Where Do Human Emotions Fit in the Customer Experience?


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image source: Royalty Free

Brands are like people – there are many of them.

Just like people, few are liked or trusted. And among those, even fewer are able to transcend emotional barriers. So just like successful people – successful brands are able to capitalize on different customer motivators and cater directly to them.

These motivators can include the desire to “be different”, “caring about the environment”, or “enjoying a sense of stability”. Identifying the right motivator may be difficult – because not only do these connections have to be created, customers themselves may not be consciously aware of them.

Reaching emotional connections in the customer experience

Millenials and Generation Z consumers place their feelings at the forefront during purchase decisions, more so than consumers of previous generations. In fact, all types of brands – from cat food to SaaS software are able to capitalize on this new type of consumer, transferring emotional connections to the customer experience.

So when a brand promises us to stand out from the crowd, offers to bring order and predictability to our lives – these triggers could make us gravitate towards that brand.

One way of pinpointing these triggers is to understand customer personas. For example, Jack, 30 is tech-savvy and is able to start using a product after watching one or two video tutorials. Mary, 50 prefers to talk with a person over a screen-sharing session instead. Understanding customer personas is the first step to understanding inner drivers that shape our decision making process.

The seconds step is to group customers according to their value system:

  • Do they seek to be different vs. belong to a group?
  • Do they want to experience freedom vs. to feel in control?
  • Do they enjoy a sense of thrill vs. tranquility?
  • Do they care about the environment vs. themselves?
  • Do they consider a successful life as a result of risk taking vs. security?

Sharing customer knowledge across departments, taking notes during customer interactions and using customer community tools during the customer journey is a fool-proof way to increase customer value and maximize ROI with minimal risk.

A study by HBR revealed that emotionally connected customers are 25-100% more valuable than just highly satisfied customers. Not all brands are able to connect their strong brand images to strong emotional connections:

image source: Helprace

As the above image illustrates, you don’t have to be an upscale brand to connect emotionally – just as you don’t have to be an emotionally connected brand to be liked. Consider that Virgin America edges out United Airlines – neither a premium brand – much the same way that Charles Schwab edges out AMEX.

Long-term success should be a priority for any organization, even if short-term discomfort or compromises need to be reached as a result of some unpopular decisions. One way to improve your strategic angle is by studying and ensuring all of your customer experience touch points are in check – with the foresight and confidence to keep it that way:

1. Brand experience

What do customers think of the brand itself?

In today’s marketplace, buyers are fully in control of their level of engagement during all aspects of the purchase experience. As such, it’s the consumers who control the experience.

Oracle claims over 3/4 of companies have appropriate systems in place to place customers in control of the customer experience. The respondents blame three culprits equally: inflexible technology, siloed organizations and not enough funding to execute change.

Questions to ask yourself:

What happens when customers interact with the brand? Does seeing the logo or company literature invoke certain feelings or emotions? If not, can these reactions be controlled?

2. Purchase experience

The purchase experience starts when the customer decides to purchase your product and ends when it’s in their hands.

The process leading up to the purchase varies from industry to product. For example, a simple SaaS product may need the purchase decision to span a few weeks, involve decision makers, time for ROI testing – never mind rely on constant dialogue with the brand.

Questions to ask yourself:

Is the dialogue one-sided? Are you pushing sales-y messages aggressively – demanding customers drop everything and check on that blog post / sign up? What is it like to go through the sales, purchasing, the delivery and ultimately taking ownership of the product? How complicated is the whole process?

3. Product experience

Your product is ultimately what your customers are after, so it better perform its desired function.

But there’s a different side to the equation: the product experience. When customers use your product or service, they are emotionally invested and – if these feelings are positive, they can become loyal customers.

Questions to ask yourself:

Are customers getting enough value from your product – and if not – is there anything you can do about it? What are the specific emotions they’re feeling? Satisfied, productive, engaged? Or frustrated, uncertain, confused?

4. Support experience

A simple “How are you doing today?” gives businesses the opportunity to get a feel of what your customer wants.

Are they interested in your product or just shopping around? By listening and asking the right questions, you’ll first understand their needs and their business – and it won’t feel like a support interaction but a genuine, personal connection.

Questions to ask yourself:

What is the support experience like? Does the support department understand what customers want when they contact support? Are your employees giving off the impression that they want to move on to the next customer without ensuring the existing customer is fully satisfied?

5. Employee experience

In the end, employees are the ones who are really given the task of keeping customers happy and coming back.

If you don’t provide your employees with the right tools, training and processes, you can’t expect them to do all the right things.

Questions to ask yourself:

How do your customers identify with your employee? Do they see them as an extension of your brand? What emotions do employees carry across when interacting with customers? Is the position a right fit for the character traits and strengths of your employees?

6. Exit experience

Most often than not, customers don’t leave because of bad customer service or a bad product to begin with.

They leave because they’ve outgrown you, they weren’t in the market to begin with, or your product didn’t address a particular need. It’s unfortunate (and inevitable) – but the good news is that these customers are likely leaving with good intentions. The bad news is that there’s no questions to ask yourself this time.

So it’s time to hand it over to your customers:

What stopped you from upgrading / purchasing? Is there something we could’ve done better?

All it takes is an open-ended question asking why a customer decided not to continue doing business with you. The point is, your customers are more receptive to exit surveys or emails soliciting feedback after they lose that emotional connection with you. But all is not lost: the exit survey helps you track what made them leave, learn more about their unique pain points and whether it’s worth for you to address them.

Besides – if you do resolve the deal-breaker that caused them to leave, you can reach out and remind them to give you a try again.

There’s always room for improvement

Delighting customers every day is a challenge without throwing human emotions into the mix. Yet human emotions don’t have to be a mystery – we all either need, want or desire something.

Ultimately, everyone in the organization should be committed to utilizing human emotions to improve the customer experience. It’s absolutely necessary in an environment where customers wield growing power – and could present a real competitive advantage for any business out there.

This article was originally published here: http://helprace.com/blog/where-do-human-emotions-fit-in-the-customer-experience


  1. Hi Vitaliy: it seems that if few people are liked or trusted, it would have been impossible for the human species to flourish, let alone evolve. How few are you talking about? If you can reference any research, it would help to understand the magnitude of the problem you are describing, or to assess if, in fact, it is a problem.

    I’m struggling with the distinction (in your article and in the HBR article you referenced) between “merely satisfied” and emotional connections to products or services. To me, satisfaction is rarely insignificant, so I think “merely” could be misleading in this context. Satisfaction itself is an emotion – more accurately, a combination of emotions – so I don’t believe a ‘satisfied’ customer is under-engaged, or not sufficiently invested emotionally.

    Any clarification you can provide would be helpful.

  2. All emotional components of experience are important, and all leverage customer (and employee) behavior. So, the fundamental answer to the question posed in the title of your post is that emotions belong at the center of experience design and execution.

  3. Hi Andrew. Good Points.

    Here’s an example. If, out of the blue, one person approaches another with a request, there will be apprehension/resistance to engage with that person. More often than not, this is how many brands come across. Whether or not this is a problem in the grand scheme of things is another issue altogether.

    Satisfaction is also a sticky topic. It really boils down to the context of this (somewhat overused) word. For example, we’re often prompted with surveys asking us whether we are “satisfied” or “not satisfied” with a product. In this context, it means simply liking or not liking something. So liking is not going to invoke any powerful emotions.

  4. Hi Vitaliy: Without credible research, I cannot assess whether your assertion about apprehension/resistance is the default condition for people. I accept that it’s your opinion, and I also recognize that there are wide cultural variances regarding how people react to encounters with strangers. A useful book that I read by Jared Diamond, The World Until Yesterday explores this topic in detail. Check it out (https://www.amazon.com/World-Until-Yesterday-Traditional-Societies/dp/0143124404) , and I think you will see that societies have a wide range of behaviors and norms when it comes to the questions you have raised. I’m speaking of people here – I’m not convinced that your observation transfers to brands.

    I’d like to challenge an assumption that I think underlies your article, that is, more emotional reaction and more customer engagement are good for products and brands. One reason I challenge it is because superficially, the assumption seems so reasonable and logical! But in business, most upward trajectories have an inflection point where the rate of acceleration is negative.

    My own customer experience also undermines the assumption. When I visit my local Staples for supplies, I’m invariably asked at checkout whether I want to join their Rewards Club. Invariably, I turn them down. I don’t want the email, promotions, surveys, and other “outreach” that accompanies it. I’m not interested in reading their blog (sorry!), and I don’t ever want to visit the Staples website. Because I’m not a Rewards Club member, they leave me alone. And . . . wait for it . . . that’s the reason I shop there. I get my pens, post-it notes, and ink tanks, and get the heck out of the store. Life is good.

    If you dismiss my comment as just a cranky baby-boomer consumer who doesn’t want to ‘engage’ or ‘have a relationship’ with Staples, I understand. I have made no effort to sugarcoat how I feel in this arrangement, which is blissfully perfunctory to me. Others want deeper meaning when they buy, and to them, I say, rock and roll! Whatever makes you happy.

    But I don’t feel my attitude is anomalous. Recently, there has been a movement, Time Well Spent that pushes back on the notion that more time on websites (read: more “engagement”) is useful, valuable, or healthy. It was started by technology entrepreneurs – imagine! Here’s the link: http://www.timewellspent.io/

    So my caution to marketers, digital strategists, and content developers is this: recognize that there might be limits to how much engagement and emotional commitment consumers want or need. And when that line has been breached, consumers will run for the exits.

  5. There’s also the issue of whether satisfaction is, or isn’t, an emotion. Here’s part of my response to Bob Thompson’s post on this subject: “Having a strong and positive emotional connection between customer and supplier is, indeed, a foundation of customer loyalty behavior; however, labeling ‘satisfaction’ as an emotion, or conflating satisfaction to be an emotional state, is a something of a challenge for me: Our perspective is based on a different concept of the emotional hierarchy, developed over a decade ago in conjunction with two years of deep and broad research by the London Business School: https://beyondphilosophy.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/Hierarchy-of-Emotional-Value-by.jpg

    Satisfaction is more a state of calmness or passive quietude which is the result of some relatively neutral emotions and, in and of itself, doesn’t apply very well as a stand-alone emotion. Webster’s Dictionary, for instance, defines ‘satisfy’ as, “To make content or appease, to fulfill requirements.” It’s a result rather than a driver.”

  6. Michael, I’m pretty sure that “satisfaction” is an emotion.

    According to https://www.verywell.com/what-are-emotions-2795178

    “In 1972, psychologist Paul Eckman suggested that there are six basic emotions that are universal throughout human cultures: fear, disgust, anger, surprise, happiness, and sadness. In 1999, he expanded this list to include a number of other basic emotions including embarrassment, excitement, contempt, shame, pride, satisfaction, and amusement.”

    And one dictionary definition (there are many)
    Satisfied = contented; pleased.
    “satisfied customers”
    synonyms: pleased, well pleased, content, contented, happy, proud, triumphant;

    As a consumer, if my needs are met I feel satisfied. Perhaps not a strong emotion, but it’s not, um, nothing. I wouldn’t say it’s a state of calmness either.

    And Andy brings up an excellent point. For routine things, maybe satisfaction is what some people want. I’m not sure I could handle every single business I deal with trying to “engage” with me and stimulate a more intense emotion.

    That said, I have found in my research that attempting to exceed expectations — “delight” for short — is a practice of industry leading companies. Said another way, they don’t settle for merely satisfied customers. Although some might wish they did!

  7. There is an old saying that there are only TWO reasons that people buy things:

    Either because they need them (food, shelter, etc.), or because they make them feel good. So, emotions are vital, particularly when it comes to non-essential goods and services.
    Who agrees with me ? Who disagrees ?

  8. I’ve always believed that satisfaction is a rating and loyalty is an emotion. Thanks for sharing some great stats, facts and lessons in the emotional connection between a company and its customers.


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