Customer Experience Is Emotional By Definition

Harley Manning recently wrote a post that explained Forrester’s definition of customer experience as:

“How customers perceive their interactions with your company.”

The key word I want to focus on here is “perceive.” While business success is viewed by metrics like conversions or average order size, for customers, their level of satisfaction is tied to the sum total of all interactions they have with a company from the first time they click on a link from an online ad all the way to opening and experiencing a product. That satisfaction is based on some rational justifications such as price, but it’s also largely based on the overall feeling customers have about those interactions. It’s that emotional component that can be the X factor in how consumers report whether or not they are satisfied with a brand — and more importantly determine whether they’ll do business with you again.

Think about it, emotions drive needs, wants, and desires and are the triggers that are the basis for most interactions consumers have with a company. Think about something as seemingly mundane as cleaning products. Why do people care about cleaning products? Because maybe they want to have a clean house that smells nice because they’re going to entertain soon and, secretly, they want to leave their guests not with an image of their home, but of how they keep their home. Or, maybe there’s a concern over the ingredients that are in the cleaning supplies that people use because they have young children and want to keep them safe from harmful chemicals. The bottom line is that people bring all sorts of baggage to every experience and that baggage is emotional — even the things that cannot be explicitly stated.

How do you design interactions that enable you to tap into the emotions that users bring to the table? In large part, it’s about empathy. You have to know what they might be going through and what they bring to the experience in the first place. You have to chart more than who they are; you have to understand what your users value and how they feel as they interact with your site, your staff, your products. But it’s also about understanding what you stand for, what your brand really means. It’s not enough merely to cater to every whim of the populace. True engagement is about crafting your own personality in such a way that it will reflect your users’ personalities back to them on a consistent, long-term basis, so that when they look at your site, your app, and your Tweets, they see a bit of themselves in you. Because, let’s face it, in the end, if users perceive themselves positively, and your brand reflects their beliefs and priorities, they will perceive the experiences they have with your brand in a positive light.



Great post. Empathy truly is the core of customer experience management and customer-centric business.

An important question is why empathy isn't "built into" buisiness models in the same way other strategies may be (like the blue ocean strategy, or the exclusivity strategy).



Building Empathy Into Business Models

Hi Glenn,

Thanks for your post. You raise an excellent question. I think empathy is something that many small companies start out with at base, though they may not be conscious of that fact. Brands exist because they've filled a need -- whether it's for a new innovation or for a new way of doing something that's been done already. Yet it seems that as companies grow they get further away from their cusomters and that empathy fades away. Interestingly, empathy tends to fade away as a brand becomes more dilluted or less differentiated. I'm not sure if there's a cause and effect there, just merely an initial observation.

We do see more companies trying to make empathy a core competency, though again, it's not always called "empathy" explicitly. I believe that VoC programs are tapping at this but firms also need something more. They need programs that will proactively help employees understand what it's like to be their target audience so that they can design experiences more proactively than reactively.

Great post, Ronald -

Great post, Ronald - absolutely agree that empathy drives an authentic customer experience.

However, when you say "The bottom line is that people bring all sorts of baggage to every experience and that baggage is emotional", I'd suggest a different turn of phrase.
For sure, customers interpret a customer experience and so make it unique for each person who interacts with it. But saying it's emotional baggage suggests that it's something from the past weighing them down, something they'd ideally like to lose.
For me, their past experiences could just as easily be positive ones - powerful and memorable enough to bring them back as loyal customers.

A clear, simple description of a brand's customer experience provides every employee with all they need to bring alive the experience as something individual and relevant to every customer they interact with.

Hi Rick. Thanks for your

Hi Rick. Thanks for your comment. I didn't mean for the term "baggage" to be negative, though I suppose it does carry a rather negative connotation, especially when referring to relationships, so thanks for calling that out.

I was trying to say that every interaction is preceded by an accummulation of experiences -- both positive and negative -- that brings them to where they are in the moment. Perhaps "context" would have been a better word.