Think about what you remember most about the good, the bad, and the ugly in your experiences as a customer. What stands out the most? The colour of the walls or the website header, the effectiveness or friendliness of the staff, the waiting time? No matter what aspects shaped your experience, what sticks in your mind and defines your overall impression is how it made you feel. Were you annoyed by the cumbersome signup process of the website or were you pleasantly surprised at how happily the restaurant accommodated your dietary requirements?
Emotions are the key to customer experience. A study by Forrester showed that emotions had a bigger influence for customer loyalty than effectiveness or ease. Emotional experience trumps functional experience. Yet, many businesses feel daunted in the face of this – emotions are too unpredictable to control! And who in the world has enough emotional intelligence to be able to understand every possible way that your customers could be feeling about your business? However, that doesn't mean that there aren't many little things you can do to influence the emotional experiences of your customers and make sure it is as positive as possible. It's often just a matter of keeping the emotional perspective in mind and not just focusing on the technical or functional details.
A disappointing experience
Recently, I went through a rather unpleasant experience as a customer, which showed that the business had not given enough thought to the details that shaped how I felt when I interacted with their business. I took my two-year old son to a kids' birthday party at a local soft play. My son happens to have a milk allergy (as 1 in 10 children do), but this has generally not been a problem at most places where catering is an issue. This time, sadly, that was not the case.
When we signed in and they took his name, I told them about his allergy. I was looked at blankly. I went on to say that this means that he can't have cheese, ice cream, or anything else like that. The girl just said OK, but she didn't write it down, didn't get the menu, or ask what he could have. I assumed this meant it wasn't a problem.
Once it's time for the meal, it turns out that food on offer in the party room is pizza, sandwiches, and cheesy crisps. My boy can't eat sandwiches with margarine on, obviously can't eat pizza, and can only recently tolerate cheese powder type crisps. Still, he's two years old and wants to sit with all the other kids and eat pizza.
I find the girl who I initially told and who was serving the food. I told her he can't eat anything here. She goes to the kitchen and says that we can make him a dry ham sandwich. I wasn't pleased. Who wants to eat a dry ham sandwich when everyone else is eating pizza?
So how could my experience have been improved?
Here's a run-through of the emotions I (or any parent) would typically feel at a kids' birthday party: firstly, I want my kid to enjoy it. I don't want him left out, singled out, or left hungry. I don't want to be seen as annoying. I feel guilty for having to raise an issue with the staff, the other parents, and for telling him he can't have the pizza or the cakes, or the chocolates that all the other kids have. I feel sad for him, I feel overbearing and scared that I might take my eyes off him and he could nab a bit of cheese or chocolate.
All it would have taken was for the staff to ask me when we came in what he could have, take me through the menu, or tell me some options so it wasn't just the quickest thing they could get out. Basic staff training.
Imagine how many customer experiences like mine could be transformed if the businesses took the time to put themselves in the customer's shoes and consider how the experience must feel from their perspective!
Be ready for emotions
The consequence of neglecting the emotional experience of your customers can be severe. We recently wrote about the Balgonie Castle incident, which shows the importance of listening in on social media to see how your customers are talking about your business. When customers turn to social media to give reviews, feedback, or just vent, they tend to either be furious or ecstatic – the extreme ends of the emotional experience. You can miss a lot of the middle if you only look at these explicit reviews, and the middle of the emotional spectrum is probably going to be where most of your customers are.
You need to consider emotions before the actual experience happens. What are the hopes of a typical customer who are choosing your business? What is the last thing they want to happen? Are there any small ways you can make your customers' experience extra special? Think about what role your customers are going be in when engaging with your business and what goals that role entails. As a mother at a birthday party for kids, I want my child to have an enjoyable and problem-free time having fun with the other kids. I do not want him to have to eat a dry ham sandwich while everyone else has pizza – or worse, start vomiting because he's eaten something he's allergic to.
It's true that the situations that will make or break the emotional experience of your customers will mostly be unplanned and unpredictable. Particularly for customer service situations, this comes down to staff training and a readiness among your employees to be responsive and perhaps stray from standard processes if it's the right thing to do. An outstanding example would be the time United Airlines signaled the connecting flight of a man who was flying to say his goodbyes to his dying mother to wait for him, even if it caused a delay.
Take your customer experience to the next level by thinking about the emotions you want to encourage!