How to build emotional experiences for your apathetic customers

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This article was co-written by Howard Lax, president at the Lax Group, and Lana Novikova, founder and CEO for Heartbeat Ai. 

Which brand relationships evoke the deepest emotional response in you? Considering this question you might refer to your favourite sports team, a certain brand of chocolate or even a car manufacturer.

You don’t automatically think of your bank.

Evoking emotion in banking might be considered a futile affair. Not surprisingly, the overwhelming majority of people are emotionally unaffected by something as mundane as using at ATM.    

But shining the spotlight on US banks and most Americans say they don’t feel a sense of emotional connection when they deal with their bank by phone, nor when they use mobile banking.

Even when they go into the branch, which often is a high-touch environment, most people report an emotional vacuum, except for when they receive consultative advice: the consultative interaction with their branch banker engenders for most people a positive emotional experience.

The emotional abyss

People often yawn about their bank: they need a bank, they don’t necessarily want a bank. The demand for banking products is largely derived: we want a car, a house, a night on the town; we need an auto loan, a mortgage and a credit card to enable us to get those things.

The demand for the bank’s products is derived from the things we want in life. The things we want: those generate emotional meaning; the bank often is seen merely as a functional enabler.

This low level of emotional engagement takes a toll on relationships: an analysis undertaken by Heartbeat Ai Technologies of the words consumers use to describe their relationship with their banks indicates that while a plurality of Americans using a national or major regional bank project positive feelings about their relationship with their primary bank, almost one-fourth feel nothing but an emotional void about their bank. 

15% have an active negative feeling toward their bank – anger, sadness, even fear. 

Emotion in banking

The consequence? Customers with emotionally void or, worse yet, negative emotional experiences are less pleased than customers who have positive emotional experiences with their bank.

At the relationship level, the results are equally stark: customers who have a sense of a positive emotional feeling have stronger bonds and loyalty scores, while those with negative feelings have very weak and tenuous relationships.

The bank is often seen merely as a functional enabler

But what’s most interesting is the group that yawns about their bank: the yawners have weaker than average loyalty and NPS scores. In other words, the lack of an emotional connection to their bank isn’t neutral; rather, it is a distinct vulnerability, undermining the performance of the bank in meeting the “rational” or stated needs off customers.

That last sentence bears repeating: when a bank or any firm does not have an emotional hook with a customer, that customer relationship is inherently vulnerable. It’s as if the failure to build an emotional bond actually undermines the impact of an excellent product or service. People have long wondered why satisfied customers defect: the reason is the lack of emotional glue.

What’s a poor banker to do?

The news isn’t all bad. The cup is almost half-full: just under half of the US retail banking customers express joy, trust or even love about their bank. This data, moreover, is based on major banks. While the largest US banks account for the majority of banking relationships, consumers do tend to feel a stronger emotional connection to community banks and credit unions. 

With care and attention, moreover, it is possible to design banking experiences that are more engaging. As the data below indicate, for example, more than 80% of users of the Capital One and Bank of America mobile banking apps (based on Android users who left comments) describe their experience in a manner that indicates a positive emotional experience such as joy, trust or even love.

Emotion in banking

Source: Heartbeat Ai Technologies

People like apps that save them time and money (rational), and they can build emotional connections with apps that will bond them with your bank over time: “I love this app, it makes banking super easy and it's very convenient. Best decision they've done!”

Designing apps or experiences with an eye towards emotional engagement can help.  If customers are apathetic – that is they express an emotional void – perhaps a virtual assistant that is built into the app can help build some positive attachment, moments of delight and surprise. 

When a bank or any firm does not have an emotional hook with a customer, that customer relationship is inherently vulnerable

Processes – be they in-person, by phone, online, where ever they happen – need “to work.” But if things are designed simply for function, the results will be, well, “functional.” But what we want is engaging. This requires explicitly building in extensions beyond function that connect with or involve customers in some manner.

Start by measuring the emotions that customers express when they describe experiences. These can come from any unstructured text, be it survey open-ends, call centre comments, reviews and social media. Are customers expressing frustration or joy, anger or trust? This analysis will help you understand what people feel about different aspects of your product and service, not simply whether they like it or not.

Then it’s time to test and strategically create delightful moments that emotionally engage customers, whether it’s through digital or traditional channels. This might be, for example, through improved personalisation, interactive engagement or some form of pleasant surprise.

Most people like to have their names used and welcome social interaction. They respond to positive stimuli – a smile, a warm color a friendly face. People welcome processes that seem to recognise and appreciate them.

And what about emotional engagement with a sports team, a brand of chocolate or a car manufacturer?

All emotional connections are built and held in human brains: in our memory, sensory centers, and other super-complex layers. How to design memorable or even powerful experiences for that brain to light up? A recent book by Chip and Dan Heath “The Power of Moments” gives a great recipe for doing just that. The Heath brothers recommend creating “defining moments” - experiences that are both memorable and meaningful that fit one or more of these elements:

  1. Elevation: a moment that could rise above the everyday combining sensory pleasure and surprise.
  2. Insight: an “aha” moment like “I had no idea healthy food could be so yammie!”
  3. Pride: a moment of achievement and courage (this one is natural for sports teams and cars).
  4. Connection: social moments that happen every day, from your morning coffee run at Starbucks, to a chat with a bank teller, to a stop at a grocery store. 

About Howard Lax

Howard Lax

Building upon a diversified background in market research, marketing, consulting and education, Howard is a leader in the CX arena and the President of The Lax Group. A frequent voice at industry conferences and publications, Howard has deep experience across the spectrum of industries with both B-2-B and B-2-C clients. His writing can be found in Loyalty Management, Marketing News, 1 to 1 Media, MarketingProfs, CustomerThink, Quirks and other publications.

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