Recently we've seen a lot of interest in the emotional aspects of customer experience by some of the smartest practitioners we know--chief customer officers. There's a reason for this. Recent advances in the behavioral sciences now give us a better understanding of how people make decisions, experience pain and pleasure, and recall their experiences.
Maybe you've read about some of these studies in books like Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely, Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman, or Switch by the Heath brothers. If you have, then you picked up on the fact that we now know our customers to be inherently irrational, making most of their daily decisions without any particular logic.
For example, we know that people experience the pain of loss more acutely than they feel the pleasure of gain. That's the reason why people dump shares of well-run mutual funds when the economy turns down, irrationally converting their paper losses to real losses. It's also why it's easier to lose a customer than to gain one - people are less likely to forgive you when you inflict pain on them (got the order wrong, didn't resolve the problem) than they are to love you for satisfying them.
We also know that people consist of two selves, an experiencing self and a remembering self. As it turns out, the sum of our experiences does not add up to our perceived memory of an experience. Instead, we form memories based on the average of the emotional peak of the experience and the emotional end of the experience. The result: You can send customers off to bad mouth you because you ruined the checkout process (if you're a retailer) or the discharge process (if you're a hospital) or the deplaning process (if you're airline).
How should companies change their approach to customer experience in response to this new insight? Here are a couple pieces of advice from a new report on this topic by Forrester analyst John Dalton.
Begin at the end. Get out your customer journey maps (or create some if you don't have them) and look carefully at the order in which events take place. For problematic journeys--like stressful processes--does the level and duration of customer pain (like anxiety) increase or decrease over time? Peaks often occur during channel transitions, like going from a website to the phone. When you find these peaks look for opportunities to reduce them. Sometimes you can do this through the counterintuitive approach of adding more steps to a process, which can make it less painful than a shorter, more jarring approach.
Reimagine the scope of an interaction. Environmental and physical factors create a context that greatly influences customer perceptions. When conducting customer research make sure to identify issues like the time of day when people perform tasks. Is the customer tired because it's late? Or stressed because she's trying to cram an important task into a break at work? Being able to identify these contextual issues can help designers focus on either slowing down a process so it's less likely to produce an error, or providing shortcuts that speed up a process.
It's hard enough building enjoyable experiences for a rational customer; approaching the task with an irrational one in mind won't be any easier. To prepare, customer experience leaders must begin doing the spadework now.
About the Author: Harley Manning is a vice president and research director at Forrester Research serving Customer Experience professionals. He blogs at http://blogs.forrester.com/harley_manning and tweets at @hmanning