Navigating the emotional territory of customer experiences

By Georgina Woodley

Most companies see value in customer experience research.  It provides a measure on the interactions customers are having with your brand, offers a careful dissection of performance overlaid with what is most important for customers, and serves to focus customer experience improvement initiatives. Regardless of whether you’re using overall experience, net promoter or some other metric to represent customer ‘happiness’, the desired outcome is constant: a better experience leads to greater customer loyalty.

They’ll stay with you longer and if you’re lucky they might also buy a bit more from you.  All of which should translate into a bigger bottom line.

Customer experience scores are powerful, providing a roadmap for improvement initiatives and identifying key areas where performance is lacking.  The big areas, particularly in services industries, are often customer service and billing.  It is well known that emotions drive decision making.  And when it comes to our experiences with brands, nothing is more emotive than customer service experiences and inaccurate bills!  A single bad customer service experience can ignite action and undo years of brand loyalty.  Similarly a great experience will be strongly recalled and shared, creating something every brand wants, advocates!

Yet whilst we know this, most customer experience studies focus purely on rational drivers.  Was the phone answered promptly, how long did it take for the customer to get through, did the representative solve the problem, etc?  And this in turn becomes the focus of customer experience research presentations.  How much have we improved on this metric since last quarter, and how has that impacted the overall customer experience or net promoter score?  Customers’ unique experiences are dissected based on the scores given.  But let’s face it, numbers can be dry, and in our work we’ve seen many customer experience teams become emotionally numb and accepting of scores we would typically consider appalling, 4’s, 5’s and 6’s out of 10.

Whilst customers do recall their experiences on rational drivers, the detail is often hazy for them.  What they remember vividly is how they felt at the end of it.  Was the effort required disproportionate to the outcome?  How did the representative treat them?  Were they rude, dismissive, or empathetic and genuinely concerned about helping them?  Did it leave them feeling happy, elated, deflated, frustrated, annoyed, angry or just plain disappointed?  These are the types of emotions that incite action (incidentally in our experience whilst action is often triggered by an ‘event’, more often than not it’s triggered by a non event ... the absence of care).

To avoid getting stuck in this rational quagmire, we typically recommend that any customer experience program has three components:

  1. Measures that capture the rational elements
  2. Measures that capture the emotional journey
  3. Qualitative research to understand the dimensions at play, and provide colour to support the numbers

Customers love to recount their stories, and this is something they just can’t do via a quantitative survey instrument.  When you have a conversation with them about their experiences  you can dissect the intricacies of their relationship with the brand, the influence of friends and family and the nuances of their own personal customer journey.  And nothing is more powerful than bringing the numbers to life with customer stories.  Suddenly the 4, 5 or 6 out of 10 has emotional meaning to the audience.  It’s a real person, a real story, not just a number on a chart.  And that’s where action is incited for the brand.

Our opinions