Emotion matters in customer service more than you’d think

Customer emotion is key to creating a superior, successful customer experience that builds long-term loyalty. Emotion is critical to how people understand and remember situations, and their interactions with your business is no different. Here we lay out three tips to improving the emotional impact of your customer interactions.
Positive emotions yield powerful business outcomes, but so do negative ones. Here are three tips to improve the emotional impact of your customer interactions.

In 2014, Pharrell Williams sang and danced his way into our collective consciousness with his infectious hit “Happy”, inviting us to clap along if we felt “like a room without a roof,” urging us to emotional heights that could not be contained by four walls and a ceiling. If only consumers felt that way about the companies they do business with.

While most companies who sell to consumers claim that when interacting with them, their customers are able to accomplish what they set out to do without too much effort, these companies are failing customers emotionally.

When the Temkin Group asked consumers how they felt about their most recent interactions with any of the 294 companies included in the 2016 Temkin Experience Ratings survey, no company got an excellent rating, synonymous with customer delight. Even more disappointing, 40 percent of companies were rated as poor on the emotion metric, indicating their customers were left feeling at least somewhat upset by their interaction with the business.

You might think if a customer can do what they need to without breaking a sweat, that would be enough. Yet providing an emotionally-positive experience is the most important factor in earning and keeping loyal customers. How consumers feel about an experience heavily influences their future purchasing behavior – and Forrester has found that negative emotions have a much bigger impact than positive ones. Make a customer angry and they’re not only likely to stop doing business with you, they’ll tell everyone they can about their negative experience. In a recent survey, Wakefield Research found 78 percent of customers will take action after a single bad interaction!

On the flip side, positive experiences can go a long way when it comes to creating the coveted “promoter” customer, the one who readily tells friends and family that they should also patronize your brand. Eighty-eight percent of consumers will take positive action if they have a good experience with your business.

Want more promoters and fewer detractors? Of course you do. Here are three things that can improve the emotional impact of your customer interactions:


Anticipate their needs

One of the most effective ways to improve your customers’ experience is to predict their needs and proactively offer solutions before they experience a negative consequence. A good example of a company that does this is Southwest Airlines, which got the highest rating of any airline in the Temkin survey. When Southwest has to cancel a flight, they immediately reach out to their passengers using text and voice messages that offer rebooking options. The result for Southwest is happier customers and a reduced influx of calls into their contact center.


Don’t provoke them

Some interactions are more likely to spawn negative emotions than others. Attempting to collect a past due account is one of these. Customers are often defensive when it comes to their finances, especially when dealing with a cash flow problem. Having a highly motivated but inexperienced employee calling them to make a demand for payment can start an argument faster than you can say “you can’t get blood out of a turnip.” A better approach is to use a digital communication such as a voice or text message that objectively presents the fact that an account is late and provides interactive response options for resolving the issue. If the customer then selects the option of speaking with a representative, it’s their choice and more likely to result in a positive outcome, from both a transactional and emotional perspective.


Take complaints seriously

It’s been said that complaints are like medicine, sometimes hard to swallow but good for you. That’s true, but only if you resolve the issue raised by the customer and then work to change the behaviors that generated the complaint in the first place. To do this, you need an effective complaints management program. Your program should not only deal with formal complaints submitted directly to you or to third parties like the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, but also be capable of identifying negative emotions expressed by a customer during an interaction that don’t result in a formal complaint.

These are ticking time bombs that you want to root out and defuse like a champion minesweeper. To do this, you need tools like speech analytics that examine your customer interactions for keywords, phrases, and in the case of telephone contacts, acoustic characteristics that indicate customer stress or dissatisfaction. The most sophisticated of these tools allow supervisors to intervene while the customer is still engaged, providing real-time coaching to customer service agents or taking over if necessary.

If you do these three things, will your customers start dancing and singing like Pharrell? Your “voice of the customer” surveys are a good place to look for the answer. But don’t stop with just these three initiatives. Use the feedback to create a model of what matters to your customers, and keep a short list of pain points to eliminate or fix to keep them happy.

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Brian Moore

About Brian Moore

Brian Moore, senior principal, industry solutions of Nuance’s Enterprise division, brings more than 30 years of experience in financial services, mortgage and collections operations and technology to the company. He is also our resident compliance expert, advising companies on the TCPA, FDCPA, TSR and other regulations impacting customer engagement.