The Role of Emotion in Customer Journeys

A common thread running through many of the presentations at last week’s Insights Associations NEXT conference was the role of emotion in understanding customer journeys.

Anne Beall of Beall Research shared her firm’s research into how emotions affect a customer’s journey through purchase interest, repeat purchase, and brand advocacy. “Consumers don’t think their way through the marketplace; they feel their way,” Anne said. “Emotions provide a rapid, actionable assessment of a situation or environment and are strongly linked to behavior and memory.” Because of that connection to memory and behavior, brands want to link to emotions. “Engage their hearts, and you’ll engage their wallets.”

In another presentation focusing on customer journeys and emotion, Jean Fasching of Heart of the Customer and Janie Schumaker of the Board of Certified Emergency Nurses (BCEN) discussed customer journey mapping for nurses seeking certification. One of the shocking findings was the negative emotions for much of the initial journey: nervousness, uncertainty, anxiety, and sadness if the candidate failed the test. It wasn’t until a nurse learnt if she or he passed the test that they experienced a positive emotion (ecstatic). This emotional journey was humbling for BCEN, and the organization realized that it needed to work towards giving positive emotions, providing support and encouragement. For instance, one of the changes implemented was to provide a course on reducing test anxiety. Janie credits the insights from the journey map, and the actions it inspired, to helping her and her team move from stagnant levels to growing the number of new customers (nurses certified for the first time) 11% last year.

Jeannie Walters of Experience Investigators also talked about the importance of emotion. She said, that if the classic formula for customer experience was perceptions minus expectations (gap analysis), the new formula multiples that by emotion. She added, “70% of the customer’s journey is dictated by how the customer feels they are being treated.” She argued too many journey mapping exercises don’t start early enough in the process (building awareness) and don’t include all the touchpoints (such as monthly bills): “Too often journey maps are seen through the lens of our own org charts.” Good CX journey mapping needs to look for emotional peaks and valleys: understand the emotional impact of moments that matter, listen to customer tone and determine their emotional state. And don’t forget to use emotion to enact change based on what you learn; otherwise “journey maps get tons of time and attention only to get turned into beautiful posters that hang on the wall and don’t become a tool.” To motivate through emotion, the board for a cancer center brings a patient into every board meeting.

Rebecca Brooks of Alter Agents discussed the customer journey through the purchase funnel, and how much it differed from traditional models depending on category and loyalty. For instance, Alter Agents surveys 1,000 grocery store shoppers a week and looks at what they intended to buy vs. what they actually bought. The soda pop category is driven by brand loyalty: 97% bought what they intended to, and the 3% who didn’t were buying for someone else (“my son sent me for Mello Yello but I bought Sprite instead”). In contrast, only 46% of frozen-meal shoppers bought what they intended to. Think about the impact on the customer journey: for soda, it’s about building loyalty; for frozen meals, it’s about winning the battle at the shelf. For ice cream, spontaneous purchasers prefer low calorie brands, where planners prefer indulgent brands; this represents two different customer journeys. Finally, Rebecca urged us to see beyond “brand narcissism”, to get beyond the questions written from the perspective of the brand marketer and to use the language of the consumer instead.

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Photo credit: J. Henning, of the sculpture “Chicago Works

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