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How to use emotions for profit

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17th Aug 2007
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For most companies there is only a limited effort put in place to understand the customer emotions to evoke and avoid, hence the reward for most customers is a bland experience. But a focus on emotions could revolutionise the customer experience.

By Steven Walden, Beyond Philosophy

Every so often a shift in perspective is required to shake up our old, tired and outdated business models. Such a requirement is often driven by market failure or radical technological change and requires that we completely rethink some of our basic preconceptions in order to operate in the new economic environment.

In the early part of the 21st century, faced with both globalisation and the internet, we find ourselves in just such a position; crying out for a new perspective or paradigm that does not depend on competing for ever smaller price margins, a product advantage that lasts for little more than two months before it is replicated or brand advertising space in a saturated media climate.

Focusing on the emotions offers just such a new perspective.

The physical aspects of price and product represent just one side of the coin, the other side being emotional response. So by reversing our perspective and focusing on emotions we can effectively come at the problem of commoditising markets from a different perspective.

In essence, we ditch our analytical concerns over price points and product features and start asking instead what does it feel like to be a customer? Are we emotionally engaging with them or do they feel just satisfied and forget about you as soon as they walk out the door?

"The physical aspects of price and product represent just one side of the coin, the other side being emotional response."

Of course, this is not to deny the importance of having the right price and the right product - these are still essential requirements - but what else can we do when both price and product fail to offer much competitive advantage?

Examples of just such a concern for the emotions come from some of the more advanced customer experience companies. For instance, the way Amazon.com engages and interests you with its personal recommendations for future purchase or how a sense of caring is built into the provision of mother and child parking spaces close to the front entrance or a Morrison’s supermarket.

Indeed we could take many emotions and see how these have been planned into an experience. For instance, the way a sense of anticipation is built into the design of a football stadium or how mood lighting in a restaurant gives a relaxed atmosphere.

Influence the subconscious world

All of these illustrate how a planned emotional response can develop a sense of belonging and commitment that goes way beyond any price effects. Indeed, it is often the small but meaningful aspects of a customer experience that resonate most with customers emotions.

For instance, the trust and caring that was evoked in my use of Marks & Spencer’s credit cards by its proactive calling of me to investigate a possible fraud on my account. In the end there was no problem but this concern is something I remember far more than anything to do with shopping in the store itself.

Yet for most companies there is only a limited effort put in place to understand the emotions to evoke and avoid. Hence the reward for most customers is a bland experience.

To put it simply, by focusing in on the emotional side, companies are able to influence the subconscious world of the consumer in addition to the conscious world of price and product concerns to deliver a complete and holistic customer experience; as outlined in the figure below.

Figure A: the emotional and rational customer experience

This type of approach is outlined in the book The DNA of Customer Experience: How Emotions Drive Value. In this book a complete approach is outlined that measures and engages the emotional component of an experience. In particular, 20 key emotions are defined as the ones to focus on through their links to value.

These emotions confirmed and analysed by Dr Jeremy Miles, a leading UK statistician and author of several books on multiple regression, group into four categories, three which drive value and one that destroys value.

These groupings were discovered by confirmatory factor analysis and are statistically significant. The research was also independently verified with Professor Voss from the London Business School.

In outline, the association of emotion to value relates to those that ‘grab attention’ such as interest; those that drive ‘recommendation’ such as ‘cared for’; and at the top level those that generate advocacy such as a ‘happy’ response (see Figure B).

Figure B: defining the key emotions

By measuring the core 20 emotions just after a customer experience, the level of engagement can be measured, developing a specific ‘emotional signature’.

An example of how a company's emotional signature can be defined like this is demonstrated by this figure.

In this example we can see how the drivers to emotional value become the focus of an ‘experience’ intervention (highlighted in the purple box) based on a competitive comparison to best industry practice. Likewise the same effect is noticed at the destroyer side with the reduction in ‘negative emotions’.

It is my belief that the emotional signature approach is the first business tool to develop this new ‘emotional’ perspective into a tool that can both measure the ongoing level of emotional engagement you have with your customers, as well as be used as a focus for working on planned experience interventions focused on engaging the key emotions.

In this way, we hope to break the traditional approach of businesses that focus on the physical aspects of an experience by focusing on the development of a strong emotional bond with your consumers.

In this way, often similar services can now start to ‘feel like something different’.

Steven Walden is principal consultant and head of research at Beyond Philosophy.

Read more features, practical case studies and white papers about customer experience management.

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