• October 1, 2018
  • By Ian Jacobs, vice president and research director, Forrester Research

Customer Service Needs to Tackle Customer Emotion

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Back in the 1990s, I had a friend who used to drive me bonkers due to a personality quirk. He would respond to almost any story I told him by channeling a second-rate Rogerian psychotherapist. I’d regale him with a tale of my professional derring-do and he would inevitably respond, “And how did that make you feel?” I’d relate some current family drama I was enmeshed in. His response: “Well, how did that make you feel?” He’d play me some pop music confection that he was currently digging (I distinctly remember endless weeks of his singing the very late ’90s alt-pop track “Sex and Candy”) and, of course, he would want to know how that made me feel.

This is the point in a standard column where I’d say something like “I’m reminded of my friend by blah blah blah.” This is not that column. In fact, I mention my friend specifically because I am never reminded of his idiosyncratic conversational style while engaging in a customer service interaction. Customer service organizations never seem to concern themselves with how their service makes me feel. This is a huge problem.

When we look at Forrester Research’s data around customer experience, we see that stagnation has set in. Our Customer Experience Index surveys more than 100,000 U.S. online consumers who interacted with hundreds of companies across dozens of industries. Over the past few years, we’ve found that the improvement in customer experience has essentially stopped. Between 2016 and 2017, there was pretty much complete torpor and even a little bit of back sliding; between 2017 and 2018, again, very little movement, particularly at the top.

Why is this? Well, there are three elements that drive real customer experience outcomes: effectiveness, ease, and emotion. In the customer service world, we’ve spent a lot of time over the past 30 years focusing on effectiveness. Contact centers essentially run on metrics designed to uncover whether the company resolves issues quickly and whether agents make sure that all of a customer’s questions are answered.

Over the past five years, some companies have started to focus on ease. They’ve moved to make access to customer service convenient by opening up multiple channels, moving beyond just phone calls into mobile apps and web chat and customer self-service tools like chatbots.

So effectiveness and ease are things we’ve mostly got covered. But customer service organizations have never really focused much on the emotional component—the how-does-that-make-you-feel question. Since we’ve all had some hair-pulling, fist-into-the-plaster, blood-vessel-bursting experiences when calling about a service issue, the emotional component is clearly very strong. In fact, the National Customer Rage Study (yes, there is such a thing) found that 56 percent of consumers have experienced rage with service received from a contact center.

Does the customer service representative act empathetic? Does he understand the customer’s needs? And does the customer feel that the agent understands her needs? Does the company value the customer’s time? Does the customer feel like the agent is engaging with her on a human level? These are all, at heart, emotional concerns. And the contact center world has paid them too little attention.

In our analysis of all that survey data about customer experience, we found that in 20 out of 21 industries, emotion was the largest contributor to the customer experience. So emotion trumps effectiveness and ease when it comes to how a customer perceives an experience with a company. Given that, it seems like we might want to start imitating my old friend and try using tools—and common sense—to find out how our customer service is making customers feel.

Of course, that’s just a start. Next, we’d need to start providing tools and training to help positively influence emotions and then learn how to measure our success with that effort, but that is a story and a column for another day.  

Ian Jacobs is a principal analyst at Forrester Research.

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