Understanding emotion in customer experience

Emotion in the customer experience

Customer Experience often focuses on systems and processes. They’re vital. Without them, nothing happens. Your customer strategy will be built around technology and systems, big data and metrics. It’s the engine that drives your improvement.

But what about the emotional aspects of your customer experience? More specifically, does your operational customer communication get the attention it needs when dealing with emotional customer situation? How does the material you send make people feel? It’s something we spend a lot of time on.

The voice of the customer is an emotional one

Take a customer-centric view of your communication and the reason to consider the emotional context is simple. As much as we try to deny it, we are emotional and not rational creatures. People make decisions for emotional reasons. Yes, they’ll give you beautifully logical reasons for their behaviour if you ask, but these will be skillful post-rationalisations for deep-seated emotional reactions. Anyone with an understanding of behavioural economics knows this.

This is just as true for your B2B customers as your B2C. Undervalue the emotional context of your communications and you can have the best customer strategy possible and you’ll still be haemorrhaging customers, perhaps without even realising why. Emotion in customer experience is just as important as the best technology and managing your big data.

Every piece of customer communication needs to fulfil basic human needs

People have a series of basic human needs (Griffin and Tyrrell, 2003). They need respect, security, attention, autonomy and control, amongst a whole range of other factors. So how does your customer communication deliver these? In short, how much humanity is there in the way you communicate? Sure, your brand and marketing material will be dripping with emotional drivers – can you say the same for your invoices? Statements? Complaint responses? All the operational, administrative material hiding somewhere in your organisation?

Often, from inside an organisation it can be hard to see. One gets used to stock phrases and standard paragraphs and can miss the emotional overtones. From our experience, this fundamental part of the customer journey doesn’t even get on the to-do list.

Emotion in customer experience communication – a quick acid test

If you’re sitting there nodding along – great! The next step is doing something about (if you’re not already).

Start with a selection of your current customer comms. Take ten minutes and print off a quick selection of your customer-facing material. Not the mainstream stuff, but the standard paragraphs, maybe a debt recovery letter and a response to a complaint. What messages do those communications send? What’s the tone of voice? Is there respect, autonomy and attention? What emotions do they generate?

It’s just a rough measure, but a good place to start to see where you could make improvements. If you’d like a more comprehensive review you might be interested in our customer communication diagnostics – an objective review of your material for larger projects.

Do your debt recovery letters, for example, treat customers who’ve fallen behind with respect – or are they straight in with threats and big sticks? It’s always a good idea to leave room for escalation.

Your brand needs to shine through every touchpoint – building emotional drivers into all your communication

Everything matters, not just the statements and bills. Your customers will judge you and have an emotional reaction to every single thing they get. If you’re a hotel chain, that’s the little card slip-cases room keys come in and the folder of information in the rooms.

If you’re a car manufacturer, it’s the service letters and notes about winter checks. If you’re selling on-line, it’s the whole post-sale experience. They’re all opportunities to use emotion to build relationships.

Because when you create effective, brand-aligned customer content that makes people feel differently about your organisation, you make a powerful bond that will keep them with you – no matter how hard your competitors try to poach them.

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James Freeman-Gray

I'm co-founder here at Rubuss. I work across service design, customer experience, complaints and cultural change. I'm also an executive coach supporting leaders to take a human-centred approach to empowering their teams.