Business, Design

Why a happy customer can be a silly goal

January 2, 2019

Read time 4 min

Emotional connection is a better indicator of customer loyalty than satisfaction. Nevertheless, companies often focus on further optimising customer journeys, even when customer satisfaction is already high, and rarely a differentiator.

Companies struggle to find a way to connect with customers in a more meaningful way. What does emotional connection really mean and how is it created?

Customer emotions are not limited to satisfaction or lack thereof

For decades, the literature on customer emotions has focused on the positive; how to create joy, happiness, feelings of excitement and thrill. Apart from dissatisfaction (and how to get rid of it), negative customer emotions are rarely mentioned.

However, the emotional spectrum is a lot more versatile. In fact, most views on human emotions identify a much greater number of distinct negative emotions than they do positive. Just look at the classical view of the six basic emotions: happiness (positive), sadness, fear, anger, disgust (all negative) and surprise (can be either). Additional complexity comes from people’s ability to feel numerous, sometimes conflicting, emotions simultaneously.  

Responding to customer emotions requires an understanding of their complexity

Emotions can be born in the instance or linger on as moods. Correspondingly, a customer comes into a situation in an emotional state that may have nothing to do with your business.

Some industries happen to have their customer interactions in more negatively charged situations than others. The insurance business is a great example. Insurance is taken out of fear, risk aversion, the urge to feel safe. If a claim is made, there may be an emotional situation behind it: accident, illness, loss, accompanied by sadness, worry or fear, to name a few.

Real estate brokerage is another good example. Even though a new home often comes with excitement and joy, the situation behind the buy or sell may also include financial issues, loss of a partner, an empty nest with less need for space, or just the bittersweet emotion of letting go of an old home.

In fact, most industries face customer situations that are complex. Aiming to satisfy or make the customer “happy” means just scratching the surface. In these situations, an ideal customer emotion may, in fact, be“slightly less worried, and hopeful” or“still sad, but understood”.

Designing for emotions, especially negative emotions, may raise questions of ethics. Are we exploiting or manipulating the customer and taking advantage of their weak moment? Trying to sell by raising emotions like fear (“Did you know there are sharks where you are traveling? Buy shark insurance!”) is a tactic used by some, but it may be ethically questionable. However, designing a service that takes into account the already existing emotions of customers is only humane.

In emotions design, the key is to create additional value for the customer

In the past, emotionally aware customer interactions have been the burden and privilege of empathetic customer service personnel. However, analytics and AI bring on a whole new toolkit for digital services and products to take on this task on a larger scale. AI advances have already reached capabilities to read people’s emotional expressions and customise reactions based on them. As with personalisation in general, there is a key rule though: the interaction needs to feel seamless, effortless and add value so that the customer does not feel the urge to question why and how the customisation happens.

There are some key questions that you can start designing more emotional connection with:

  1. What are common customer situations and emotional states when buying or using my product or service?
  2. What is the desired emotional state we want our customers to reach, and how can we get there?
  3. What is the additional value we can create for customers by designing a more emotionally aware experience?

Emotional connection makes business sense, but may also open new opportunities for humane business

Understanding and designing for human emotions is far from easy though. In fact, if it doesn’t make your head hurt, you are probably oversimplifying it.  So why add this complexity to your customer experience design? One reason is the business sense it makes.

Emotionally connected customers are over 50 % more valuable over their customer lifecycle than just satisfied customers.  The most impactful customer motivators are emotional, such as the desires to feel secure (mitigating fear and insecurity), feel belonging (mitigating loneliness) and stand out from the crowd (mitigating dullness or insignificance). Better still, not many companies are yet able to differentiate themselves by being humane and empathetic or personalising by emotions. It’s a blue ocean.

Another reason goes deeper into the aspirations of a company. Emotional connection brings on new opportunities to find meaning. It starts with treating customers like people rather than segments or stereotypical personas, and it might lead to new ways of improving peoples lives. Whether or not there can be a true connection with a company and a customer, treating people as a whole, is arguably a step in that direction. It might also open new, meaningful goals and corresponding performance indicators for your business.

At Reaktor, we aim to truly understand the people we are designing for and create insightful, surprising customer experiences. We actively design for viable products and services that make business sense and also have value beyond the financial indicators.


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