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Emotionally Connecting with Your Customers Matters

As the world regains its footing post-pandemic, it is a good time to focus on organic growth; i.e. opportunities to strengthen relationships and build business with existing customers. And while it is truly timeless advice, one way for brands to start is by leveraging the emotional connection they have with their customers.

The Emotional Connection with Your Customers Matters

Leverage this framework to strengthen your business.

Waaay back in 1995, an article in the Harvard Business Review warned companies that even when customers say they are satisfied, they are at risk of defecting to a competitor. The study showed that only when customers check the “highly satisfied” box in a satisfaction survey can a business safely assume true loyalty exists. The notion seems almost quaint today, but the idea of satisfied customers defecting was a revelation to many companies back then.

Fast forward 25 years, and every good marketer knows that the stakes for customer engagement and loyalty have grown exponentially as Customer Experience (or CX) has become the new competitive battleground. Given our complex consumer landscape where authentic, immediate and flawless interactions are expected, “satisfaction” is now table stakes. Today, true customer engagement and loyalty comes from consistently connecting both rationally and emotionally with customers throughout their experience with you.

Emotional Connection is just good (profitable) business.

At every step of the buying journey companies have opportunities to show they understand customers’ fundamental needs (rational), and just as often, their unspoken motivations (emotional). Imagine a call center that decides to acknowledge the inordinate amount of time you’ve spent on hold by offering a credit or even just a free coffee. Who among us wouldn’t feel like that company “got” our unspoken need for feeling appreciated and rewarded at that moment in the journey?

When businesses connect both rationally and emotionally the payoff can be huge. Satisfied AND emotionally connected customers are more than twice as valuable as highly satisfied ones. They spend more, remain more loyal, and advocate more often for the brands and businesses with which they engage. And the strength of that emotional connection is among the biggest predictors of customer lifetime value, conversion, and ROI.

In fact, the opportunity is so significant that a 2019 Deloitte study declared, “the ability to gather and use emotional data at scale is one of the biggest, most important opportunities that exists for companies today.” Further, the study revealed that customer relationships most always start and end with rational considerations, but “emotional connection drives everything in between.” Almost as soon as a new customer relationship begins, the relative importance of rational needs starts to decline, but the impact of moments that resonate with emotional needs increases significantly as the relationship grows.

A Framework for Action

Even so, few organizations are adequately acting on the power of emotion to drive differentiation and customer value. Often, we see managers struggling to clearly define, act, and link emotion to business outcomes. A framework is necessary, augmented by strong qualitative and analytics tools. The following 3 steps offer a solid foundation for getting started:

  1. Map the customer journey with emotion as your key filter. Literally chart what the emotions (and intensity levels) are for the customer at every point in the journey, and be brutally honest about how well you are meeting those emotional needs. The exercise will not only help you understand strong bonds that may already exist, but reveal rich opportunities for you to deliver a more connected experience. Most companies will be able to build on their existing journey maps and will find the overlay of an “emotional map” a significant enhancement.
  2. Re-design the experience for greater emotional resonance. The next step is to prioritize the greatest areas of “emotional opportunity” along the journey and then gather knowledgeable teams to generate ideas for creating emotional connection. This is a surprisingly fun and energizing exercise for teams, always done with equal consideration for customer needs and the organization’s brand to ensure contextual appropriateness and brand integrity. With a portfolio of key emotional connection insights, the customer experience and/or marketing teams can then move into execution mode.
  3. Measure for emotion. To paraphrase Peter Drucker, if you can’t measure it you can’t manage it. The next step is to create a data collection and measurement strategy to monitor changes in customer experience outcomes. An emotional connection strategy cannot be grown and harnessed without ongoing measurement, testing and learning (of course, always in congruence with your other measurement efforts). This can run the gamut from simply updating customer experience surveys and interviews with tailored questions about emotional resonance, to creating an overall emotional connection score for key segments or the entire organization. The point is to ensure there is a metric consistently providing feedback on the emotional impact of the experience redesign efforts.

Emotional data is key to building reliable and meaningful relationships with customers that go beyond mere satisfaction. Given the sheer quantity of touchpoints between customers and businesses – online and offline – the challenge may seem daunting. But the upside is enormous and growing.

The key is to start. Inaction squanders a precious, organic opportunity to build loyalty.

At Phase 5 we are experts at applying data, analytics, and innovative thinking to help you truly differentiate your Customer Experience. If you are interested in sharing your perspective or discussing this concept in depth with one of our consultants, simply contact us.



Written by Suzie Goan

Suzie Goan is a Manager of Qualitative Research and CX at Phase 5. She has over 15 years of experience leading consumer insights and CX projects for Fortune 1000 clients in financial services, healthcare, retail and hospitality, with a prime area of interest in research that taps into unconscious emotion through metaphor, images and storytelling. Suzie has written about CX in Marketing Management, MIT Sloan Management Review and Quality Management. She is based in Minneapolis, MN and holds degrees in Journalism and English from the University of Oregon.