Customer Experience 5 min read

Memories and emotional intelligence - how to make customer experiences better

Sandra Thompson

Sandra Thompson posted on

In this blog Sandra explains how a better understanding of memory and the application of emotional intelligence could lead to happier customers and more engaged staff.

Thanks for the memory – three facts

Take a moment to think of an experience that stands out for you as a customer. What happened? How did you feel?

• Your response was your memory of that experience. It sounds obvious, but this is a big deal. You would have summed your experience up in a few moments highlighting the things that were important to you. Fact one: businesses labour over the experience customers have at every step of their journey but customers will only recall the snippets of the experience they have assigned to memory. The memory will only be created if the experience has had an impact. Where a customer expectation has been met and everything runs smoothly in that experience, it is unlikely to make an impact which means customers won’t remember it.

• When you considered your response to my initial question chances are that negative experiences came to mind straight away. If I had asked you to recall positive experiences it would have taken you longer to retrieve them and they may have been borrowed from other people. Fact two: people recall sad experiences faster and more often than happy experiences because the emotional impact of a sad time is deeper than a happy time.

• You may feel positive about a bad experience if it were ‘recovered’ well. Fact three: when a bad experience happens and staff take action you consider to be relevant quickly and confidently and they create a better outcome for you the brand has made a positive impact on you. Your memory of the bad situation would therefore be greatly reduced.

Why do these three facts matter?

I think that people who work in customer related roles, including myself, could think about the memories we are creating for an individual rather than the experience they deliver in that moment. Rather than thinking about our involvement in their brand experience as ‘the next stage in the process for the customer’ we could consider ‘what could I do right now that to create a positive memory for this customer if possible?’ – this could be a random act of kindness or thoughtfulness they will remember.

I often think about this quote from Maya Angelou when I reflect on my own outstanding customer experiences:

“I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel"

To bring this quote to life, I thought I would share fond memories I have for a little café in London, where I am always served a fresh dose of serotonin. I am sure you all have your own:

There are thousands of places to buy coffee in London but there is only one place I go before I teach on a Friday. It’s a place where people take an interest and they are interesting. A place where customers are very happy and you’d think that all of the staff owned the place, they are so engaged!

It’s a place where George acknowledges me as soon as I walk through the door with a warm smile and Martin cooks my porridge to perfection. Sure, I am a regular, but these guys are creating new regulars every minute someone walks through the door with their ability to engage with a question, a smile and the skill of doing something small and impactful to create a positive memory like when they lend umbrellas to people who have been caught out with the change in weather; taking care of a customer’s dog as they pop to the shop across the street and the occasional surprise macaroon in a customer’s take out bag when they seem to be having a bad day.

People are not fulfilling policies or procedures in this cafe but they are creating lasting positive memories doing things that other cafes don’t and being human when other places are not. This is more than good service; this is emotional Intelligence. *

Creating happier memories – using emotional intelligence

There is so much talk about emotion in customer experience blogs and discussion groups right now.

Most of this talk is focused on businesses trying to predict what emotional states customers are in so that they can design experiences that will minimise frustration and encourage greater happiness. I have to confess that I have spent years plotting customer journey maps with emoji’s representing customer emotions – we would use them to represent what they customer feels now and what we were hoping they would feel with our new and improved journey.

It seemed to be the thing that all customer experience professionals were doing because there was no formal course to teach them how to ‘do customer experience’ and it’s what my clients expected. Until now.

In the last few months my reading has focused on neuro-science, the science of emotions, behavioural science and psychology as I prepare to write an academic paper on emotional intelligence and customer experience. Drawing on science and fact rather than the recycled advice I have heard at conferences or in blogs, I have realised that it is not possible to predict emotion or design experiences based on the type of emotion you hope to influence. I am also very aware that emotion is connected to memory and the customer’s memory of the experience you deliver will influence their decision to stay with you or not.

Customer memories are personal because they are based on how that specific individual customer feels. Customer related staff will only influence how someone feels if they can control their own emotions and empathise with every individual they deal with. It is my belief that all customer related staff should have the ability to deal with any emotional state they are presented with by customers at any time. Policies or procedures can’t provide staff with guidance to do this.

While businesses are busy investing in facial recognition systems to help them better manage their customers’ experience scientists are saying that it’s not possible to be accurate with this approach.** I say that we train organisations to adopt and apply their skills in emotional intelligence. This is the only way to make a difference.

What would the world be like if businesses could train their staff to become more emotionally intelligent so that no matter what type of emotions customers presented them with, they would be able to empathise and create a really good memory?

It’s my firm belief that applying emotional intelligence to customer experiences will create long lasting and positive memories, here’s how:

• Customers will FEEL good more often when customer facing staff demonstrate emotionally intelligent behaviour. Because the experiences these people create are not what they expect, they will recall these experiences more often.
• There will be fewer ‘sad experiences’ when customer facing staff feel more confident to empathise and act on the decisions they think are right [rather than the policy which lacks humanity or common sense]
• Using emotional intelligence, customer focused staff will gain a greater understanding of what customers really value and when things wrong, as they always do, customer facing staff will recover a situation better and create a significantly positive experience.

Like what you have read? Consider the Applied Customer Experience course

We explore topics like memories and emotional intelligence on the Applied Customer Experience course along with other fascinating insight from psychology, behavioural science and neuro-science. I created this course when I realised that much of what is taught in customer experience is recycled advice heard at conferences and in discussion groups. If you are searching for a rigorous and science-based learning experience on the topic of customer, check this out: https://www.pearsoncollegelondon.ac.uk/cx

Note: Emotional intelligence is: “the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one's emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically”

  • Daniel Goleman
    ** Lisa Feldman Barrett
Memories and emotional intelligence - how to make customer experiences better
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