Companies need to build emotionally engaging experiences

Ronald Rogowski

Ronald is the vice-president and principal analyst for customer experience at Forrester Research.

We’ve probably all heard some story about over the top customer experience in our day.

Like the story about the family on vacation at the Ritz Carlton, Bali. The family of a child with a severe food allergy was on vacation. The specialty food they’d brought for their child spoiled en route. When they arrived, the manager of the hotel consulted with his executive chef who was unaware of any shops on the island that stocked the specialty items. But he did recall a shop in Singapore, where his mother-in-law lived, that stocked food the child could safely eat. So, what did he do? He called his mother-in-law, had her get the items and jump on a plane to Bali. In case your geography is a little rusty, that’s a three or more hour flight.

Stories such as these make for great PR, and these acts of kindness help cement relationships between individuals and brands. (Could you see this family NOT going back to the Ritz?) The problem is that these expectation-exceeding, delightful experiences don’t scale. That’s why companies need to focus on delivering great experiences, day in and day out, with products and services that meet customer needs, are easy to use, and are emotionally engaging.

It’s this last piece—emotional engagement—that’s so hard to pin down. Why? First off, what’s enjoyable or engaging is subjective. While one person’s idea of a good time might be jumping out of an airplane at 15,000 feet, another person might think that’s a foolish way to get one’s kicks. What’s more, many of the things we offer, thinking they’re to a customer’s benefit, such as providing seemingly unlimited product configurations or service choices, actually induce negative emotions like anxiety and hurt the decision-making process.

To top things off, it’s hard to sustain enjoyable, engaging experiences from start to finish. Ever been to the theatre to watch an otherwise satisfying movie only to be disappointed with the ending? How about being treated like royalty when you’re considering signing up for a service only to be disappointed by how you were treated once you became a paying customer?

In today’s experience-based economy, things like price don’t matter as much as experience. From conference stages I like to ask audience members if they got a coffee from outside the conference that morning. Invariably about half raise their hands. Why would they buy coffee from the specialty shop in the lobby when the coffee is free at the conference? It’s not just because of taste. It’s because of the experience of having it made to order. It’s also about how the customer sees themself and how that self is reflected by the brand.

It’s not necessarily conscious, but most of what we do is ruled by subconscious decisions. How then do companies make emotional connections with their customers? By delivering on people’s four core needs:

  • Comfort . Comfort is characterised by a desire to remove stress and reduce complexity. Feelings associated with comfort are reassurance, serenity, security and safety. One gets this from going to their regular coffee place. They know what they’re going to get. There’s a set expectation of quality in the experience.

  • Connection. People want to connect to other people. In the experience realm, that means things like conversation and shared experiences. But it’s not just about social networks. It’s about connecting with a brand’s personality. That’s not terribly hard to do in an interpersonal interaction, provided staff live and breathe the brand. But it’s hard to do in a digital environment. People don’t want to connect with systems or interfaces, or even with brands. They want to connect with people. Experiences should reflect the brand’s personality, and that goes beyond messaging and visual design patterns to the very things a company provides (and what it does not).

  • Variety. Not only is variety the spice of life, its key for growth. But it’s not about having unlimited choices; it’s about having options. This is where the paradox of choice rears its head. People can’t easily decipher subtle differences in 400 cable programming packages. There’s too much cognitive load. But they can easily decide on the most suitable of three to five distinct plans plus maybe a couple of optional add-ons.

  • Uniqueness. Even though people want to connect to other human beings, they also want to feel unique and special. How can you make someone feel unique without hyper-personalising and trying delighters that don’t scale? Know thy audience. Understand and anticipate their needs and questions before they recognise them. It’s not easy, but thinking one step ahead of the customer makes your service feel like it was made for that person.

So how can you deliver emotionally engaging and enjoyable experiences?

  • Measure the right things. You can’t tell if someone enjoyed an experience by looking at paths through a website or conversion data. You have to get at user perceptions, and then connect the dots to these other metrics. Once you have an understanding of perception, you can go back and look at analytics to understand what happened and match that to outcome metrics like leads generated and conversions.

  • Tell a story. People don’t want to connect with brands, they want to connect with like-minded people who share their values. Customers need to see themselves as part of a greater story. There has to be something to connect with in the brand that makes them want to associate with it. That could mean many things like charitable missions or just a lifestyle choice.

  • Sweat the details. It’s not only what you do but also how you do it that means the difference between ho-hum and wow. Pay attention to the flow of interactions, the quality of your interfaces, the specifics of your store’s layouts.

Every experience and every decision a person makes is guided by a combination of reason and emotion. Marketers are great about getting emotion into the promises of their messaging, but need to ensure more of it goes into the delivery of the experience.

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Tags: forrester, customer experience management, customer insights

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