Feb 28, 2019 2:42:00 PM

What makes a great customer experience?

Customer experience is a hot topic across industries, and for a good reason: it contributes massively to your bottom line. According to a Forrester study in 2015, “clients who had a good experience, invested 4,5 times more than those who said they had a poor experience”. A study by SAP in 2018 also found out that the key to satisfied customers is as simple as "creating a positive experience" for them.

So why is it so hard? What really makes a customer experience? According to Forrester, a customer experience basically has three core components, or three “Es" to it:

  • Effectiveness: Achieving their goal
  • Ease: How easy it was
  • Emotions: How it made them feel

The last bit of the formula - emotion - is in fact the most important one, as it makes up 50% of the equation. But what does this mean in practise?

The first two aspects have been quite well documented and elaborated. You can start improving ease & effectiveness by looking at what channels is your business active on, and how are those channels being used. Can customers self-serve, is convenience a priority? What channels can customers use for service and is the process frictionless? Does the customer need to repeat themselves, or can their request be resolved in one single contact, in-channel?

The last part of the equation - emotion - is the one that is the hardest for companies to nail. At a first glance, emotions seem fickle and intangible - something the business has no control over. Fortunately, this is not true! Emotions are actually quite predictable, but simply follow a different set of rules than so called “rational thought”.

It is the hardest one of the three to quantify: measuring the effectiveness or ease of a service is much simpler, than how the process makes us feel.


If businesses want to improve their customer experience, they need to understand the basic building blocks of human emotion.


Human emotions come down to four simple rules, or "building blocks". To improve your customer experience, take these rules into consideration.


1. Negative experiences count more than positive ones.

Emotions embed memories - especially bad ones. A negative experience will hurt the experience more than the positive one can help. Humans are hardwired to have a strong response to danger and those experiences stay with us longer. We have a much shallower and shorter recollection of pleasurable experiences, but the pain of negative ones can stay us for a lifetime. To quote Forrester:


'The “pain” we feel from getting hit with a €20 fee is two to five times worse than the pleasure we derive from a €20 reward. This holds true even when we anticipate the fee and are, rationally speaking, fine with paying it in return for a product or service.'


In short: you shouldn’t focus on delighting your customers, but avoiding disappointments and a bad overall experience - at all costs. Make resolving the customer experience pain points and expectation management your top priority. Focus more on initiatives that make the experience go from bad to ok, rather than projects that will take it from good to great. Use customer journey maps to support your argumentation and design decisions. Elaborate the mix of emotions your customers are feeling: there are generally more than just one at play, often from the opposite ends (positive & negative). For example, a customer shopping for a birthday present on a tight schedule is probably feeling both anxiety and excitement. Even small struggles can turn the entire experience to the worse, so be mindful about this.


2. Emotions rewrite entire experiences

We're driven by emotions: when we experience something emotionally important, we become particularly alert. Our brain enters a problem solving-mode: eyes take in more detail from a narrower scope, hearing tunes out any background noise. This fixed focus can cause us to miss important information or skip instructions. We're also more susceptible to cognitive bias: we pay attention to things that confirm our preexisting beliefs, be they good or bad. That means, that if an experience has already taken a downturn, we might not see the feature or setting that would resolve our whole issue in a few seconds. In short: consider how your services and customer experience feels to a stressed out person. When creating your customer personas, consider their journey in two operating “moods": a relaxed, inspired one, and an impatient, time-pressured, stressed out one. Customers operating in these two mindsets prioritise content very differently, so make sure your products, services or website are easy to use even if impatient and stressed out. For example, a nervous customer might look for a chat function, testimonials or pricing much more intensely than a relaxed customer. We generally tend to design for the “relaxed, inspired” customer - so take a step back and ask “how does is this experience to someone who is anxious and pressed for time?”


3. Memories of past experiences don’t match reality

Do you remember every single aspect of a customer experience you had a week ago? Of course not - people don’t actually remember that many details, because they are not that relevant to us. What matters to us is the overall memory of the experience, which in turn is made of two points in time during the experience - and their combined average:

  • the most intense moment (the peak)
  • the very end

This means that while ease & effectiveness are top requirements for a great customer experience, emotions at these two points will define how the event is perceived. Your customers will forgive you the 5-minute hold time if the first agent does a particularly stellar job - compared to a 2-min hold time, but where the interaction ends on a bad note. In short: Focus your efforts in these two moments. Even an otherwise perfectly smooth experience can be turned into a negative memory, if a pain point is present at the end of the interaction.

Consider making these moments the focus of your customer experience. Deliberately design them first. If they go wrong - there is very little you can do to reverse the damage. As an example, you can train your service agents to deliver bad news very early in the discussion, and modify the content in your self-service channel to a more empathising tone.


4. We feel emotions, but we can’t always name them.

Much of our emotions happen at a subconscious level. The way we observe other people and their expressions and body language ultimately impacts how we perceive them - and ultimately, how we feel about them. In short: help your customer express what they can’t put into words. This might mean changing your research methods - such as a technique called metaphor elicitation, or just introducing new elements to your existing research. You could, for example, assign user researchers to observe and document the nonverbal expressions and behaviour during your customer interviews.

Companies work tirelessly to improve the experience of their customers. Too often, the focus is put on the functional aspects of ease & effectiveness, and less on emotion - how their customers feel when interacting. In this blog post we've explained that emotions are the most important element, when it comes to customer experience. And contrary to popular belief, emotions are actually rather predictable, when you understand their core elements, and know how to measure them. To follow, smart businesses should put emotions back on their radar, map them accurately and educate others in the company to see the value of not just caring about data, but the real feelings behind the data.