‘All the feels’ – connecting with your customer’s emotions to build a powerful brand

How important is customer experience? Very important, according to a 2016 report from US research and advisory group Forrester Inc. Nearly three quarters of businesses point to improving customer experience as their top priority.

It’s great that so many firms have switched on to this topic, but not everyone is up-to-speed on what it means or why it’s important. For one thing, it’s easily confused with ‘customer service’, which is a much bigger issue.

Author Colin Shaw describes customer experience as ‘a blend of an organisation’s physical performance, the senses stimulated and emotions evoked… intuitively measured against customer expectations across all moments of contact’. In other words, customers are always watching, judging, and remembering.

In doing so they’re forming emotional attachments – or aversions. Your product can’t speak for itself, so customer experience of it really matters.

Here’s what it isn’t

Imagine the scenario: You call your long-time local telecoms provider to upgrade your broadband. You have been a loyal customer for nine years, but you want to move to a faster package. You have already decided that paying an extra 40% was worth it, so you call the contact centre. Finding your way through the automated phone responses was quick and easy. In less than a minute there was a real human being on the line. So far, so good: You’re ready, credit card in hand, good mood prevailing, here we go.

But then the agent starts explaining that you need to visit your nearest store to buy a new box. The deal is that you take time out of your busy day to find a store, buy a box, bring it home, then call the company (again) to book an engineer to fit it. At this point, nine years of loyalty melt away. You are angry, inconvenienced and feel like you’re not valued. On top of that you’re now discussing a process that seems illogical. Crucially, you now feel you want to leave the provider.

Love me or lose me

Let’s take in that last thought. Nine years in, one phone call can make you consider taking your business elsewhere. A report from New Voice Media and Salesforce last year found almost half of respondents decided to switch services after a poor customer experience. Their reasons included ‘not feeling appreciated’, ‘unhelpful or rude staff’ and ‘not being able to get answers’.

A report from New Voice Media and Salesforce last year found almost half of respondents decided to switch services after a poor customer experience.

And it gets worse. The same report found that over one third of respondents would complain after a poor customer experience. More than a quarter would tell others not to use that provider; 23% would post a review online; and 19% would complain on social media. Just 9% would do nothing. It’s easy to evoke emotions in customers – the problem is, they’re negative emotions. As Colin Shaw observes, remembering good customer experiences can be hard but ‘if I asked you to tell me about a bad customer experience, then you would have hundreds.’ 

So it’s important?

In short, it’s very important. A report from McKinsey last July noted that ‘today’s consumers do not buy just products or services – more and more, their purchase decisions revolve around buying into an idea and an experience.’ In a report from Ernst and Young into UAE financial services providers, 81% of customers said they would switch banks for a better online experience. 

How do we fix it?

If you’re feeling the customer experience odds are stacked against you, that’s not surprising. Because we’re hard-wired into remembering bad experiences – known as ‘negativity bias’ – consumers weight negative experiences more heavily when making judgements.

However, all is not lost: there are things we can do to help imbue our customers with positive emotions. But how? The first thing to grasp is the holistic nature of customer experience. It’s everything a customer will experience (hence the term) from awareness, through interest, enquiry, purchase and after-service. Harvard Business Review (HBR) describes it as ‘the sum of all interactions a customer has with a company’. Look at Apple, which seems to appeal successfully to its customers’ positive emotions, despite its products costing more than others on the market. Leaving aside quality, look at the Apple retail experience – it’s a holistic thing – they’re selling a whole lifestyle.

How the case study might have gone

Imagine the agent in the telecoms example had said: ‘No problem, I’ll make an appointment on a day that’s convenient for you. We’ll bring a new box to your house, install it and make sure the service works.’ Much better. Now I know that’s not the procedure, nor is it the representative’s fault, but here’s the crux of the matter. In developing class-leading, truly customer-centric experiences, we need to review and develop our processes from the ground up. Throwing around buzzwords like ‘customer-centric’ in an executive summary isn’t enough – to really get people on board, there needs to be a step-change in how we view and interact with our customer base.

Appealing to a customer’s happy place

There’s plenty of scope to appeal to positive emotions. HBR explored the difference between ‘highly satisfied’ customers and those who are ‘emotionally connected’. Both are good, but the latter is much more valuable. Their research shows a ‘fully connected’ customer is on average 52% more valuable. From the sectors they explore, ‘fully connected’ customer activity saw tablet purchases leap by 82%, credit card swipes up 68% and consumer banking products rise by 35%. 

Understand your customers, what drives them and what they want from their relationship with you.

The same survey looked into ‘emotional motivators’ – the desires that drive behaviour. They range from the self-centred, standing out from the crowd; through protective motivators like finding security; right up to the more altruistic, like protecting the environment. The research used more than 300 motivators, which is too many to cover in this short article, but the key point is that the motivators differ across sectors and activities. Understand your customers, what drives them and what they want from their relationship with you.

Why bother?

If losing switchers and being called out on Twitter isn’t enough, let’s look at the positives. Customers who enjoy good customer experiences can be very loyal – a UK Customer Satisfaction Index report found that 95% of highly satisfied customers are very likely to remain. They can also become brand ambassadors. One of HBR’s case studies, a fashion retailer, saw recommendations grow by 20% year-on-year over five years, directly mapping a 20% rise in its emotional connection score – the measure of those ‘fully connected’ customers.

While bad customer experiences let loose on social media can go viral in a bad sense, good experiences can generate beneficial coverage, whether on Twitter or simply through word of mouth. It’s worth remembering that it’s significantly cheaper to retain customers than to attract and onboard new ones, and customers who enjoy a good experience are more likely to come back again and be open to trying your new offerings. A study from the customer research firm Temkin shows ‘a strong correlation between customer experience and loyalty factors such as repurchasing, trying new offerings, forgiving mistakes, and recommending the company to friends and colleagues’. 

So how do we emotionally engage?

As with HBR’s motivators, you need to grasp what drives your customers. Think of your product or service in terms of a shared future. There’s a reason for the recent slew of schmaltzy television commercials for banks in the UK. On the one hand the likes of Lloyds, NatWest and Barclays are all reacting to the fallen reputation of such institutions since 2008. But on the other, they’re deliberately pedalling the same handful of ideas – journeys, futures, togetherness. Don’t sell a product, invest in a relationship. With banks it may seem cynical, but showing empathy and building trust with customers goes a long way. It’s the same the world over – a report from Australian researchers Workstar notes that when consumers trust a company 59% will recommend them and 50% would actually pay more.

While building trust and empathy are key, as a final point it’s important to turn your attention within. Colin Shaw’s research covers employee engagement and finds just over one in ten employees surveyed don’t like their job. What’s the impact on customer experience? It’s hard to engage customers emotionally when your employees who are dealing with them are bored and unmotivated.

It’s hard to engage customers emotionally when your employees who are dealing with them are bored and unmotivated.

The customer is always right?

Of course they’re not – often they’re awkward, grumpy and downright wrong. However, while they may not always be right, they have the power to bring new business our way, or if we’re not careful, encourage other potential customers to give us a wide berth.

If your customer experience direction isn’t on point, it’s better to switch it up than to have customers switching away from you. Customer experience is a holistic undertaking. If you don’t take this approach you’ll be like one of the apocryphal blind men describing an elephant based on touch. If you try to describe the whole elephant based solely on your own partial experience, it will be spurious and inaccurate due to partial understanding.

The same is true of customer experience. Ernst and Young suggest a five-stage life-cycle that can be paraphrased as ‘customer need, onboarding, in-life, enhancement, and advocacy’.

In short: great customer experience never ends.

tanvir 150x150 fsAbout the author: Tanvir Haque, Founder of Freshstone Consulting. 
Tanvir is currently the Chief Commercial Officer at Lifecare International, and he is the Founder and Non-Executive Director of Freshstone Consulting. He thrives on developing customer-centric business relationships, and as such he is currently focused on revolutionising Lifecare’s customer experience and driving the company’s digital transformation plans – all with the aim of unlocking Lifecare’s full technology potential. With a career spanning back more than 20 years, Tanvir’s experience has been gathered in professional services, banking, and telecommunications, having worked with PwC in Sydney, Andersen in Sydney and London, and Standard Chartered Bank in London. He relocated to Dubai in 2008 and spent a number of years advising and consulting international businesses on how to drive growth before joining Lifecare in 2015. Tanvir graduated with a Bachelor of Commerce degree from the Australian National University in his home town of Canberra and is a qualified Chartered Accountant and a member of Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand.