Customers, whether they are business-to-consumer or business-to-business, can have a range of perceptions about the tangible and intangible elements of their customer journey, and the individual, component elements of experience, or, indeed, a single transaction. Underlying their positive, neutral, or negative perceptions, and the potential downstream actions they influence, are feelings and, even deeper, emotions.
Human beings are ‘wired’ to have many different emotions and feelings. It’s important that organizations understand what’s going on inside the minds of their customers, particularly with respect to emotions, so that they can shape, or modify, experience-related processes, products, and communication messages.
Feelings are subconscious reactions, responses by any of the five senses to outside stimuli, or a deeper version of attitudes. Feelings, which tend to be short-term (thirsty, excited, hungry, etc.) have to be triggered by some external situation, while emotions can be completely internalized. They are a rich stew of immediate responses, ranging from pleasant (happiness, fascination, affection, sympathy, delight, animated, relaxed, jubilant, amazed, cheerful, warm, etc.) to difficult and unpleasant (depressed, annoyed, confused, upset, embarrassed, hesitant, sad, indifferent, wary, anxious, etc.)
Unfortunately, because they are so tied to transactions, trying to measure feelings is a bit like trying to capture lightning in a bottle. Feelings can be generally understood on a qualitative level, but are more challenging to interpret where strategic relationships are concerned. Emotions represent longer-term response, and are more deeply connected to longitudinal customer experiences and the strategy of customer relationships.
Psychologists understand that emotions can be produced by a thought, memory, or external situation; and, they are also quite aware that there are many variations to the five that are consistent in all cultures: love, hate, joy, sorrow, and fear. For example, disgust is an emotion which is one subset of hatred. Emotions – like love and sorrow – are long-term states. They can last for years, and can only change when the individual subconsciously moves on.
Too frequently, the failure to more actively consider the influence of emotional response to customer experience, and the resulting impact on downstream behavior, can be costly. Many business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-customer (B2C) companies offer antiseptic, commoditized, vanilla product or service experiences for customers. These experiences are almost guaranteed not to be emotionally-registered, not to be memorable, not talked about (unless neutrally or negatively), and not to create customer advocacy behavior. Some, through culture, discipline, and purpose, have succeeded in creating consistent, positive experiences that are emotionally appealing to customers and which customers consider worthy of passing along through their informal conversations and recommendations.
Most brands and corporations seem to get by on transactional approaches to customer relationships and passive methods of value creation. These might include basics such as occasional price promotions, merchandising gimmicks, new product offerings, and the like. Service experiences are passive and deflective, addressing and resolving the customer’s problems, but not emotionally “owning” the customer’s issue.
In these situations, the customers see no brand-to-brand differentiation; and their experience of the brand or company is largely one-dimensional and easily capable of replacement. Moreover, the customer has no personal, emotional investment in choosing—and staying—with one brand or supplier over another.
A key opportunity for companies to become stronger and more emotionally viable to customers is creation of branded experiences. Beyond simply selling a product or service, these “experiential brands” connect with their customers at a deeper level. They understand that delivering on the tangible and functional elements of value are just basic table stakes, and that connecting and having an emotionally-based relationship with customers is the key to leveraging loyalty and advocacy behavior.
Exemplars of branded customer experience also understand that there is a “journey” for customers in relationships with preferred companies. These customer journeys are founded on emotion. They begin with awareness, how the brand is introduced, i.e., the promise. Then, promised and created expectations must at least equal real-world touch-point results (such as through service), sustained and reinforced over time, with a minimum of disappointment.
Finally, branding the customer experience requires that the brand’s image, its personality, if you will, is conveyed and received at an emotional level. Advanced companies map and plan this out, recognizing that experiences are actually a form of branding architecture brought to life through excellent process engineering, with an emotional core. Because many consulting organizations, Beyond Philosophy included, understand that customer experience will continue to grow as the engine propelling customer behavior, the more organizations can emotionally brand the value they deliver, the more successful they will be.