Don't Ignore Your Customers' Emotions

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It was a steamy summer night in south Florida. I went to the office to do research on a speech I was preparing for the Mail Order Gardening Association. It's my practice before I customize a speech to do some groundwork so I can understand my audience.


The client had suggested I look at gardening Web sites and get a feel for what was state of the art. It seemed like a fun project so I didn't mind doing it on a Saturday night. When I lived up north, I did quite a bit of gardening. Since moving to a condo in Florida my green thumb had gotten moldy.


Thinking this could be a dual-purpose research project, I set out eagerly to learn. The first site I entered was bright and cheery. The box on the upper left corner that asked "What zone are you in?" drew me right in. It asked for a ZIP code and quickly diagnosed "Zone 9." Feeling proud of myself so far, I entered "shade" and "hot" into the area that asked for my growing conditions. I entered "flowers" into the box that asked me what I was looking for. Up popped a list of 60 flowering plants that would grow on my porch. I began envisioning lush, fragrant foliage surrounding comfortable wicker furniture. As I read on, I realized I could install a water garden, and into my imagination came the gentle sound of trickling water.


How serene, how peaceful, how lucky was I that I just happened on this Garden of Eden in the middle of my work project.


An hour into my research, I removed my credit card with one hand while still scrolling down to view even more flowers. I was intoxicated with the notion that in no time I could have the porch of my dreams. No, not "porch," I thought. I'll call it a "lanai" like they do in Hawaii.


The first item I clicked on returned with the bad news: "Out of stock." Well, that's OK. I'll try another flower. Perhaps a salvia, impatiens or viola. All will look lovely in a pretty container. "Out of stock." "Out of stock." "Out of stock."


My fingers furiously hit the keys, going from one item to another. My jaw tensed and my eyes narrowed. I could feel my blood pressure rising as it got hotter and hotter in my office.


"What the heck? How could they? This is ridiculous!" I found myself shouting to no one but me. My joy turned quickly to anger and my relaxation to stress as I discovered that 40 of the 60 items that could be grown on my lanai were out of stock. I moved from the height of elation to the low of defeat.


It was Saturday night and I had been seduced. I was not feeling good.


Needless to say, I didn't buy anything from the company and had a rather interesting opening story to tell at the conference where I'd be speaking. Though the owner of the site assured me that in July there aren't many flowers left on any Web site, I didn't buy it. If that's the case, shut the site down or put warning signals all over it so people won't get emotionally involved.


Little did I realize that my studies would lead me to the conclusion a year later that the customer is always emotionally involved. Whether you want it that way or not, customers' emotions are the determining factor in whether they come back to do business with you. Loyalty is an emotional attachment.


Every interaction your customer has with your company causes a physiological response in their body. When they call you on the phone, open your invoice, read your catalog or peruse your Web site, the interaction causes them to have an experience with you that involves emotions, hormones, neurotransmitters and other chemicals that either do the body good or do the body harm.


Research tells us that when a person experiences positive emotion, it increases the levels of good chemicals, such as endorphins, in their body. When a customer experiences negative emotions like frustration or anger, it increases the levels of destructive chemicals, like cortisol. Positive emotions equal increased immune response. Negative emotions equal decreased immune response. The customer experience is the sum of the feelings evoked as a result of any interaction at any touch point in the organization. It's based on the perception of the value delivered, tangible and intangible.


My foray into the world of gardening that hot summer night a few years ago likely diminished my immune response for about eight hours. Can we actually make our customers sick when we don't take care of them? It looks like the answer is "yes."


When you feel like throwing the phone across the room as you enter tier No. 3 of your insurance firm's phone tree, remember to breathe deeply and don't let the frustration get to you. The life you save may be your own. And when you have the chance to calm and soothe an angry customer, do the same. Take a breather, relax and know that any other response could make both of you sick.


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