We live in an unprecedented time in human history where the average American processes more information on a daily basis than any of our predecessors ever did. A 2009 UC San Diego study estimated that the average American takes in 34GB of information every day. Fast forward to 2021 and it is safe to say that this number has probably increased even further.
Given the amount of information a normal individual has to process at any given time, standing out and leaving a lasting impression can be incredibly difficult. In the age of social media, big data and eCommerce, thousands of companies worldwide invest billions of dollars in complex end-to-end customer stratagems only to get drowned out by digital noise. So how can a brand make their mark in the minds of their target audience? How do successful companies stand out amidst a torrent of similar brands and competitors?
As author and technologist David Weinberger humorously quipped, “the cure to information overload is more information.” And while Mister Weinberger was talking about something completely different to the topic at hand, the quote’s conclusion seems fitting. But more than the quantity of information, what matters more is the kind of information we convey to our users and customers.
We need qualitative changes that focus on human emotions. After all, feelings can also be considered as a type of “information.” By providing this type of information to users and customers, we can then begin to form meaningful emotional connections with them. More importantly, this simple qualitative change in the type of information we convey can leave deep and lasting impressions.
Brands that want to get a leg up on the competition by improving their end-to-end customer experience protocols can use strategies built around their users to attract new customers, improve customer satisfaction and loyalty and ultimately, drive up profits. In fact, an in-depth Forrester report on the subject matter specified human emotion as the key driver for customer experience.
What exactly are emotions?
“...there are 6 universal emotions that include Anger, Contempt, Disgust, Enjoyment. Fear, Sadness, and Surprise.”
One of the better known models for human emotion was proposed by American psychologist Paul Ekman. He posits that there are 6 universal emotions that include Anger, Contempt, Disgust, Enjoyment. Fear, Sadness, and Surprise.
Dr. Ekman goes on to define emotions as “a process, a particular kind of automatic appraisal influenced by our evolutionary and personal past, in which we sense that something important to our welfare is occurring, and a set of psychological changes and emotional behaviors begins to deal with the situation."
One of the key words in this definition is this: AUTOMATIC. This implies that human emotions are automatic responses to certain situations and stimuli. Put simply, emotions help us deal and cope with events around us without having to consciously think about them.
From a design standpoint, this type of autonomic response system opens up clear opportunities for brands to elevate their customer experience with users left none the wiser. However, this same characteristic that makes emotional customer experience strategies so effective also requires careful consideration.
Actionable strategies for building emotional connections
Humans are very sensitive to emotional cues and this is true for both design cues and language cues. As a general rule of thumb, users respond very positively to perceived empathy and authenticity.
Empathy is what creates an environment of mutual understanding between brands and customer. One actionable way to implement a strategy of empathy in customer interactions is to use Empathy Statements. These are phrases and keywords that can quickly bridge the gap between brand and user. By using active verbs instead of passive verbs in your branding language and literature, you can help convey a sense of compassion and immediacy that users tend to gravitate towards.
The key is to display an understanding of your audience and the situations they encounter with regards to your brand. This is doubly important during face to face interactions. For example, we can lead with a statement like “I know how hard you’ve been working on your company’s project and it makes sense that you reached out to us for help. We’re here to help get things done in a way you’ll be satisfied with.”
Statements that put yourself in the shoes of your audience really hammers this point down. This is even more impactful during situations where you need to troubleshoot issues and hash them out with your clients. For unforeseen delays due to force majeure or something similar, we can say “I know how frustrating this must be for you. I hear what you’re saying about the delays and we will resolve this by doing the following…”
Empathy statements are more effective than apologies, power statements or ignoring the situation. The mere recognition of how your client feels and the troubles they are experiencing is both soothing and brings calmness and peace of mind. Moreover, asserting your ability to pull through and making firm but realistic and achievable commitments can help seal the deal and calm even the most irate clients.
Authenticity is closely related to empathy and can be achieved by using a more natural tone of voice in your branding. While this comes with the risk of sounding too casual or “unprofessional,” brands will need to toe the line between formal and informal. Where this line lies exactly will depend on the brand in question.
Authenticity starts with knowing thyself. Make sure your brand promise, your mission and vision as well as company culture aligns with what your brand really stands for. The language used needs to be honest and sincere with regards to your brand’s identity. Don’t try to be something you’re not.
That said, what is a natural tone of voice in the context of brand authenticity? To be honest, there is no universally accepted answer and the goal posts will tend to move a lot. Are you a fintech company with a predominantly well-to-do clientele? Then you will tend to lean towards “business casual” in your branding. What about a similar company that specializes in working class payday loans? Then you can be a lot more relatable and honest with even more casual day-to-day language.
Excitement is a powerful emotion that is by its very nature highly impactful. And while not every brand works on hair raising, cutting edge tech, each will have something new or unique to offer their users and customers. Focus on the things you take pride in. Hype it up and present it in a way that showcases how you and the rest of your colleagues and co-workers feel about your products as well. This kind of excitement can be contagious and customers gravitate towards brands who are excited about their own products and services.
At the end of the day, we, as the architects of customer experience, bear the responsibility of keeping our users’ best interests at heart. While it is possible to exploit psychological loopholes for short-term gain at the users’ expense, the cons far outweigh the pros. Good design that builds on positive human emotion helps brands form meaningful and mutually beneficial connections with their users. More importantly, these are connections that can withstand the test of time.
If you need help with applying user-centered strategies to your next projects, Symmetry will be happy to lend a helping hand. Get in touch with us here.