The 20 emotions that drive or destroy value in customer experience

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Emotions are a huge part of the customer experience. Emotions drive or destroy value for a business, and often in hidden ways. Emotions influence our desire to buy or not to buy, what we choose from a company’s offerings, what we remember and share about the experience, and, perhaps most importantly, whether we will be loyal to a brand.

It’s likely obvious to you that different emotions cause different effects. But which emotions do what? How do we know whether the feeling we evoke from people is going to drive or destroy value, especially if it’s in a hidden way? What emotions should we strive for as an organisation to foster customer loyalty and retention?

As it turns out, we know the answer to these questions, and we came by them with science. When I was writing my third book, The DNA of Customer Experience, we undertook two years of research with the London Business School.

We asked over 50,000 people from 100 industries in 40 countries to get these answers. Of the 4.5 million survey questions answered, 1.25 million responses were about what customers want, and another 1 million answers explained what customers feel. This research produced the framework we use to assign a value to feelings.

The baseline model identified 20 emotions, which we grouped into four clusters that drive and destroy value for the business. We call it the Hierarchy of Emotional Value:

Emotional hierarchy

The Hierarchy of Emotional Value

We use the Hierarchy of Emotional Value to benchmark your level of emotional engagement with customers, something we refer to as an Emotional Signature. All organisations have an Emotional Signature, whether they are deliberate about what it is or not.

The emotions are divided into clusters and named for the four hidden ways they influence the customer experience:

  • Advocacy Cluster.
  • Recommendation Cluster.
  • Attention Cluster.
  • Destroying Cluster.

Advocacy Cluster

Made of only two emotions, Happy and Pleased, the Advocacy Cluster is crucial to your experience. People rarely think they are happy enough, so they are always striving to find more happiness than they have now. A customer experience should deliver pleasure in the form of fixes or treats that evoke these vital emotions from experience participants.

I have a picture on the wall of my three children when they are young. They are wearing party clothes and my youngest is in a high chair with food smashed all over her face and the surrounding area. My oldest is holding up her wrist showing a bracelet, which I fancy is probably a recent gift. When I look at the photo, it transports me to happy times when the children were young, which was why I took the photo in the first place.

We want a customer experience that makes people so happy that they want to take a picture of it to remember later. If you don’t think that moment exists in your customer experience, then you have some work to do.

Recommendation Cluster

This group includes Trusting, Valued, Cared for, Focused, and Safe. These emotions are the foundations of customer loyalty. They are also the gateway emotions that allow you to pass to the pinnacle of the pyramid, the Advocacy Cluster.

Years ago, I bought a car - before I even saw it. My business manager had handled the transaction for me, so I had never seen the actual car I purchased. The only time I could see the car was on a Saturday afternoon. And even though the salesman already had the order, he came in on his day off to show the car to me personally.

I was impressed that he would do this even though we had never met and he already had the deal. I felt Cared for and Valued. As a result, I recommended this dealer to four other people over the next four months.

Attention Cluster

Five emotions comprise the Attention Cluster, Interested, Energetic, Stimulated, Exploratory, and Indulgent. This cluster is the only set of emotions that have a direct impact on short-term spending. However, this effect will wane and even backfire if you don’t tend to these emotions on a regular basis.

My wife Lorraine and I once tried a new restaurant that opened near our home. Our first visit dazzled us with engaging staff and lots of personal attention. The food was exciting and unique to us. As a result, we had a lovely evening. We invited friends to join us there for a second visit.

However, compared to the first time, it was pleasant, but that was all. It felt like a transaction, and we were a bit embarrassed we had recommended the restaurant to our friends. We went once more, and it was more of the same, pleasant but not special. We now consider it only one of many so-so restaurants close to where we live. The restaurant experience didn’t maintain our interest after the first visit, and now we don’t pay attention to it.

Destroying Cluster

The Destroying Cluster is another essential list of emotions, albeit the list of ones you want to avoid. It includes Irritated, Hurried, Neglected, Unhappy, Unsatisfied, Stressed, Disappointed, and Frustrated. Evoking any of these emotions during your customer experience will cost you money, through lost revenue, lost opportunities, and higher costs fixing the problems that result. They are also the only emotion group that is associated with effects on short-term spending, although not directly as with the Attention Cluster.

My former cable company (Brighthouse) evoked all of these emotions more than once. That’s why they are now my former cable company. I’m sure each of you has an example of company that “did you wrong” and now you left them. Chances are, you also made sure that you shared your story with as many people as you could. Goodness knows I have!

These emotions are not the only ones that have positive or adverse effects on the outcome of customer experience. However, those identified in these four clusters represent feelings that are statistically significant and have proven to be directly linked to an increase or decrease in loyalty or spend. In other words, these emotions and their hidden influences are the reason your customers buy from you and then come back for more - or they are the reasons they don’t.

As you can see, these 20 emotions are specific, not just feelings in general. By “feelings in general,” I mean when someone says, “It was a positive experience.” Saying something is a positive (or negative experience) isn’t enough. You have to be more specific than that for an Emotional Signature.

What’s more is that when you can demonstrate these emotions are present in your customer experience, you can also prove how much revenue each one drives, which effects they have on your brand, what influence they exert on your Net Promoter Score, and why they contribute to your overall customer satisfaction.

These 20 emotions divided into the four clusters have the most influence on your customer experience and in ways that are not always apparent at first. However, once you understand the type of emotional engagement you have with your customers and how it drives or destroys value for your organisation, you can design an emotional experience that is deliberate, and not left to chance.

About Colin Shaw

Colin Shaw

 Colin Shaw is founder & CEO of Beyond Philosophy, one of worlds first organizations devoted to customer experience. Colin is an international author of four best-selling books. Beyond Philosophy has a proven track record. They provide consulting, specialised research & training from Tampa, Florida and London, England. Follow Colin Shaw on Twitter @ColinShaw_CX

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