Everything is an emotional buy; everything. Whether buying a
cup of coffee, a holiday, a car, or a house. Our emotional
reaction to a service transaction is the fundamental driver of
the purchasing decision.
More importantly, it’s a determining factor in customer
retention and loyalty. More than satisfaction, customer emotion
is the underpinning factor in the customer experience; what it’s
like to do business with the product or service provider.
Yes of course rational thought, reflection, consideration of
pros and cons may be part of the buying decision, but an emotion
definitely will be. One’s feeling, sense, intuition, gut
reaction and experience of the interaction will play a
significant part in the buying decision.
This example illustrates the point. I was walking through a
shopping centre with a colleague recently. We walked passed a
well known coffee shop and I suggested we stopped and had a
coffee. My colleague immediately responded with a suggestion
that we should go further into the shopping precinct and around
the corner to his favourite coffee shop.
“I like it there,” he said. Not, they do better coffee, it’s
less expensive, or I have a loyalty card, but “I like it there”.
In fact he liked it so much that he was willing to take us out
of our way in order to get that cup of coffee. This was an
emotional reaction. No rational and logical weighing up taking
place; a simple instinctive response.
Why is this important?
During the ‘80’s and ‘90’s customer satisfaction was king. It
was based on research suggesting that continued improvement in
product and service quality would mean corresponding increases
in satisfaction, and customer satisfaction was going to ensure a
What further academic research and empirical evidence now
shows is that companies who followed this guideline were
surprised to find that even high scores in customer satisfaction
did not guarantee loyalty. Companies have discovered that
loyalty, not satisfaction, drives profits. The economics are
As little as a 5% decrease in customer defections can mean a
doubling of profits. Why? Because loyal customers are not only
repeat purchasers, and are more likely to buy other products and
services, they become advocates of the company. It is nine times
cheaper to keep an existing customer than acquire a new one.
The unit operating costs of servicing repeat purchasers is
also reduced. Advocates become the ‘virtual’ marketing function
of the product or service provider, recommending it potential
new buyers amongst family, friends and colleagues.
But there are other reasons based on service recovery. No
product or service operation is flawless. Though a company may
want to diminish the incidence, it is almost inevitable that
something will go wrong sometime, however small the error. When
customers are positively disposed and emotionally engaged to
service providers, they will be more willing to tolerate a whole
range of service or quality shortfalls.
The coffee not quite as tasty or as frothy as last time, the
delayed flight or the clothes shop that hassold out of the
garment you particularly wanted. Customer satisfaction surveying
doesn’t quite get to grips with the emotional effect of the
service interaction or the value that customers perceive from
Satisfaction in many respects is an outcome. Something
happened that created that sense of satisfaction. And that
‘something’ is the experience itself. Satisfaction, or
dissatisfaction for that matter, is the result of what it felt
like for the customer in being dealt with by the service
provider. Satisfaction somehow seems such an inappropriate and
often inadequate description of what the customer is
Doing business at the emotional level
Recently I went along to my nearest toy retailer to browse for a
suitable gift for my eight year old son and witnessed the sheer
joy and marvel experienced by a small toddler being given a
replacement cuddly toy.
The parent had gone to the toyshop to ask if a toy that had
not even been purchased at that particular outlet could be
replaced because it had been given as a gift to her two year
old, was one in a series, and the child already had it.
The customer service agent said it wasn’t their policy, but
left her counter, went to the appropriate shelving to retrieve
the entire set of toys for the child to choose the one she
wanted. The shop lost £3.99 and gained an overjoyed child, an
appreciative parent and a story that will be repeated several
times as an example of superior service. Neither the child nor
the mother were merely satisfied with how they had been treated.
The broad smiles on both their faces gave a real sense of the
appreciation and happiness felt (as well as giving a clue of the
potential sense of relief in the mother in not having to deal
with a disappointed child). Even I walked out of the shop with a
bit more of a skip in my step than I had walked in with.
By contrast, a colleague told me of his less that satisfying
flight to a client meeting in which he stupidly (his words)
packed all the materials he needed for his presentation in his
checked-in luggage. On arrival the surly lost baggage clerk
explained that his luggage was still at his departure point and
that it would not be with him till later in the afternoon and
that if he had needed all the material then it was his own fault
for having checked it in.
My colleague explained to me later that neither dissatisfied
or extremely dissatisfied, were words that accurately described
his feelings about the treatment he had received. Incandescent
with fury were probably closer adjectives to the truth of his
So it all seems to rest on the emotional experience. How the
engagement with the service provider leaves us feeling – about
them, the transaction and the company as a whole. And even when
the system - the procedures and protocols the service provider
is sometimes required to follow - get in the way, (as they often
do in financial services), appreciation and handling of the
customer at the emotional level can make all the difference.
Only a couple of weeks ago I called by business bank early on a
Monday morning to check that they had reissued and sent a
replacement to my business card that was about to expire.
Confirming that they had, I explained that I was about to leave
on a business trip and that I had not yet received it.
Straight into automatic mode, the call centre operator
informed me that they would have to cancel the card that was
lost in the post and reissue a new card. This would take between
3 and 5 working days. Too late, I advised, as I was leaving on
my business trip over the weekend, needed the card, and my
existing card would expire mid week. Can’t help you they said. I
suggested that rather than relying on the postal service, they
should courier a replacement card and I would sign for it.
This seemed a viable possibility, except they added that in
cancelling the lost card on the Monday would also automatically
cancel my existing card which was still valid till the Thursday.
Increasingly angry and frustrated, I suggested that they should
not cancel a card that was still valid and usable, and enquired
how they could creatively suggest some options to deal with the
presenting problem. None were available.
After much haggling and finding I was getting no where with
the ‘system’, I begged that they please ensure that the card was
delivered in the minimum amount of time. This they assured me
they would do. Frustrated, manacled by their procedures and
feeling completely undervalued, I agreed. Unfortunately, insult
was further heaped on a far from satisfying experience.
A very pleasant voice called about an hour later to say that
I could collect my card from my local bank branch at the end of
the week. The communication within the system had obviously not
understood my earlier point about being busy and the
inconvenience of the situation.
The rising tied of indignation, frustration, helplessness and
seething venom was far too great to contain, and the unfortunate
caller received a tirade describing their incompetence,
insensitivity and inability to organise an escape from a wet
What is the point of this?
What the customer feels or doesn’t feel at every single
encounter with a service provider is directly related to the
service providers ability to manage the totality of the
experience and customers expectations.
Customer experience is not simply about smiling sweetly, or
keeping an even tone when handling an irate customer. It is
about creating, operationally, transactionally and behaviourally
an emotional connection with the customer that leaves them
feeling – no matter what – that they are the most important
person in that moment in time.
Addressing the emotional needs, desires expectations of
fickle - I want it now and I’m not going to wait - customers is
difficult and can’t be left entirely to the great customer
service skills of the individual. Defining the goal of the
intended customer experience, so that it is differentiated,
intentional supports the brand promise and adds real value to
the customer requires a whole company approach which goes beyond
procedural quality standards and protocols.
Before a product or service provider can determine the best way
to manage their customer experiences it has to define and
articulate exactly the emotional reaction they want to create in
the customer at every point of contact.
Arguably customer satisfaction surveying and market research
will provide the data required in order to do so. This seems
very logical except for the fact that customer satisfaction
measures very often don’t give enough, if any, data about drives
satisfaction or indeed loyalty at the emotional level.
Customer experience management requires much greater insight
into the drivers of satisfaction and loyalty. That insight is
very likely to demonstrate that a whole package of different
factors lead to a sense of satisfaction and loyalty, based on a
mixture of expectations, needs and reactions to the organisation
and the perceived value received by the customer.
Managing the customer experience, then moves critical elements
such as product and service quality, and perceptions of
value-for-money, beyond merely hygiene factors – the minimum
requirements needed to be seen as a ‘player’ in the market – to
fundamental delivery mechanisms in creating the sort of
personal, deep seated emotional and psychological connections
with the customer that enable them to feel themselves satisfied
A consistent, differentiated, valued and completely
intentional approach to managing the customers emotional
response to doing business with the company is the only way of
dealing with the irrational, illogical, intuitive and feelings
based drivers that underpin every buying decision.
Now then, about that coffee I was going to have..
About the Author
Joe España is Managing Director of Performance Equations, a
management consultancy that helps companies and individuals
become more successful by directly linking strategy to people
and business performance. Joe can be contacted by email at
firstname.lastname@example.org or visit