Published in Aviation

The Emotional Foundation of Every Customer Experience

Here’s the scene:

Orlando, FL, where it is currently 85 degrees Fahrenheit with 100% humidity – and that’s INSIDE the airport. My family of 7 (three kids, ages 3, 9 and 10, my two parents, my husband and myself), are en route back home after a wonderful Disney vacation that had a hiccup or two. Did you know Disney employs its own paramedics, that they don’t charge for ambulance rides to the hospital, that they give you a taxi voucher for your trip back to the park from the hospital, and lots of free Fast Passes if you experience these things? But I digress. There is a large gathering at the gate to board the aircraft, and the gate agent calls for pre-boarding of “any families traveling with small children or anyone needing extra assistance down the jetway.” I’m thinking that this pretty much describes our crazy clan, what with my overly-tired toddler and my mom, who has several severe back issues.

We approach the gate, and the gate agent asks me if the toddler is going to be a lap-rider or sitting in her own seat. I state that she has her own seat, and the agent then asks me if I need to install a car seat for the trip. I reply no, and she promptly replies that pre-boarding does not apply to us. I was stunned, and while noting that my toddler is a small child, I half-joked that it’s truly better off for all these folks (I wave my hand at the encroaching crowd behind me) if we simply get on and out of the way. The agent replies, “actually, it’s not,” but proceeds to allow me to scan our boarding passes. After getting seated, my dad shares that as they scanned their boarding passes, the gate agent commented that “had I known ALL of you were boarding, I wouldn’t have let you go.” But wait – it gets better! The family that came on immediately after us with one child and were not planning to pre-board said the gate agent singled them out and said, “well, you might as well board too, c’mon!”

The Impact of a Bad Experience on a Loyal Customer

Fast forward to present day, about one month later. Yes, I’m still thinking about this. Why? Because, I travel for work. A lot. This was my preferred airline, and 5 of my family’s  7 vacation tickets were paid for by frequent flyer miles. I have achieved a very high status with this particular airline. I frequently work with other business travelers. In fact, business travel is so relevant to my work that I actually use the business traveler airline journey as my example when I speak at conferences or with clients about customer journey mapping.

I use this example frequently because airline travel is something many in the business world can relate to, and it brings out a whole host of emotions, thoughts and attitudes – some that we may not even realize we harbor deep inside. And this is where I’ll make the connection to the objective of this post – that understanding the impact of emotions in our experiences with different types of businesses is critical, even fundamental, to  business success.

I am a loyal advocate of this airline, and a vocal one too. I am quick to praise my good experiences –  leveraging an active social media presence to ensure I made a tight connection, regular upgrades – and also quick to call out unfortunate ones – lost luggage on a transcontinental flight. I have always received quick responses and resolutions to those bad ones, and am pretty forgiving of them due to how they’ve been handled. Yet, this one bad experience has greatly impacted my happiness with this airline no matter my type of travel, despite my loyalty and advocacy.

Customers’ Emotions Carry Over From Experience to Experience

And that’s the thing – the airline may have very well had procedures, processes and standards for handling common business traveler concerns. And they may have had similar standards and procedures for handling common pleasure traveler concerns. But while I generally fall into one or the other persona when traveling, my experiences – and the emotion tied to them – carry over. So, while my trip next week for work may go smoothly, there’s no doubt this personal vacation experience is going to make me more sensitive to potential issues during my business traveler experience this time around.

When mapping customer experiences, we often try to carve out “clean” journeys when studying the experience of our customers: developing specific customer personas and scoping out “contained” journeys we will map for clients. Practically-speaking, this disciplined mapping methodology when building customer journey maps is required to produce actionable insights. But we have to always keep in mind that journeys are not, by nature, clean. They are messy…and what makes them messy is emotions. In my example, logically, I knew that the gate agent was thinking: it’s Orlando…90 percent of those boarding the plane could fall into “pre-board” status if it’s not more narrowly defined. But emotionally – I was feeling tired, hungry, hot, and concerned about health issues – the logic of the situation didn’t matter to me one bit. What was driving my decisions, my actions, and ultimately, my experience at that moment in time was my emotions – and the emotions of the key folks around me – my family.

What Do Your Customers Want to Feel?

Do you know what your customers are feeling on any given day? Do you know how they WANT to feel after doing business with you? “Feelings” are sometimes thought to have no place in the boardroom, but we know that, in fact, human beings actually rely upon emotions for the majority of decision making, while reserving their conscious thought for more complex concepts, problems and needs. And whether we’re talking about business-to-business or business-to-consumer interactions, we’re ultimately all individual human beings, with our own unique lenses, making decisions, whether on behalf of ourselves or our company. If you don’t know what emotions are being created by interactions customers have with your business, you can’t know how to improve those experiences. Customer journey mapping is one tool in our CX toolbox that can help uncover deep-seated emotions and attitudes that impact the decisions your customers are making each day about how, when, and even whether to continue doing business with you.