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The Emotion Connection

The Emotion Connection

The Emotion Connection

Tapping into the science of human emotion to deliver more valuable experiences.

Human emotions are a tricky business. Researchers have been trying to understand and interpret emotions since Charles Darwin first theorized that human facial expressions and body language were simply innate traits and a process of evolution in “The Language of Emotions” (1872).

Over a century later, American psychologists Paul Ekman and Robert Plutchik attempted to identify the core emotions upon which all of our other emotions are built. By studying the facial expressions of an isolated tribe in New Guinea, Ekman determined that there were six universal emotions—happiness, sadness, surprise, fear, anger and disgust.

Plutchik identified eight basic emotions (joy, trust, fear, surprise, sadness, anticipation, anger and disgust). He developed the “wheel of emotions” to depict the relationships between the primary emotions and responses (see the image). The colors illustrate the intensity of each emotion (e.g., red/rage fading to pink/annoyance) and how they combine to produce new emotions (e.g., anger and sadness form disgust).

While the wheel of emotions presents a clear visual for understanding how emotions integrate as well as the outcomes, Plutchik also pointed out that emotions are much more complex than most people realize.

Many factors influence an individual’s feelings, including culture, environment, community, past experiences, temperament, physical health, mood and motivation, among others. According to the American Psychological Association, emotion is “a complex reaction pattern, involving experiential, behavioral and physiological elements.”

While, to date, researchers mostly agree to disagree when it comes to defining emotion, technological advancements in the field of neuroscience are making great strides that go beyond facial expressions and body language to measure emotional responses to various stimuli. Neuroscientists are employing psychophysiological tools to measure neural activity, eye movement, pupillary activity, skin response, heart rate and physiological changes to assess consumers’ emotional responses to different brands and marketing messages.

Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions
Source: Wikimedia Commons

The Business of Emotion

Marketers have been trying for decades to gain a better understanding of how emotions influence customer loyalty and purchasing behaviors. That interest has intensified in recent years after research revealed satisfied customers are not as profitable as those who are emotionally connected. In fact, research reported in Harvard Business Review in 2015 stated that fully connected customers are 52% more valuable, on average, than those who are just highly satisfied.

But how do you build emotional connections to your brand? Given the complexity of human emotions, most companies are just guessing at what makes customers behave the way they do. That challenge was the basis for the years-long research project conducted by Scott Magids, Alan Zorfas and Daniel Leemon. The study authors identified 300-plus emotional motivators and employed big data analytics to link them to specific customer behaviors. The authors explained that customers were considered to be emotionally connected with a brand “when it aligns with their motivations and helps them fulfill deep, often unconscious, desires.”

The types of high-impact emotional motivators that drive customer behavior included desires to “stand out from the crowd,” “have confidence in the future,” and “enjoy a sense of well-being,” to name just a few.

The opportunity for companies lies in their ability to identify the top emotional motivators for their various customer segments, and then align their marketing, CX and service delivery strategies to leverage those motivators. For instance, the authors state that consumers’ desire to “stand out from the crowd” can be met by helping them to “project a unique social identity, and be seen as special.”

Research conducted by Forrester Consulting last year, commissioned by FocusVision, found that customers’ feelings outweighed any other influencer (1.5 times stronger) for their buying decisions and loyalty. But Forrester points out that there is a disconnect between how brands perceive customer behavior and how customers actually feel—only 38% of the companies surveyed strongly agreed that they know why one customer chooses their brand while another does not.

The study identified two common mistakes that contribute to companies’ misunderstanding of the motivations behind their customers’ behaviors:

  • Most brands rely on metrics like loyalty (60%), revenue growth (60%) and brand awareness (46%) to track their success with customers, and are “reluctant to let go of inside-out marketing principles focused on product, pricing and promotions.”
  • Most companies operate under the misconception that tapping into big data can help them to properly measure how their customers think and feel, which leads to challenges in customer understanding, technology and organizational communication. Instead, the study found that brands using small data (e.g., voice of the customer and customer journey data) as a basis for their knowledge of how customers think and feel are more likely to understand the why behind a customer’s actions. However, nearly half agree that they don’t have enough small data insights into their customers.

Delivering an Emotional Connection in the Center

While the pursuit of data-driven insights into customer behavior and the study of emotional motivators is carried out by marketing, for the most part, creating an emotional connection is a message and strategy that needs to take place across the organization—and importantly, across customer touchpoints. No matter how strong a emotional connection marketing can evoke through its brand messaging, the true test of its lasting value takes place in the customer’s experience with the various touchpoints.

Take the contact center, for example. On a human-to-human level, the ability to deliver superior customer service has always hinged on the emotional connection between agent and caller. Traditionally, agents have endeavored to create that connection without the aid of visual cues like facial expressions or body language, instead, relying on the caller’s words, voice, tone and pitch to interpret the caller’s emotional state.

Centers have found that agents with a high Emotional Quotient (EQ) are particularly adept at identifying and defusing anger, frustration and disappointment while fostering positive feelings in their customers. Emotional intelligence is defined as the ability to recognize, understand and manage one’s own emotions and the emotions of others. While EQ can be taught, more companies are attempting to screen applicants for EQ traits at the hiring stage. Behavioral questions asked during the interview can also assess EQ, such as:

  • How would your peers describe you? (self-awareness)
  • How do you handle stressful situations? (self-regulation)
  • Describe a time when you had to deliver bad news to a customer. (empathy)
  • Describe a time you went above and beyond to help a customer. (motivation)
  • Describe a difficult issue you had to deal with. (social skills)

The problem for contact center managers is that deciding how well candidates respond to EQ questions generally comes down to gut instinct and personal judgment.

Enter predictive analytics. As Scott Bakken writes in his June 2019 Pipeline column, Behavioral Predictive Voice Analytics (BPVA) is a new scientific way to improve hiring practices, retain better agents, generate happier customers and grow a healthier bottom line. As Bakken explains it: “BPVA capitalizes on elements of these human voice characteristics and provides a completely new data source from which insights can be gleaned. When you start picking up on tone (is it happy, upset, timid, honest?), inflection (are specific syllables being emphasized in a question or does it sound monotone?), and volume (is shouting controlling the conversation?), you can learn how powerful the voice can be in self-expression and in creating profiles for individual behavior.”

Related: Using AI to Predict Which Job Candidates Will Be Successful

In addition to having emotionally intelligent staff in place, real-time speech analytics solutions can give agents and supervisors a much-needed assist in identifying shifts in tone, volume or pitch, or phrases, that provide agents with a heads-up as to the caller’s emotional state, as well as prompts to help the agent defuse the situation before it escalates.

Often, though, creating an emotional bond with a customer is just a matter of doing a little something extra that brightens someone’s day. Custom jewelry company Origami Owl has a program called “Make a Day for a Customer,” which empowers agents to provide product credits, offer promotions and waive shipping fees to turn around a negative outcome for a customer or “just to make someone’s day,” says Care Team Manager Aryka Berry (see Inside View, Pipeline, June 2019). “There could be nothing wrong,” she explains. “Maybe [the agent] just had a great conversation with somebody and they literally just wanted to make their customer’s day—so they offer them a credit.” It’s a simple yet effective way to show customers that they’re valued and begin forging a strong emotional connection.

Related: Inside View: Aryka Berry, Origami Owl

Susan Hash

Susan Hash

Susan Hash served as Editorial Director of Contact Center Pipeline magazine and the Pipeline blog from 2009-2021. She is a veteran business journalist with over 30 years of specialized experience writing about customer care and contact centers.
Twitter: @susanhash

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