Is Emotion the key to customer experience differentiation?

There appears to be a popular narrative at the moment about the need for brands and experiences to create positive emotional connections for customers. Emotion and customer experience appear to be key partners. Only recently Forrester announced:

“Emotion Holds The Key To Achieving CX Differentiation – Brands that want to break away from the pack should focus on emotion: How an experience makes customers feel has a bigger influence on their loyalty to a brand than effectiveness or ease in every industry.”

Further research on emotion and customer experience:

A Businessolver study found that 42% of customers say that they wouldn’t buy from a business that they viewed as lacking in empathy – i.e. from a company that doesn’t appreciate them, have a sensitivity to, or understanding of, how they feel. (Or you could read this a different way: that 58% would buy from such a company!).

According to Harvard Business Review, the top 10 companies in the Global Empathy Index 2015 increased in value by more than twice as much as the bottom 10, and generated 50% more earnings. Apparently, this shows that it pays to have a better understanding of customers and connect to their emotions. (Or it’s just another dubious correlation that has no relationship to causation).

Emotion and customer experience

InMoment have also just announced that it is adding an ‘innovative emotional core in the XI platform.” Their PR statement eulogises human emotion and its ability to connect to customers on a deeper level (don’t ask me what a deeper level means):

“Emotion is fundamental to every human experience whether that is your customer or your employee. Leveraging emotion in business enables employees to connect with customers on a deeper level and be moved to change,” said Andrew Joiner, CEO, InMoment. “By embedding emotion at the heart of our platform, we enable brands to respond to emotion-based experiences in the moment and drive a culture of empathy.”

Strong words!

What does emotion in customer experience actual mean?

Herein lies the issue. Understanding emotion and researching the impact of emotion on decision making is difficult. Most of the research carried out in the commercial world relies on asking people questions about brands and their experiences. Research tries to understand how customers feel, BUT unless you really, really upset them, customers generally don’t know how they feel, or they simple don’t consciously feel anything at all. When you then ask them about how they felt, the conscious mind often fills in the emotion that it most commonly associates with that situation.

Take the example of a project we recently carried out for a gaming brand. Buying a ticket to play a game, you would assume, is a moment of excitement, a chance to win. And this holds true if you ask people how they felt at that moment. Most people said they were ‘excited’ or ‘a little bit excited’. The research could easily stop here and state with confidence that people felt excited at the moment of playing the game. But this is not true!

We know this because we also monitored participant’s physiological response to the experience of buying and playing using biometric devices and facial coding of their expression. And we can say with confidence that at the moment of pressing the button, there was no sign of excitement whatsoever. Barely a flicker of emotion passed through the body.

Customers unintentionally lie

So why did participants not tell the truth? Well, when faced with the question of ‘how they felt’ they consciously assigned, through association, the emotion that was most expected at that moment – excitement. In effect they unintentionally lied about how they felt. Consciously they didn’t know or didn’t feel anything.
The danger is that all this talk of emotion relies on self-report data and this has the very strong potential to lead you in the wrong direction. The challenge is that conventional research struggles to measure human emotion. Even InMoments new ‘emotional core’ will exclusively rely on what people say.

Even neuroscientists can’t agree

And this isn’t the only problem with emotion. Though bandied about by all kinds of branding, CX and advertising agencies, ask any one of them, or indeed try yourself, to describe what is meant by emotion. Neuroscientists can’t even agree what defines emotion and whether emotion drives the action or action drives the emotion.
What these agencies really mean when they talk about emotion is the unconscious. A much better way to research this is to look for biometric, objective evidence as to what’s going on. Track unconscious and conscious responses to events in real time in the real world with real people. Only then can we hope to build an accurate index of an experience – where it goes right and where it goes wrong. We can then design and build a reliably better customer experience.
We absolutely believe that our unconscious drives our behaviour. We absolutely believe that brands form connections in our brains that make them more or less appealing. But we do not believe the answer to understanding and therefore influencing customers’ emotions lies in asking people questions about these emotions – whatever they might be!
Luckily, research in this area is advancing.
Contact us to find out how we can help to uncover valuable insights into your customer behaviour