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Beware customer satisfaction scores: Understanding the business-customer disconnect

21st Oct 2013
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Like the countless actions (walking, breathing, seeing, hearing, etc.) we complete each day without consciously thinking about it, the motivations and emotions that drive our personal quest for satisfaction and identity fulfillment are mostly hidden from our rational thought processes.  Similarly, unaware of how marketplace symbols —brands, products, services, communications - inform our sense of identity and bond us to our favourite brands. But marketers need to understand the role of the unconscious in decision making if they hope to build brand loyalty.

The role of the unconscious presents an important opportunity for business. But to truly understand why people do what they do, one must look at the psychodynamic context surrounding decision-making. In the marketplace, consumers often project rationality onto brands to reduce potential cognitive dissonance (buyer’s remorse). But initial satisfaction with a purchase is a poor indicator of whether their affections will endure.

Fostering brand relationships

Many companies talk about the need to establish lasting customer “relationships.” And, where else but in interpersonal relationships do we bump up against our emotional needs? As in all interpersonal relationships - friendships, marriage, company and client -  trust lays the foundation for growth and development.

By identifying the emotion-based needs of their audiences, businesses can discover insights that transcend standard marketing practices. Let’s see how marketers can uncover the logical explanations of consumer behaviour associated with brand loyalty or disconnection. 

The decision making process is driven by a mix of conscious, logical, and subconscious, emotional, needs. When faced with too many choices, people often gravitate toward products or services that “feel” right. And, in such a crowded marketplace, emotional drivers trump rational consideration.

Businesses are adept at addressing the rational, logical aspects of the customer’s decision-making process, but are largely ignorant of the emotional element. Many ignore the core human needs that deeply influence customer decisions only to find themselves baffled by their failure to retain customers.

Marketers often talk about customer relationships, but make little attempt to understand their evolving emotional needs, dooming the very relationships they hope to foster. Marketing strategies often depersonalise people - customers are targets, buyers, early adopters, eyeballs - further undermining their attempts to address the emotional needs that drive their purchase decisions.

Beware customer satisfaction scores

Brands can also be misled by customer satisfaction measures that fail to take into account whether customers’ emotional needs have been met. As a result, while customers may verbally express satisfaction with a product or service, subconsciously, they may have no desire to repeat the experience, deciding instead to try another product or brand.

Businesses need to balance quantifiable marketing, but then must take a further step to understand the meaningful, intimate insights into the true drivers of behaviour. Businesses need to understand “why.” They must not only ask, “What will this product do for the customer?” but also “What will this product do for the customer’s emotional self and identity?”

While business must address the emotional needs of customers, it must also at the same time respond to their rational needs. If a business focuses only on the rational drivers, it will make mistakes. If it focuses only on emotions, and fails to fulfill rational needs, it will fail to win the loyalty of customers. Only by balancing the appeals to both the emotional and the rational mind, will marketers succeed in building lasting, profitable, relationships.

Understanding the emotional needs that influence and guide customer actions and behaviours begins with EMPATHY on the part of a business - a concerted effort to understand the emotional motivations and needs of customers, and to align the business’s approach to customers and prospects with those needs.

When business truly views consumers through the lens of relationship dynamics, they will understand that, whether we are working, shopping, or engaging with friends and family, our foundational psychological needs are a constant driving force. Understanding and putting this into practice (strategically and executionally) will eliminate the two-way mirror (or more commonly, the brick wall) between daily life experiences and the ways businesses traditionally communicate with their customers.

Mark Ingwer is founder and managing partner at the Insight Consulting Group. He is also author of “Empathetic Marketing, How to Satisfy the Six Core Emotional Needs of Your Customers” (Palgrave MacMillan, 2012).

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