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Don’t be an Emotional Train wreck: start understanding your customer’s emotions

Emotions are both powerful and complicated.  They play a significant role in both our purchase decisions and our future customer loyalty.

Consider for a moment the standout customer experiences that you have experienced with brands you love – or hate. I became a life-long Nordstrom customer years ago when through ill fated circumstances, I didn’t have shoes for my wedding two days before.  Not having much time or patience, the helpful sales representative listened to what I was looking for, selected a few options, searched across the country for availability, and sent multiple options and sizes to my doorstep the next day.  She was my hero. I experienced tremendous joy and gratefulness for that experience that solidified my loyalty to Nordstrom.  It wasn’t the rational aspects of that experience – the price or product selection –  that won the day.  It was a purely emotional reaction.

According to Harvard Business School professor Gerald Zaltman, 95 percent of our purchase decisions take place unconsciously. While we might think we rely on our head to make well thought out, judicious decisions, research has shown that is wishful thinking.  The vast majority of our decisions are made based upon subconscious emotions only to be justified by our rational thoughts.  This role of emotions in decision making extends to customer loyalty.

Capturing Customer Loyalty Through Emotion

Customer emotions have also been shown to have a more significant impact on loyalty than a rational evaluation of product or service attributes.  In Forrester’s Customer Experience Index of U.S. Consumers, it was found that how an experience makes customers feel influences customer loyalty more than rational measures such as effectiveness or ease in 17 out of 18 industries they studied.

The reality is that despite this strong connection to customer loyalty, most companies have yet to effectively integrate emotional measurement into their CX efforts.  Colin Shaw said in his book, The DNA of the Customer Experience, “Emotions are at the very core of the actions buyers take, but yet for years, businesses have ignored them.” Measuring emotions is not easy.

One of the best ways to derive customer emotions today is through unstructured feedback – whether that be survey verbatims, social media, call center notes, or any other form of direct customer feedback. Unstructured feedback by nature allows customers to tell their story in their own words – the good, bad, and the ugly.  And while not all customers will express detectable emotions in their feedback, we’ve found in most sources of unstructured feedback – a large percentage of customers will give clues into their emotional state.

Through the use of text analytics and natural language processing (NLP) tuned to detected on average between 8-10 relevant customer experience emotions (derived from many of the leading models of customer emotions), we can identify when customer emotions are present in the customer’s comments at a thought phrase level.

Airline emotions

Figure 1: Illustration of Key Customer Emotions Detected in Airline Customer Feedback

Armed with this information, we can use it in several key ways to drive CX outcomes:

  1. Identify areas of high emotion for systemic improvement efforts and employee coaching: Given that negative emotions have a significant impact on future customer loyalty, we can use the emotion insights to detect topics that elicit the highest level of negative customer emotion. In the case of the airline data shown in the above example, a further examination of the data set shows that the greatest volume of negative emotions was expressed around the crew, checked baggage, and delays.  Knowing these hot buttons, the organization can help develop intervention strategies to either eliminate the root cause of the emotion or, at a minimum, more effectively coach employees to handle these emotions customers have at the point of experience.
  2. Trigger customer contact and recovery efforts based upon the presence of negative emotions: At a customer level, we can use text analytics combined with case management and employee alert functionality to trigger employee notifications or cases when relevant emotions are detected in customer comments. This alerts employees that further follow up and customer recovery efforts may be critical to retaining the customer.  This approach can also be applied to other sources of customer feedback beyond surveys – such as social media reviews or even call center notes.
  3. Further explain the drivers of key outcome metrics: Regression or True Driver analysis is often used to understand the drivers of key outcome metrics.  Today most often those models rely primarily on rational variables.  But customer decision making is not entirely rational.  When emotions are added to regression models to understand the drivers of key outcome metrics such as overall satisfaction or NPS, our research has shown that R-squares improve significantly.  In a past study, we saw the R-square increase from 0.48 to 0.65.

People Won’t Forget How You Made Them Feel

While text analytics gives us one way to begin to elicit insight into the customer’s emotional state, there are other approaches from survey questionnaire techniques to gather stated emotions to newer emerging techniques such as facial coding or voice analysis that can help provide a view into the customer’s emotional state.  As CX practioners, its it imperative that we work to overcome the complexity of this task and recognize its importance to bottom line business results.

In the words of poet Mary Angelou, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”  Emotions are enduring.  Tapping into customer emotions needs to be a key piece of any successful CX strategy – both today and in the future.