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Anticipating Customer Emotions Can Be a Winning Strategy

Buying decisions and product recommendations are often deeply rooted in emotion—especially for products and services that are triggers of high emotion. Think major life events or stressful situations: airline travel, car and computer repair, home buying, car rentals etc. Companies that can anticipate these emotional triggers and take proactive steps to address or mitigate them often find themselves at a clear advantage and distinguish themselves from their competitors.

The HBR article, When the Customer is Stressed, highlights the factors that trigger high emotion to build awareness about those things in our products or services that can be emotional triggers. It offers tips of how companies can build on that awareness to positively influence expectations and perceptions of quality and value and help their customers adeptly navigate what may have been stressful situations.

The factors that often trigger high emotion are those where there is:

  • Lack of familiarity

  • Lack of control over performance

  • Major consequences, should something go wrong

  • Complexity—when the service or product is a black box (giving the provider a clear upper hand)

  • Long duration across series of events

In my role as an Agile Coach, I experience scenarios where my emotions clearly get heightened. No, it is not finding the gig, or preparing for a class, or presenting in front of a large group of people, or hoping my students / coachees arrive at those 'aha' moments, or even getting paid on time (or at all). It is having to rent a car and drive it in a new city!  And, unsurprisingly, my emotions are heightened precisely because every one of those five listed triggers come into play.

Car rental companies have done little to soothe those emotions. I have experienced just about everything: the airport shuttle taking close to an hour to pick me, arriving at the desk to be offered all types of insurance options to reinforce my already raw nerves, having me inspect a car at 10:30 pm, realizing at 5:00 am that I did not know how to start a keyless car, scared into upgrading to a larger car because of weather conditions, charged $640.00 for a cracked fog light cover (one that I was pretty certain I did not damage), tossed from one department to another when trying to get clarification and answers.

Some of my colleagues have shared even more horrifying stories of being stopped for driving a rental car that was reported stolen or being a nervous wreck after she had to run over a deer carcass right in the middle of the road to avoid hitting another car. ( Just recounting these events has stressed me out!)

Then I finally gave Uber/Lyft ride-sharing a try. My business trips have since been nothing but a series of joyful mobility experiences!

For me, the ride-sharing experience has been able to wonderfully address these high emotion factors. There are many other companies that have the same emotional impact—like Zappos and Bellin Health (discussed in the article). What's their secret? What are they doing right?

The HBR article identifies four steps that any organization can take to better address the emotional needs of their customers. Apply them and see what difference they make in your offerings.

Identify the emotional triggers  

Initial emotional triggers often arise right at the need for a service. This is a great opportunity to exceed customer’s expectations. Companies that underperform in this area can suffer greatly and permanently as it will only heighten the negative emotions of anger and fear.

These initial emotional triggers can be identified through surveys, focus groups, interviews, controlled experiments, experience mapping etc., to surface customer’s needs, concerns, and desires.

Offering videos or FAQs of what to expect can increase familiarity with a product and in some situations reduce complexity.Uber/Lyft services have been able to identify those emotional triggers by empowering the customer with information like the estimated fare and how long before the car will arrive—offering a sense of ease to the customer before they make the decision of using the service.

Respond early to intense emotions

Impressions left are often long lasting. Failure to recognize and respond in a timely manner to these emotional states leave customers scared, frustrated, powerless and ignored. Venturing into the unknown is often a major source of anxiety.

Offering a personal touch and explaining what to expect at each stage can be incredibly soothing. Transparency and reassuring, frequent communication—not just through words but through body language, choice of words, tone of voice, and appearance of staff members can have a huge and long lasting impact. Again, in my experience with Uber/Lyft services, offering me information about the name of the driver and the type of car I can expect, alleviates the nagging discomfort with the unknown.

Another high-emotion scenario is when having to make a payment—should I pay with cash or credit card? Is my credit card information safe? How much tip should I offer?  Why should I have to give a 25% or 30% tip for a service? The automatic credit card service for a pre-defined fare makes the transaction so smooth and simple.

Enhance your customer’s control

Giving customers a greater sense of control offers them peace of mind. Providing customers with a direct contact they can reach to resolve or address an issue is one way to enhance that control. Using technology to keep the customers informed with real-time information and ready access to assistance is reassuring.  Identifying service gaps—like avoiding a customer having to be on hold for 15 minutes or being passed from department to department and having to repeat the same information over and over again.

The real-time updates of when I can expect a car gives me the comfort of knowing that I will make it to my client on time. It also empowers me with the information I need to decide if I should call for a different car.

Hire the right people and prepare them for their specific role

Depending on the type of product or service, this choice can be critical. Emotionally charged people can be difficult, draining, and downright miserable to deal with—for the wrong type of employee. Employees must be able to cope with stress, be patient and respectful of customers, and help strengthen customer confidence.

When hiring people, it is important to hire for values and company fit. In other words, hire people that fit the company culture. Often, for high-emotion products and services, these people exhibit the qualities of Emotional Capacity (EQ), resilience, compassion, honesty, teamwork, and are usually excellent communicators.

When preparing people for their roles, it is important to teach 'the why' behind the purpose of the organization, product, or service, much more than just the how. Helping them identify with the significance of what they do, encouraging learning as an ongoing process, rewarding desired behaviors, leveraging peer-to-peer learning, turning middle managers into teachers and coaches, and often returning to the big picture all go a long way in developing an organization where everyone is empowered to address their customers' needs with greater grace and competence.

In the Uber/Lyft ride-sharing model, I am not sure how much training is provided to drivers, but empowering customers and drivers to rate each other and offer feedback goes a long way in encouraging optimal customer experiences.

Apply this learning and share how anticipating customer emotions and taking appropriate action can be a winning strategy for your organization.

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