Customer Experience or CX is a concept that has been around since the 1960’s, even though the term was only coined by Lou Carbone in the early 1990s.Many notions are considered to impact CX and over the years one of these has been extensively explored and discussed, and that is emotion and its role in CX. CX is a multidimensional construct focusing on a customer’s cognitive, emotional, behavioural, sensorial, and social responses to a firm’s offerings during the customer’s entire purchase journey (Lemon & Verhoef,2016). According to this definition, emotions clearly play an important role in the CX journey and the thinking regarding their role has been consistent for some time but we are going to discuss how the findings of Manthiou, Hickman & Klaus (2020) have challenged these accepted perspectives with their recent research.
1: Positive and negative emotions cannot coexist during the consumption experience
The idea that has developed over the years, according to Manthiou et al. (2020) is that currently emotions are viewed as opposite ends on a continuum, they are seen as mutually exclusive and experienced individually. But recent research has discovered that this is not true. In fact, even emotions on the most opposite ends of the spectrum can be felt at the same time during the same experience.
A good instance where this may be seen in action is at a Theme Park. How do you feel when experiencing the park? The design and décor at the park are unique and interesting to look at and may make you very excited to explore, but the queues to get into the rides tend to be long and boring, the ride itself is exhilarating and fun but the kid crying right in front of you may make the experience a little uncomfortable, or frustrating. The food itself is very good and exactly what you want on a day out, but the price is a little higher than expected which saddens you a bit.
When analysing the entire experience, would you consider the experience a good one, a bad one or a little bit of both? This is the point the research is making. This emotional cocktail needs to be taken into consideration during the entire CX experience of the theme park. When a company creates an experience, it needs to consider the different potentially ambivalent emotions and consider what these emotions mean for their customers. When planning a romantic event, there may be excitement and happiness but also nervousness or embarrassment, when buying a new product, you may be excited to be getting something new but also sad that an old beloved item needs to be replaced. These varying emotions all impact CX.
“Although companies might design positive customer-centric experiences to increased customers’ purchase intention, this might also have negative results.” Manthiou, et al, (2020).
2: Positive emotions automatically lead to positive experiences and vice versa.
According to Manthiou et al, (2020) the assumption is that positive emotions automatically lead to positive experiences. Whilst in some cases this may be true, research has found that this is not so simple, and a positive emotion does not necessarily lead to a positive experience.
To put this idea in context, let’s look at an example. Let us assume your customer has had a few truly awful personal experiences, perhaps they had a fight with their partner, or they have just had a really bad day at work. They walk into your store miserable, and you decide to give them the best experience you possibly can. You ensure they are served on time, and there is not a thing you could do better. The likelihood of them rating you highly, despite their awful mood is still relatively high. Just as if a person walks in relatively happy and your service is poor, they are still likely to rate you poorly despite their good mood. Essentially, the emotion a customer is experiencing does not necessarily indicate how good or bad the customers experience is.
3: Emotions toward a company’s employees may also transfer to the company.
The third notion that Manthiou et al, (2020) sought to debunk was the idea that a customer’s view of their interaction with a specific employee will transfer to their view of a company. Generally, companies seek to employ very qualified and interactive frontline staff. The idea up to this point has been that employing the proper frontline staff and training them to be customer centric will give your company all it needs to be seen as customer centric. Recent research has found that this statement no longer holds true.
Customers recognise that frontline staff may represent their companies, but they do not have control of the organisation. With this understanding, comes the customer view that frontline employees only have so much power in what they can change in the organisation overall. As such, customers have begun recognising that employees and the organisation are separate entities and as such feelings about individual employees do not necessarily extend to feelings about the organisation.
In order to ensure customers, feel positively about both frontline staff and the organisation, we need to ensure the message we want our organisation to send out is socialised throughout the organisation. If we want an air of customer centricity to be our trademark, not only the customer-facing staff but also the customer-enabling staff need to be trained on how to be customer centric and put their clients at the heart of everything they do. When building systems, interacting with client or problem solving we need to consider not just what is most feasible for us, but also what would meet the client’s needs most effectively and make the customers lives the easiest. And then it is critical that the organisational ethos matches employee efforts.
4: Customers are in some way the passive victims of their emotions.
In the creation of many CX theories there is this underlying idea that if an organisation builds the perfect system, the customer will simply follow suit and display the organisation’s desired, emotions. The truth is a little more complex than that idea. Han & Ryu (2012) suggests that emotions and customer satisfaction strongly relate. For customers to be truly satisfied they must experience some level of positive emotions. With customers not simply being passive but entering an experience with pre-existing emotions we need to consider this and build our systems accordingly.
Consider an angry customer. What options do they have when they are unsatisfied with a service? If they are in branch perhaps, they could escalate their issue to a manager, take it to social media or simply walk out. Perhaps they choose to cancel their service and find a new service provider. Depending on the individual, how they choose to react may differ. This speaks to the point Manthiou et al, (2020) was making is that customers are not passive in the experience. They enter an interaction with ideas, emotions, and preferences of their own and can actively decide how their feel despite how the customer experienced is designed.
5: Emotions are a purely intrapersonal phenomenon.
The final notion is that emotions are a purely intrapersonal experience. Research has found that emotions are influenced by a variety of factors, most notably interactions between the customers and the employees but it is also significantly influenced by the interactions between other customers and employees.
Think about your own experiences within a store. When a customer is really upset and perhaps screaming or in some other way expressing their distress, how the employees react may impact your feelings about your experience more than how they treat you does. In the same way, if you see and employee go above and beyond for another customer perhaps offering an elderly customer a seat or a mother and child special preference you may feel more positively about the organisation overall. Emotions and experiences are no longer just intrapersonal, but rather interpersonal as well.
Overtime how we perceive emotions in the CX space has changed a fair amount. Emotions are no longer seen as isolated or controllable. Research has found that multiple emotions can be experienced at any given moment, positive emotions do not necessarily lead to positive experiences, emotions or sentiments about an employee do not automatically stretch to the entire organisation, customers are not passive in the CX experience and finally emotions are both interpersonal as well as intrapersonal. All of this needs to be taken into consideration when creating CX strategies in the future as designing for customer emotions is more complex than originally though
Han, H., & Ryu, K. (2012). The theory of repurchase decision-making (TRD): Identifying the critical factors in the post-purchase decision-making process.
Lemon, K. N. & Verhoef, P.C. (2016). Understanding Customer Experience Throughout the Customer Journey. Journal of Marketing: AMA/MSI Special Issue. Vol. 80.
Manthiou, A., Hickman, E. & Klaus, P. (2020). Beyond good and bad: Challenging the suggested role of emotions in customer experience (CX) research. Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services. PMC