The Big Miss: How Organizations Overlook the Value of Emotions

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We all had different ways of coping with the lockdown. Some started knitting or scrapbooking. Some of you binge-watched all of Netflix. Some of you read books. One of the things we did on the Beyond Philosophy team was look at data. What we discovered became a book, and we had the author on as a guest in a recent podcast. So I thought I would share what he said here with you.

The data came from our Emotional Signature product, which is research that measures the emotional engagement you have with your customers. However, we’ve collected quite a database over the years with many projects. Zhecho Dobrev, Senior Consultant at Beyond Philosophy for 13 years, Customer Experience and Behavior Science Consultant and Trainer, and, now, Author of The Big Miss: How Organizations Overlook the Value of Emotions, digested all that data and wrote a book about it. You can follow Zhecho on Twitter here.


I always told the team that we were sitting on a gold mine with all our consumer research projects using Emotional Signature research, and it is true. Since 2005, the Emotional Signature has been a project where we determine what drives value for an organization’s customers. However, we’ve never looked across the whole thing and said, what is this telling us?

 However, Dobrev did. He looked into how valuable relationships are to organizations and how we can prove them. Then he looked at all the customer journey maps and how they helped form a customer relationship. Finally, Dobrev explored how important emotions are to organizations, what role emotions play in the Customer Experience, and what that was worth to the organization’s bottom line.

Dobrev’s book, The Big Miss, is based on 20,000 customers from 24 organizations within nine industry sectors, including finance, healthcare, telecoms, utilities, and others. There were nearly 60 models, and almost half were business-to-business companies. There were also customer responses to almost a million questions in the US, UK, Canada, and Europe. In many ways, Dobrev says, this is very representative of a global study across different industries.

Dobrev discovered three primary findings from this deeper dive on 20 years’ worth of data:

1. Emotions matter a lot.

The most significant driver of emotional attachment was customers feeling they had a relationship with the company. Feeling that the organization cared for them as a person, listened and understood them, and responded to their needs reliably was more crucial than even the product experience, including price, reliability, and brand promise.

2. Customers won’t say it. If you wait for customers to tell you that emotions matter a lot to them, you will be disappointed. Most customers will tell you that price or product reliability is their most important thing. Emotions come way later and far down the list of customers’ stated priorities in decision-making. People are notoriously bad at telling you the real reason they do something; they can tell you, but it won’t be the real reason. However, it’s not deception. They often don’t know themselves.

3. People fail to act on what they fail to notice. Research is only as good as the questions you ask. Therefore, your research findings will not reflect their importance if you neglect to ask about emotions. We know customers have feelings, for good or bad. If you do not include them, you are creating what we described in a past newsletter about The Myth of Experience as a Wicked learning experience. A Wicked learning experience means that you think you have all the information but don’t. Therefore, you have not learned what you thought you did. In other words, just because you didn’t ask about emotions doesn’t mean emotional context is not critical to the decision-buying process.

Dobrev’s book covers seven areas that will help organizations understand the importance of these findings and use them in their experiences moving forward. There is a mix of strategic things and tactical ones. In the strategic area, Dobrev covers areas like measuring emotions in your customer feedback, engaging in more implicit research, finding the difference between what customers say they want and what actually drives value, focusing the experience design on emotions, and measuring emotions in the employee experience also. Tactical suggestions start with simple things, like demonstrating that you know customers and care about them by trying to build a relationship with them.

An example of a tactical suggestion that was small but worked was in a project with American Express. Adding the text “member since XXXX” to the front of the card was a powerful tool for acknowledging that they knew their customers. For example, Dobrev uncovered in his research a quote that American Express executives shared that one customer didn’t cancel the card because it read the customer had been with them for ten years.

Knowing customers is essential to building a relationship. For example, when I walk into my house and shout hello to my wife Lorraine, I know how she feels in one word from her intonation—and whether I should walk straight out through the door again! Also, because I know her so well, I have many things I can do that will make her feel better if she’s unhappy or worried.

Your employees will not know their customers like their spouses or significant others. However, employees can read body language, gestures, tones, and all the other little cues customers give that communicate how the customer feels.

Then, once employees know how customers feel, employees can convert customers to feeling the emotion that drives value for the organization (or keep customers feeling the emotion if employees are lucky enough to land there already).

So, What Should You Do to Ensure You Don’t Miss it?

There are few insights an organization can glean from Dobrev’s insights. However, we have suggestions for an organization reluctant to miss out on the benefits of managing the emotional experience and outcome in a customer strategy.

  • Accept that emotions have a place in your functional design. At a basic level, the primary thing organizations can do to ensure they don’t miss is to accept that emotions are a part of the decision process for customers. As Dobrev’s research shows, that step alone will put you ahead of the game in this area and ahead of your competition.
  • Have a game plan. Your customers have emotions all the time; before they interact with you. They often come into a direct experience with an emotional state that needs management. Your emotionally intuitive employees will pick up on that and manage those customers with care. However, not every employee understands how to do this or even recognizes the emotional state of customers. Therefore, you must consider training employees that need help in this area. How can they acknowledge and support customers’ emotions and manage the experience to an improved outcome? What words and actions can employees use to enhance customers’ emotional experience? Having this game plan is essential for your customer-facing teams.
  • Design an experience focused on evoking strategic emotions. One of the things we talk about in this newsletter (and books, blogs, and podcasts), is having a strategy to evoke a feeling that drives customer value and inspires the customer behavior you want.
  • Suppose you only focus on efficiency or profitability in your customer process. In that case, you miss out on an enormous opportunity to build a relationship with your customers that leads to customer retention and loyalty. Showing customers you value their relationships and that they can trust you will make a significant difference in your organization’s customer engagement.

The Emotional Signature is where Dobrev’s research from the organizations originated. We designed this to help organizations figure out where their customers’ unmet needs were in the market and also identify the emotions their experience should evoke to drive customer value. As a result, many of these companies discovered that it changed how they looked at customers and their market.

If you have a business problem that you would like some help with, contact me on LinkedIn or submit your pickle here. We would be glad to hear from you and help you with your challenges.

There you have it. No promotions, no gimmicks, just good information.

We hope you enjoyed this issue of Why Customers Buy. If you have, please forward it to a friend or colleague.

Think reading is for chumps? Try my podcast, The Intuitive Customer instead. We explore the many reasons why customers do what they do—and what you should do about it. Subscribe today right here.

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