New Research Suggests Companies That Don’t Collect Feedback on Emotions May Not Have Truly Satisfied Customers – Making High Satisfaction Scores Worthless
You’re shopping through a new store and the manager, doing their daily assessment, walks by and asks, “Are you finding everything alright today?” — What do you say? Do you, like many people, respond with the knee-jerk, “Yes, everything’s fine – thank you”? After all, everything you expect from the store is there – the brands and prices you’re familiar with, things are laid out for you to easily find, and now you’re being checked on by the store manager. Everything points to you being satisfied, right?
Well what about the toddler that’s running around irritating that crap out of you, or the distracting customer yelling at the cashier about not refunding their purchase, or the hurried, high pressure sales tactics from the store rep? Do you spell out those meddling things to the manager, or do you try to tune them out along with the uneasiness they most likely caused you?
Whether we vocalize it or not, a wide range of emotions come into play when we consider a shopping or consumption experience. So how exactly do they shape our satisfaction as consumers? Researchers from one of Europe’s leading institutes, Hogeschool-Universiteit Brussel (HUB), recently conducted a study that determined emotions not only substantially impact customer satisfaction, loyalty, and willingness to recommend, but can also drive value for companies – an insight all brand decision makers need to seriously consider.
Consumers and the way we understand their behavior are more advanced today than ever before. In addition to functional aspects (price, location, aesthetics, etc.), emotions often times prevail to drive the way consumers behave toward a brand. Marketers now realize that innovating and improving along functional lines are no longer enough to stand out and connect with consumers in a marketplace flooded with competition. Consumers can be satisfied with the physical product or service they receive from a company, yet remain emotionally taxed by outlying problems that may eventually drive them to look elsewhere.
Today, companies achieve the coveted “sustainable differentiation” by drawing on the right emotions that create brand satisfaction and loyalty with consumers. The widely held concept of emotional bonding tells us that the strongest relationship consumers can have with a brand is the emotional bond, which creates positive psychological movement toward the brand. So regardless of how high a brand’s customer satisfaction levels may appear to be, satisfying customers functionally without creating an emotional connection with them has no real value.
Despite the important role emotions play in the evaluation of a company’s products or services, research in this area is still limited, making the HUB study valuable in and of itself. Conducted by marketing professors, the study investigated the extent to which both the functional and the emotional components of customer experiences contribute to customer satisfaction, recommendation, and loyalty.
Consumer behavior tells us a customer’s consumption experience consists of 2 parts:
- Functional dimensions – rational, physical (product characteristics, performance, price)
- Emotional dimensions – how the experience makes the customer feel (emotions evoked)
Researchers at HUB analyzed consumers’ emotional and functional responses to both positive and negative experiences by constructing different scenarios. The experiences were presented and evaluated in two different contexts: hedonic (pleasure-related) and service (utilitarian) experiences.
HUB researchers asked respondents to rate their potential satisfaction, loyalty, and willingness to recommend as customers. They were also presented with a set of emotions and asked to rate whether or not they were elicited in the situation described.
The research results demonstrate that emotions play a very important role in the consumption experience – even offsetting any negative physical components.
Researchers found that a positive emotional experience significantly increases satisfaction, recommendation, and loyalty scores – by as much as 20% – whether functional needs were met or not. That is to say, even if customers pay more than expected or don’t find the exact products they’re looking for from a retailer or service supplier, they can still walk away with increased satisfaction if they received positive emotional experiences.
In addition, study findings suggest customers balance emotional and functional components of their experience differently for pleasure related and service experiences:
- Overall they expect their functional requirements to be met and they dislike negative emotional treatment.
- For service experiences, the functional component appears to be the most important and satisfaction, recommendation, and loyalty are strongly negatively affected when the functional benefits are not delivered – even if coupled with a positive emotional experience. Failing to satisfy the functional component of a service is also prone to elicit “destructive emotions” the destroy value for the company (i.e. feeling disappointed, hurried, stressed, unsatisfied)
- However, for pleasure-related experiences, flaws in the functional component are tolerated if combined with a positive emotional experience, while satisfaction scores can be amplified further by a functionally and emotionally positive experience. Companies offering hedonic services will see their value go up with positive emotional experiences, which draw out promoting emotions (i.e. feeling cared for, happy, indulgent, valued)
There are implications here for all companies on how to get true value and meaningful insight from their customer satisfaction research. What these findings tell us it that by understanding the emotions that influence customer satisfaction, companies can also better craft the consumption experience:
- Analyzing highly positive emotions can help companies understand, replicate, and even improve on the emotional components that not only drive satisfaction, recommendation, and loyalty but also drive value for the company.
- By analyzing highly negative emotions companies can discover and mitigate the components of the consumption experience impeding satisfaction, recommendation, and loyalty as well as destroying value for the company.
Companies that wish to develop the deepest relationship with consumers need to offer both a positive emotional and functional experience. Their joint presence leads to a high level of satisfaction, resulting in positive word-of-mouth (recommendation) and loyalty. By not asking customers’ feedback on their emotional experiences, companies risk their brand equity and goodwill while also chancing their customers to competitors who will cater to their emotional needs.
While still evolving in our approach, Infosurv is exploring the role emotions play in customer satisfaction. Customer satisfaction constitutes over 30% of our research, which is why we’re currently conducting research designed to identify best practices in measuring and interpreting emotional elements of the customer experience. We’ve measured emotional responses from new concepts and advertising copy with our traditional surveys as well as prediction markets. We’re also developing a tailored methodology that incorporates neuroscience techniques to gather impulsive emotional responses before rational ones can be formed. These methods are all aimed at deriving a respondent’s exact sentiments and underlying emotions to deliver truly comprehensive insights to our clients.
If you’re interested in getting involved, or would like to hear more about our work, please contact us at [email protected] or (888) 262-3186.