the cash register, the entire process circles the drain.
    This is a symptom of improper training. I learned this lesson my first day in training at a convenience store years ago. The Supervisor said, ‘make sure that each customer knows that you care that they have decided to come into your store and spend their money with you.’ Heavy emphasis on the ‘you.’
    Secret shoppers and employee bonus checks help remind employees that the whole process starts with the customer. I don’t miss those days, but the lessons learned have helped with many a project since.

  3. Colin,

    I agree with you completely, businesses need to look at the emotional aspects of the customer experience and to take this into consideration when establishing business practices and processes. I am looking forward to reading your new book.

    I would like to offer an alternative view of your supermarket experience. This is an all too common experience. As research by the Gallup organization indicates, nearly 75% of employees in America are at least partially disengaged at work. That means they are physically present but to some degree, psychologically absent and consequently indifferent to how they impact your emotional state.

    Certainly, one could argue that businesses need to get their employees engaged. Unfortunately, when some do, they create a script that dictates how to interact with customers. Very often this comes off as fake. I am not suggesting they quit trying. In fact, I advise my clients to acknowledge the importance of employee engagement and to devise practices that improve their emotional experience as well.

    While we (customers) are waiting for them improve employee engagement, we do have choices. One is to do what you did and hope the alternative store treats you better. Another is to become emotionally indifferent to keep from getting annoyed. But, indifference is like apathy—who wants to experience it.

    For the past 8 months, I have been taking a more proactive approach and am very pleased with the results. I started by becoming overtly friendly with the most disengaged clerk in my local supermarket. I greeted her by name, smiled, asked how her day was going and tried to find something positive to say. These days, I will get a smile even if I am the third person in her line. She instructs the bagger that I like paper for me, greets me by name and we have a 30 second conversation that is personal and civil.

    Since then, I am proud to say, I have converted two more clerks. But, the really interesting thing is that other employees recognize me. It is not uncommon for the guy in the produce department to say hello and recommend something that is especially fresh, or for me to get a smile or a wave from the guy behind the seafood counter. Word-of-mouth amongst employees?

    John I. Todor, Ph.D.
    Author of Addicted Customers: How to Get Them Hooked on Your Company.

  4. Many people who are clerks in stores or on the phone may feel like they are at the bottom of the respect ladder. Some may feel invaluable because of their low pay and the disrespect many customers seem to show them. I have experienced customers treating clerks like they were with out a face or feelings. Sometimes ignoring a clerk makes others feel more important than the clerk, and seem to have a feeling, how ever brief, of superiority. So this feeling of being less than or more than bounces back and forth between customer and clerk. The clerk may retaliate to the customer and act superior and try to make the customer feel like “nothing of importance”. May be the clerk is subconsciously thinking “this is only a temporary job and I will not be submissive to you”. So where do you find a balance? If people would just recognize the dignity that each of use wants and needs we would get it back in time. I love to compliment and engage clerks to show I value their service and in return I hope to receive service from them.
    This usually works. Some people just have a hard time being friendly. Many stores and services are so on a fast paced race they cannot and do not take time to train employees on the fact, if someone does not come in that door and purchase something then they will have to let the clerk go for lack of sales. And the main part of the clerk’s job is not to ring up sales and count money and stock shelves, but to be sure the customer has had a good experience in their store. I take this back to schooling and home training. Children often mimic their parents. If parents and teachers would have a class once a year for each grade on manners, respect and dignity, many people would benefit and create a greater understanding of our human nature.

  5. I have had two recent bad experiences with checkout clerks. At a combo drugstore-grocery store in Chicago, the clerk closed her line right in front of us. We had already been waiting through three customers. Then she put up the “line closed” bar and turned off her light. It was the only store near our hotel and we didn’t have a car, so we didn’t do what I was inclined to do: leave our full shopping cart and exit the store. We went to the next line and waited through three more customers. I asked that checkout clerk whether it was customary for a clerk to close a line in front of a customer without warning. She said, “I wouldn’t do it, but some people do.”

    Several years ago, I listened while the male cashier and bagger greeted the much younger, much prettier woman in front of me. They asked her how she was doing, joked a bit and thanked her. It put me in a pretty good mood, until I, too, had one of those transactions with absolutely no conversation. The cashier didn’t greet me; he gave me the credit card slip to sign without saying anything. The bagger didn’t speak. No one said thanks. If they hadn’t gone gaga for the other woman, it wouldn’t have bothered me. But I kept thinking that my money was as good as hers. So I have not gone back since.

    I always say hi to cashiers. But I’m not looking to be their friends. I’m just looking for some basic courtesy. I hated it when Safeway made its personnel greet you every time they encountered you. I’d be trying to find raspberries and I’d have to stop and say hi to the produce worker because he’d been ordered to say hi to me. I’m not looking for false courtesy. But I would like clerks to be reminded that customers aren’t a chore to get through; they’re the bread and butter of the business. When I worked as cashier and clerk and customer service rep, I was trained to thank people. And I did so, without being told twice.

    Gwynne Young, Managing Editor, CustomerThink

  6. I agree. The experience maybe wonderful until you get to that all important human contact. I think the “you” part of your comment is important and gives ownership. All too often today people are employed just to do the task…

    Colin Shaw
    Founder, Beyond Philosophy

    Blog: ExperienceClinic.com

  7. I am sure, one day, they will invent a robot to do some of these jobs and then watch people complain about how their jobs have been taken over by automation…..wait a minute, they have! Now you can do self service check out in supermarkets and pay for your own goods.

    Colin Shaw
    Founder, Beyond Philosophy

    Blog: ExperienceClinic.com

  8. And you’re right. I loved it when my local grocery store installed self-service check-outs. The only problem is that the technology is really touchy. The monitor “thinks” you haven’t bagged your item, and—uh-oh—you get the nasty “Wait for Attendant.” When it’s really and truly self-service, I’ll like it even more.

    By the way, I’ve been doing my own count of how long I can go without getting a thank you from a check-out clerk. So far, only the dry cleaners thanked me. The latest twist I found is that clerks say, “Here you go,” when they hand me my bags. So I am compelled to say, “Thank you.” And bing! I have wound up thanking the clerk for my business.

    Gwynne Young, Managing Editor, CustomerThink

  9. “I’m just looking for some basic courtesy. I hated it when Safeway made its personnel greet you every time they encountered you.”

    I know this is from years ago, but the contradictory attitude is just one the strangest things about contemporary society to me. Customers want “basic courtesy” but they “don’t want to be your friend.” In our current culture friends receive courtesy, strangers receive privacy. Safeway was trying to teach its employees that customers are friends and instructed them to provide you with courtesy. But you didn’t want courtesy you wanted privacy to “look for raspberries.” Sales associates and cashiers struggle with this everyday: how to befriend customers who want to be “taken care of” and how to provide privacy for customers who feel like the company-mandated “Hi my name is Dalia! Welcome to Big Fancy, can I help you find anything today?” is too pushy.
    You have no idea how many times associates in disengaged selling and POS environments have been berated, ignored, insulted, or embarrassed by the equally disengaged customers. As the person the company values most: set the standard. If you want friendliness, be friendly. If you want to be left alone, be silent. If you want someone to just say, “hey howya doin'” say that. Employees are usually terrified of the customers or they think that they don’t care either way. If they do care, in life or at the store… they should show it.

    And I just have to respond to the “Thank you” complaint. You thanked the seller or servicer for what they did or gave to you. For the stocking, the bagging, the farming, the water treatment, for the long hours, for the early mornings. For the time your associate will go without health insurance or vacation time to keep prices low. For the buyer who took hours selecting the assortment and making orders. For the advertiser who designed the ad that drew you in. For the executive whose livelihood depends on the selling expertise of teenagers. For those teenagers who are learning how to make in the world. Gratitude goes both ways. I promise you this: they didn’t thank you because they know you don’t care. Look into that person’s eyes next time and say: Im glad you’re here. As evidenced by some of the other comments, as soon as a customer shows they feel ownership in the shopping experience and are friendly to the employees, the employees start treating them as friends!

  10. Thanks for your comments. I wouldn’t disagree with anything you say. For me the issue is being genuine, or authentic. You can tell when people are being false. If I wanted a friend I wouldn’t go to a grocery store!

    Colin Shaw
    International Author. Lastest book “The DNA of Customer Experience”

    Follow me on Twitter:


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