The Importance of Emotional Customer Engagement

What makes a customer experience memorable? Emotional customer engagement is deemed the ultimate consumer connection because it evokes deep memories attached to a brand or experience, and are often indelibly linked to customer loyalty.

On Nov. 17, 2016, at 1 p.m. EST, Loyalty360 will host a webinar titled, The Amnesiac Customer and the Importance of Emotions, which will be presented by Kantar TNS.

Loyalty360 caught up with Howard Lax, head of customer strategies, Americas, Kantar TNS, to learn more about this compelling topic.

How can marketers create emotional customer experiences that resonate with them long after?

Lax: Experiences “stick” with customers when those experiences generate an emotional response. The stronger the response, the stickier the experience will be. Emotions – or feelings, as most people would say – are a mix of totally subjective reactions and autonomous physical responses (such as reflexive facial expressions or the release of hormones). While the feelings and physical reactions are inseparable, our concern as marketers is with the feeling.

Experiences stimulate feelings when the interaction connects with an individual. Perhaps the experience triggers a memory or stimulates the senses? Or the experience evokes a sense of common identity or something totally unexpected (SURPRISE!) Or, at the risk of being circular, the experience makes someone simply feel appreciated, wanted, recognized, loved, comforted . . . the key is to humanize the experience for the customer.

The difficult part is evoking a positive emotion. Negative emotions, unfortunately, are far easier to arouse and are more durable. It is easier to generate positive feelings when there is an in-person contact and a physical experience. People mirror those around them. It may sound hokey, but a warm smile typically elicits a smile in return; upbeat people actually will make customers feel better. A physical experience permits marketers to try to stimulate the senses, which, in turn, can elicit an emotional response. How something looks, tastes, feels, smells, or sounds can be a powerful, albeit subtle, stimulus for making people feel (as opposed to think).

The bigger challenge is to humanize interactions when there is no personal contact or physical interaction of any type. Fewer senses can be engaged. The personal touch is more difficult to communicate. It takes much more effort and creativity to evoke positive emotions digitally, but it can be done. Just look at the level of emotional involvement people (of all ages) manifest when they play a video or online game.

We often talk to brands about creating emotional connections with customers. What is being done well in this area and where do the challenges lie?

Lax: The challenges lie first and foremost in recognizing the importance of the emotional dimension of customer interactions. Companies naturally focus on performance: How do my customers evaluate the functional performance of my products and services? While this is critical, it is insufficient. The reality is that most companies have any number of competitors with comparably excellent goods and services. The key is in translating this performance into preference over those competitors, taking the rational assessment and generating an emotional bond.

Once a company recognizes the need to connect emotionally, they need to find ways to do it in a manner that comes across as sincere and not bogus.

Here are a few good examples of connecting with people:

  • Starbucks writing the customer’s first name on that coffee cup – the real value is in personalizing the touch, calling the customer by name and getting to know them, not in managing how to get the right drink to the right person
  • You will never walk by someone working at a Ritz-Carlton who doesn’t make eye contact, smile at, and acknowledge a guest
  • The Home Depot near me (I don’t know if they do this nationwide) lists the languages spoken by any of its staff, and I am certain that anyone who speaks those languages gets a small sense of warmth from the connection
  • Sure, it’s mostly schtick, but the intentional use of comedic antics by flight attendants and pilots at Southwest are memorable
On the flip side:
  • The overwhelming majority of automated phone routing systems and synthesized voice response systems are painful for most mortals
  • What can be worse than a poor hand-off between people at the same company? On a recent flight home on TAP Portugal, my bag was damaged. The good will engendered by the person who handled the issue at the airport was totally sapped and outweighed by the robot-like individual with whom I have had to deal once I was home who told me they had none of the information I had provided at the airport.
  • And tell me how you feel when you get that ever-so-insincere line from a telephone service rep that asks you if they gave you excellent service at the close of a call during which you have obviously expressed frustration and anger? Why (Verizon Wireless, if I might name a culprit) do companies insist on having reps read totally inappropriate scripts that ring hollow when an interaction has not gone great? In addition to being insincere, it forces people to say “well, actually, no, you couldn’t solve my problem.”
What makes a quality emotional customer experience?

Lax: A quality emotional experience is one where the customer comes away feeling good. They may express that feeling as one of happiness, pleasant surprise, confidence, security or some other positive warm and fuzzy.
While this is a wildly subjective issue and not everyone responds the same way to any stimulus, we know that everyone wants to feel recognized, appreciated, welcomed and listened to. The key, once again, is to make people feel that they have a connection with the brand, product or service.

What constitutes an emotional customer experience?

Lax: At the risk of redundancy, an emotional customer experience is one where the customer comes away with a feeling. Just before penning (actually typing) these lines, I had to hit a PNC ATM for some cash: a totally vanilla interaction about which I felt nothing. But PNC gave me a strong sense of protection and comfort when my account manager called me regularly to keep me apprised of the steps they were taking to redress fraudulent use of the same debit card. Yet PNC continuously aggrieves me with its process for handling phone inquiries on that debit card.

While emotions are universal in one sense, they are immensely personal in another. 

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