Creating Memorable Customer Experiences With Emotional Intelligence


A photo of paint splashes on a drawing of a human brain

Sandra Thompson of Exceed All Expectations explains how a better understanding of memory and the application of emotional intelligence could lead to happier customers and more engaged staff.

A Key Exercise – Thanks for the Memory

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

1. 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.

The memory will only be created if the experience has had an impact.

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.

Remember this, 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.

2. People Recall Sad Experiences Faster and More Often Than Happy Experiences

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.

This didn’t happen by chance. People recall sad experiences faster and more often than happy experiences because the emotional impact of a sad time is deeper than that of a happy time.

3. Bad Experiences Offer an Opportunity for Positive Emotion

You may feel positive about a bad experience if it were ‘recovered’ well.

In fact, when a bad experience happens and staff take action that you, as the customer, consider to be relevant, quick and confidently put across, that experience can become memorable in a positive way.

Also, the response must create a better outcome for you, so that the brand has made a positive impact. Your memory of the bad situation would, therefore, be greatly reduced.

Find more facts on how emotion can be linked to the customer experience in our article: 7 Steps to Evoke the Emotions You Want From Your Customers

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 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 the American poet 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.”

Maya Angelou

To bring this quote to life, I thought I would share fond memories I have of 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 the server 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 time 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.

They lend umbrellas to people who have been caught out by a change in weather, take care of a customer’s dog as they pop to the shop across the street…

For example, they lend umbrellas to people who have been caught out by a change in weather, take care of a customer’s dog as they pop to the shop across the street and with 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 café but they are creating lasting positive memories doing things that other cafés don’t and being human when other places are not. This is more than good service; this is Emotional Intelligence.

Being empathetic at key moments is also a key part of emotional intelligence. To help coach this important skill, read our article: How to Coach Empathy in the Contact Centre – With Three Training Exercises

Creating Happier Memories Is Easier When 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 minimize frustration and encourage greater happiness.

I have to confess that I have spent years plotting customer journey maps with emojis representing customer emotions – we would use them to represent what the 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 neuroscience, the science of emotions, behavioural science and psychology as I prepare to write an academic paper on emotional intelligence and customer experience.

I have realized that it is not possible to predict emotion or design experiences based on the type of emotion you hope to influence.

Drawing on science and fact rather than the recycled advice I have heard at conferences or in blogs, I have realized that it is not possible to predict emotion or design experiences based on the type of emotion you hope to influence.

Also, I am 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 empathize 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.

What You Need to Do to Create Positive Memories and Customer Experiences

While businesses are busy investing in facial recognition systems to help them better manage their customers’ experience, scientists like Lisa Feldman Barrett are saying that it’s not possible to be accurate with this approach.

I say that we train organizations 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 empathize 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 and here are three reasons why.

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

Find ways of applying emotional intelligence to customer service in our article: How to Build an Emotional Connection with Customers

In Summary

Customer experience thinking is currently very process driven, but a seemingly better way to create positive memories for customers is to train staff to think about what they can do to delight the customer “in the moment”.

A thumbnail photo of Sandra Thompson

Sandra Thompson

With this in mind, we can see that emotional intelligence is an incredibly valuable behaviour, and if we can coach customer service advisors to use it, they will know how to add positive value when the customer experience goes wrong and help to turn that situation around.

Remember, customers will feel much better when customer-facing staff show emotionally intelligent behaviour and that bad experiences can offer an opportunity for positive emotion and good memories down the line.

Thanks to Sandra Thompson at Exceed All Expectations for sharing this article with us.

For more from Sandra on topics like memories, emotional intelligence and behavioural science, take a look at her Applied Customer Experience Course

To find out more about creating memorable experiences for customers, read our articles:

Published On: 6th Nov 2019
Read more about - Customer Service Strategy, , , ,


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