3 Tips for Winning Customers with Emotions

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A couple of years ago, Apple came up with commercials for its new iPhone stickers, cartoonlike figures that allow users to express themselves with wacky faces, animals, and more. My company tested the ads with the stickers’ target audience of 18- to 20-year-olds.

Examples of reactions from the young adults in online one-to-one interviews: “Fun.” “High energy.” “Light-hearted.” “Wow!”

The test illustrated an aha moment that many companies are having these days: the need to appeal to customers on an authentic, emotional level—and to assess whether they’re doing so before releasing a product, app, website, or campaign.

“Our research shows that emotion is the biggest driver of loyalty in many industries—it cannot be ignored,” analyst firm Forrester said in a report last year. “Measuring those emotions helps companies uncover customers’ motivation for action—such as convenience, routine, or true love.”

According to a study by consultants Capgemini, “emotionally engaged customers” spend more on brands they are loyal to and spread their positive opinions in their social circles. They also expect more from those brands through differentiated experiences.

“Emotions play a far greater role in creating true brand loyalty than current approaches recognize,” the report said. “By understanding who emotionally engaged consumers are—and what they need—brands can better tailor their experiences and reap the benefits.”

The payoff can be enormous. According to a Harvard Business Review article, “The New Science of Customer Emotions,” strategies focused on customers’ emotions resulted in a 40 percent increase in new credit card account growth at a major bank, double-digit sales increases for a leading household cleaner, and a threefold jump in same-store sales at a nationwide apparel retailer.

Many businesses today understand that every touchpoint across the customer journey is an opportunity to deepen the relationship and grow sales. What they may not recognize is that people inside companies and their customers often have different perceptions of how strong, or not, that all-important emotional bond is.

It’s hard, after all, to pick up on “Wow!”—or conversely, “This is terrible”—in a marketing dashboard.

At a time when digitization is placing new, intense pressure on businesses to stand out and deliver a winning experience, it’s never been more important to come across as authentic and relevant and emotionally inspiring. But how should companies be tackling the challenge?

The best place to start is by adopting agile research principles that put human insights about the customer experience at the forefront of everything the company does.

The initiative should have three core values:

1. Think small. In interacting with customers through one-to-one interviews and other methods of testing user experience, don’t boil the ocean. Instead, zero in on one or two key points you want to understand.

For example, a high-end retailer wanted to know everything about users’ experiences on their website—a huge, daunting research challenge. Instead of focusing on everything at once, the retailer decided to concentrate on the most impactful part of the experience, narrowing in and collecting insights on that first. They chose the checkout flow—arguably the most important part of an e-commerce experience—and focused time and resources there to ensure they saw measurable lifts in conversion.

With this technique, there’s no need to wait weeks for a huge, in-depth research report. The emotional feedback is compelling and immediate, allowing for instant measurable impact.

2. Be timely. Incorporate human insights into each and every phase of the design process. Don’t wait to the end, just before the new offering is released; it may be too late to make significant changes. (Or, yikes, just after it is released.) This means companies can validate their theories and plans and make sure they’re on the right track before moving forward. 

Did you know that you can even put rough designs, sketches, or simply descriptions of a future product in front of users? Don’t wait until you have something built out. Truly collect feedback at every stage. Just remember that sometimes it might require a bit of step-up or context so the user can get a clear understanding.

3. Empower everyone. The digital marketing manager, product manager, social media team, etc., all should talk to customers and gain their direct insights into the emotional experience that the product is providing. A systematic approach to understanding the human experience is breaking down silos.

A large, big-box retailer that did this saw immediate success; their product managers and designers were able to make twice as many human insight-driven decisions once they were empowered This isn’t one department’s job; it’s everyone’s.

By following this three-step approach, businesses can deepen their customer relationships by appealing to customers’ hearts and minds, not just their wallets.

Liz Freeman is a user experience research manager at of UserTesting, a human insights platform.

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