Thursday, May 26, 2016

For A Better Customer Experience Evoke Emotion Rather Than Manufacture It

photo credit: Pensive - Sad thoughts? via photopin (license)
There is a trend in customer experience circles to focus on emotion. To be sure, emotion is essential to a brand's customer experience, but focusing on emotion is a little like obsessing over the score of a sporting event. Yes, our team wants more points, but you get there by executing on the mechanics of the game, not concentrating on the scoreboard.

Emotion isn't a tactic in customer experience; it is an outcome. You cannot manufacture emotion; you can only change what you do to evoke a shift in perception. This is why, as we point out at Gartner, customer experience is owned by the customer--it is their perceptions and related feelings--while customer experience management is the responsibility of the marketer.

The distinction is subtle and one of perspective--outside-in rather than inside-out. Marketers can attempt to manufacture emotion by changing website copy to sound friendlier or posting a touching video to YouTube, but we evoke stronger, relationship-building emotions by altering the product or service experience to meet customers' expectations. The former focuses on what the brand wants; the latter on what customers want.

Think of your personal relationship with brands. Do the brands to which you are the most loyal win that loyalty by telling you you're important or by making you feel important? Do they share emotional stories or do they evoke strong emotions through a customer experience that creates value?

What are the emotions you associate with those loyalty-building brands? Does your iPhone pull your heartstrings? Does Costco make you verklempt? Customers do not need brands to manufacture emotions of joy or sadness through stories and scripts but instead to foster feelings of trust, confidence, pride, security, protection, and serenity. Those are the emotions you likely feel toward your favorite brands, and those are the emotions your brand must evoke through its customer experience.


Ken Hittel said...

Augie, while I don't disagree in principle with your post here, I do think the principle itself is a little too rigid and brittle. I'm sure other examples could be brought forward, but I'll cite the classic example of life insurance: a product that however well-personalized to the customer, properly & comprehensively explained, & situated in an appropriate financial plan, seldom if ever fosters "feelings of trust, confidence, pride, security, protection, and serenity" UNTIL the moment of truth, which is death or the certain knowledge of imminent death. At & after death, yes, that life insurance contract provides for kids to go to college -- perhaps (or likely) a near-impossibility minus that contract. Hence the video that tell & shows this story. Or the money borrowed from a life contract that enables a stage-four cancer patient to pay for experimental medicine that saves his life & enables him to participate in his daughters'weddings. Hence the video that tells THAT story.
But to expect life insurance customers to feel those "feelings of trust, confidence, pride, security, protection, and serenity" -- or life companies to foster them -- before those contracts truly come into play is very tough. So, yeah, the story-telling is absolutely essential and not at all marketing soft-soap.

Augie Ray said...

Thanks for the comment, Ken. What you described is why, I believe, the entire life insurance industry is struggling for relevance. Purchases of individual life have been flat for 15 years on a dollar basis (from 2000 to 2014, according to the ACLI) and the number of policies in force has dropped.

Rather than more of the same tired marketing strategy that is clearly NOT making life insurance more relevant to new generations of Americans, perhaps it is time for life insurance to rethink its mix of product and services. It is hard to foster much emotion of any kind when there is almost no engagement between the time of purchase and death (other than bills--which are not much of an example of good engagement.) And while you suggest posting a video is a way for life insurance to build emotion, how many people care to see their life insurance company's videos? That is an old-school answer to a new and pressing problem in the industry, in my opinion.

Your assessment of the insurance industry omitted USAA, which manages to foster those feelings mentioned. Of course, they offer a full line of financial services products. Rather than call that an exception, maybe there is a lesson to be learned by insurance firms?

The argument seems to be "Life insurance offers a low-engagement product, so they must rely on 'messaging' rather than changes to the product." We could switch that around, however, and suggest that successful life insurers of the future will rethink their products to provide better value, experiences and engagement to customers.

Kodak and Borders couldn't market their way out of irrelevance, and while insurance is hardly in the exact same situation, they do struggle with many of the same issues--a product that is losing its relevant, competition from other similar products and some innovation occurring in the finserv space. More videos will not stop those problems; a fresh perspective on how insurance companies can develop a more robust set of solutions to help consumers protect their financial interests will.

Ken Hittel said...

Thanks for the response, Augie. Let me say a few things in my defense.
1) I'm all too well aware of the decreasing relevance of life insurance in the USA, which has been going on for a lot longer than the past 15 years -- more like the last 60 years, in fact. The reasons for this are complex if not all that complicated; I won't rehearse them here -- indeed, I've grown tired to rehearsing them -- but I will point to a piece I wrote nearly two years ago that comprehensively covers this gory situation: A Modest Proposal: Let's Emasculate the Life Insurance Industry ( One thing that's clear is that the decreasing irrelevancy of life insurance has very little, indeed, to do with poor marketing, although I certainly agree with you that neither more nor better marketing is the industry's silver bullet.
2) Yes, posting videos that tell the story of life insurance's relevance is "a way" of building emotion and I think a good one. But I certainly did not mean to suggest that it anything but "a way." For lots of other ways -- smart social media practice; products geared to the middle class and not-so-wealthy rather than simply serving the tax advantages available exclusively to the wealthy; agents who are trained to be true financial fiduciaries rather than product pushers; etc. and etc. Please see the aforementioned article.
3) I don't consider USAA to be an exception, at least not the kind that you seem to believe I do. USAA, like State Farm, like Allstate, like American Family, like a dozen others, offers "a full line of financial service products." That successfully selling multiple TYPES of insurance products to individuals/families can increase customer satisfaction and retention is well understood in the industry -- though few are really successful at it. But you are ignoring the very real respect in which USAA IS an exception, namely that they market exclusively to the "military community." That they do so with authenticity is laudable and apparently quite profitable, even though they sell the SAME full line of products that others do. The differentiation is in the market, not in the product set.
4) Finally, let us not forget just how much marketing USAA does -- especially good old-fashioned traditional marketing. I'm sure you have the figures at hand, so you tell me: Maybe not a GEICO-type spend, or even a State Farm spend, but an order of magnitude of ten times that of old school life companies such as New York Life, MassMutual, or Northwestern?

Augie Ray said...

Thanks for the thoughts, Ken. I agree the military focus is huge for USAA--it brings focus and relevance--but I'm not aware of other insurance companies that offer the same mix of products, at least not as openly and successfully. USAA offers banking, and while I could be wrong (and did take the time to check), I don't see that among the mix for MetLife, Prudential or MassMutual. State Farm comes closest, but I don't see most insurance companies doing as much to provide for every aspect of customers financial lives as does USAA.

I believe you underestimate the value of that wide selection of financial products that creates much more engagement and trust. I don't discount USAA's focus, but the company was successful for decades without mass media advertising, which it started only around five years ago.