Emotions are loud but nobody listens

One of the most distinctive characteristics of Italian people is that we are loud. If inside a London train you hear a few people concitedly speaking with raised voices, chances are they are Italians. The Azzurri’s football games are still the loudest I have experienced and our fans are always extremely… vociferous… maybe only surpassed by Liverpudlians! On holiday, we are normally the most excited people on the beach, enjoying everything around us in an enthusiastic way and jumping at every opportunity to do something fun or new… and do not even need any alcohol for that! And maybe I’m tuned into its sound, but I could swear that the only people I can clearly hear talking whilst walking on the British streets are all sharing my native tongue!

My parents are a good example of this national trait when they visit me in London. They do not speak English, but they believe that if they talk in Italian loudly and slowly, using lots of hand gestures and facial expressions, they can make themselves understood anyway. Indeed, I am always bemused when they return from the local shops relating all the interactive encounters they have had with perfect strangers, full of stories that would definitely require conversation and mutual understanding. On one occasion, my English in-laws heard me talk animatedly with my parents in the kitchen and thought we were having a big argument, when indeed we were only discussing what to have for dinner!

So yes, we are loud and possibly a bit theatrical, but definitely full of passion and emotional reactions, and totally lacking the self-conscious fear of doing or saying the wrong thing. In a restaurant, if I do not like a dish I normally politely say it when the waiter asks if everything is fine – why lie? If nothing else, that could end up either with a discount on the bill or a complimentary dish, or worst case, with an embarrassed smile and mumbled “Sorry to hear that” from a waiter unable to deal with that piece of customer feedback.

Instead, two weeks ago my daughter Serena was served a wrong dish during a 7-course tasting experience in a very reputable Japanese restaurant in central London. She does not particularly like spicy food and this dish was very hot, but she refused to ‘make a fuss’ and quietly forced it down her throat, her eyes becoming increasingly glazy and red and her consumption of water progressively growing – under our amused glances and laughter. However, proportionally increased also her Snapchat conversations and pictures, as she shared her bad experience with all her friends, repeatedly, throughout the evening and supported by photos and hashtags.

If you were a restaurateur, what would you prefer? The customer whose reasoning brain evaluates the impact of causing some type of confrontation or discomfort and prefers to be quiet on the moment, but release emotions later in a safer social environment; or the person who shares those emotions with you at the time, giving you the opportunity to correct the situation and restore a positive experience, possibly also strengthening their loyalty?

Emotions determine our experience

I love the quote from Maya Angelou, “People will forget what you did, people will forget what you said, but people will never forget how you made them feel”. Serena immediately forgot about the other very good 6 dishes she tasted, but focused on the one that made her feel embarrassed with us and uncomfortable with the waiter. Her entire dining experience was determined by how she was made to feel in that single moment.

In addition, how the customer feels about one interaction will have the strongest impact on their loyalty. I doubt Serena would willingly return to that restaurant, because she was left with a bad emotional memory of its experience.

The customer perception of a brand, a product or service is primarily about emotional reactions. How often do people score highly on ‘ease’ and ‘satisfaction’, but low on the ‘would you recommend’ question? How often their answer about ‘satisfaction with the member of staff’ is driven by factual considerations as opposed to how they felt during that interaction? If the employee was knowledgeable and perfectly followed procedure, but did not listen to the customer or show care, the customer would still feel frustrated and score them negatively.

Several neuroscience or behavioural economics reports show how emotions guide decisions. While we think of ourselves as logical beings, our decisions are primarily influenced by our emotions and emotional connections with something. Decisions that generate positive emotions are more likely to be repeated, therefore driving also our future behaviours. Emotions like surprise, happiness and gratitude are normally associated with positive experiences, while anger, frustration or disappointment are on the negative side of the spectrum.

But unlike Italians, most people do not proactively share feedback about their personal feelings, especially when it causes some type of discomfort for them or the listener. Unless they are explicitly asked about it, they will walk away from that experience and probably also from that organisation.

The power of understanding customer emotions

People are driven by emotions, but most Voice of the Customer programmes focus only on the transactional aspects of the customer journey, without trying to understand the underlying emotional drivers of their behaviours. Only very few organisations ask what the customer felt and, of these, most don’t listen enough to act on the answer – like the waiters who ask, “Was everything OK?” but are unable to handle any negative reply and take the easy route of apologising and forgetting about it.

In a 2016 white paper, Colin Shaw from Beyond Philosophy identified Net Emotional Value (NEV) as a ‘new CX measure to complement NPS’, calculated by deducting average negative emotions from average positive emotions. This lead metric was meant to represent the balance of how the customer feels about the company and therefore drive NPS and loyalty. Personally, while I hold Colin in high esteem as a great pioneer of customer experience thinking, I believe the NEV metric is a bit ‘forced’. In fact, bad emotions often wipe away positive ones – like in the case of Serena’s chilly pepper dish. Therefore a mathematically calculated net score between average positive and negative emotions would not really equate to how the customer ultimately felt.

However, I do believe in the importance of measuring and understanding customer emotions and designing a customer proposition and end-to-end experience focused on creating brand-aligned emotions. Customer biographical and factual data about them and their past transactions is not enough to fully understand what will drive their future behaviours. Organisations who know more about their customers, like their needs, aspirations, hobbies, interests, likes and dislikes…, have more opportunities to deliver personalised experiences which meet the deepest emotional needs of the customer and therefore strengthen their connection with and loyalty to the brand.

What emotions does your brand want to generate and how can you translate these into engaging customer experiences? And most importantly, how can you understand what drives your customers’ emotions and decisions, and measure whether you are achieving the right outcomes?

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