Biometric Research

It was recently announced that both Hyundai and Toyota are investing in a Perceptive Automata, a company dedicated to helping autonomous vehicles to understand humans better. While this of course is a very worthwhile aim (and the resulting software could revolutionise driverless cars), I couldn’t help but feel that it highlighted how much more we, as humans, should be focusing on using innovative technology and data to understand our fellow humans better!


Biometric research methods

In our recent paper, we provided an overview of the available biometric research methods to investigate customer and employee experiences, but I wanted here to explain briefly how and why such methods can help in a direct, practical way to further our understanding of the real drivers of customer experience and how these might be positively influenced

So, let’s focus on two of the key measures of human physiological response to experiences and external stimuli: heart rate (HR) and electrodermal activity (EDA).

Biometric research - EDA

Heart rate

We all know that if we get excited our heart rate speeds up. This excitation, or arousal as scientists call it (no sniggering at the back, please!), is based on the body requiring more oxygen in its aroused state and so the heart responds to pump more oxygenated blood for whatever is needed, whether that be to react to a threat, the physical exertion of exercise, receiving some good news, seeing your lover, etc. Unless you are unwell, your HR changes in response to an event. As it’s the most studied organ in the human body, we know an awful lot about our heart, its rhythm, why it speeds up and slows down, how it responds to exercise, to trauma and stress. The latest devices for measuring HR are incredibly accurate and sophisticated, allowing us to monitor heart rate, its variability (a crucial indicator of heart wellness) and extrapolate lots more data based on years and years of scientific investigation and clinical trials.

Electrodermal activity (EDA)

Electrodermal activity is less well-known to the public, but is also a very well-established measure of arousal. EDA is literally monitored by how much you sweat and is measured by passing a tiny electric current between two points, typically and reliably, on the palm of your hand, the soles of your feet, or at your wrist. The more you sweat, the more current is conducted and this can be measured, even if the change is infinitesimally small. A greater electrodermal response is also associated with arousal, but unlike HR, it is less likely to be influenced by movement and is more closely linked to emotional states. As such it is becoming an increasingly important measure in psychological science.

Of course it’s all very well to measure these things, but several potential issues might immediately spring to your minds:

1. How easy are the devices to fit and doesn’t wearing them influence the person in some way?
2. How reliable are the measures?
3. What can they really tell us about experiences?

All of these are hugely important questions, so let’s tackle them head on…

  1. The very latest devices are wrist-mounted wearables, in effect a kind of ‘super’, medical grade Apple watch, that measure HR, EDA, skin temperature, heart rate variability and incorporate 3-way accelerometers to understand the impact of movement. With real-time visualization via Bluetooth and onboard recording, they can be simply strapped on and the subject is ready to go. It doesn’t take long for the device to be forgotten, so much so that one of our main concerns is to ensure we get them back at the end of the experiment!
  2. The measures are reliable having been developed to monitor patients to help prevent ‘Sudden Epileptic Death Syndrome’. Although we’re not using them in a lab situation here and there are many more variables in the real world than we could ever control for, what we are looking for is moments of significant change in the physiological response. And then, by looking to aggregate these across common events for multiple subjects in a customer or employee journey, to identify the causes of such arousal.
  3. On its own this physiological data is pretty meaningless unless we can couple them with video, audio and/or observation of the subject in question so we can contextualize it against what is actually happening. If entry to your car showroom makes your customers’ panic, we’ll see it; if queuing to pay is stressful, we’ll know by how much; if using your app or website makes hearts pound in frustration, we can tell you when and what triggered it.

Biometric research matters

All this matters because people simply aren’t able to tell you accurately – either after or even during an event – what causes their response and so drives their behaviour. That’s because the reason for the unconscious, physiological change is often misattributed by our post-rationalising, conscious mind.

Using biometric research and behavioural science, we can identify the ‘tripping points’ when experiences go wrong and also help to build and evaluate alternatives that iron out the errors. Used properly in ‘smart’ experiments, physiological measurement tools can help us to apply the science of experience and provide the evidence base customer and employee experience professionals need to convince their Boards to redesign and implement better commercial experiences that positively impact the bottom line in both B2B and B2C.

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