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What it Means to Connect Emotionally?

As the tentacles of technology stretch further and further into our everyday lives, so does the ability for organizations to harvest more and more information about customers emotional responses to their products and services. On a recent visit to a telecoms store here in UAE, I was amazed to see that one of the local providers has taken the mantra of happiness further than any I had experienced to date. At the door of the store was a sensor, this sensor measures your happiness before you enter the store. The technology measures if you are smiling and will only let you in if you are!

Now, this may be a flippant and whimsical example but, there is something in this technology, something that will help retailers to serve you, the customer better.

As a designer, so much of what we do is measured by the ‘art’ of our work - the way light, shape, color and experience all work together to create a positive ‘vibe’ - a relevant experience. However, this in itself is part of the wonder of our profession, and also part of the problem. In the absence of hard data upon which to base our creative decisions - with the exception of customer surveys and, to a lesser or greater extent, time spent watching customer flows and extrapolating trends from spreadsheets of data - we are at a loss as to how to really understanding the emotive response to the designs we create.

This is changing. Technologies which were, until recently, only used in airports and high-security locations to measure emotional responses have become affordable to the retailers and they are jumping on the opportunity to better understand how their experiences are impacting customers feelings.

Technologies that recognize your face, your mood, your sex, your age, your degree of happiness and much more are being deployed in devices and locations all around us. I even read recently that Facebook has applied for a patent which will use the camera in your phone to measure your emotional response to advertising.

What understanding emotion means to business

When a bank recently introduced a credit card for ‘Millennials’ that was designed to inspire emotional connection, use among the segment increased by 70% and new account growth rose by 40%. Before launching, the bank invested in understanding customers emotional drivers, research uncovered desires to ‘protect the environment’ and ‘be the person I want to be’ as key motivators in the banking category - where traditional industry motivators such as desires to ‘feel secure’ and to ‘succeed in life’ were considered more typical. The bank crafted messaging and features to reflect insight leading to its fastest-growing new credit card in the bank's history

At the most basic level, any company can begin a structured process of learning about its customers’ emotional motivators and conducting experiments to leverage them. At the other end of the spectrum, firms can invest in deep research and big data analytics or engage consultancies with specific expertise. Companies in financial services, retail and technology are now using a detailed understanding of emotional connection to attract and retain the most valuable customers.

In banking, the desire to ‘feel secure’ is a critical motivator when attracting and retaining customers early on. When cross-selling products later, the wish to ‘succeed in life’ becomes more important. To maximize results, companies must align their emotional-connection strategies with their specific customer-engagement objectives—acquisition, retention, cross-selling, and so on.

Social media can have a big impact on emotional connection. One brand found that 60% of its social network affiliated customers (especially followers on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest)—versus 21% of all customers—were emotionally connected. It accelerated growth in a matter of months by increasing its focus on its social media network, developing its online customer community, and pointing customers to the website for recipes and promotions.

Leveraging emotional connection does not require turning your business processes upside down. you can embed relevant strategies into existing work streams. This is most effectively done by making an emotional connection a key performance indicator.

Leaders in this field are creating dashboards that, at the click of a button, enable executives to see customers’ progression on the emotional-connection pathway, along with the increase or decrease in connected customers of the company and its key competitors. Dashboards show the correlation of customers’ emotional connection scores with lifetime value measures such as annual spending, churn, and tenure, measuring the impact of specific emotions and how effective these are at engaging customers at each step in the customer journey - both physical and digital.

The results of these strategic and operational changes are impressive. Research has shown that same store sales in locations where emotional connections are choreographed increase more than 3.5% year-on-year compared to same-store growth over the past five years which averages just 1% where emotion is not measured. Market share and customer advocacy also have great potential to grow by at least 20% through customer recommendation. Underlying all these gains is the potential for an at least 20% rise in the potential for a company’s emotional connection score—largely the result of moving satisfied customers to full emotional connection.

There are enormous opportunities to create new value by understanding emotions and to do so, companies should pursue emotional connections as a science and a strategy that feeds into their creative and business output. But for most, building these connections is more guesswork than science… that will change.

About the Author

Nicholas Griffin is Global Strategy Director at I-AM (, one of the world's leading customer experience design agencies. Information on how to contact Nick is in the footer of this web site.

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