Emotions, Trust, and Control at the Heart of Customer Experience


MIT While organizations measure the outcomes of service in
concrete terms — the flight arrived on time, the rep answered the call on the first ring — we use different variables to judge the experience. A good or positive service experience depends on intangibles like the way we felt, which is subjective.

The variables are what Sriram Dasu and Richard B. Chase call ETCs, which stand for emotion, trust, and control. In a recent article on MIT Sloan they write about the results of research around a simple question:

How can service organizations make their encounters with customers more positive? 

Service providers need to recognize how emotions, trust and feelings
about control shape how customers perceive their service experience.

  • Emotions influence what we remember, how we score
    encounters and the decisions we make.
  • Trust is a primitive psychological variable that is
    essential to any robust and enduring relationship. 
  • Control over one’s environment and knowledge of how events are going to evolve are fundamental psychological needs.

According to the authors, ETCs need to be managed as design variables. Good CRM system can be a competitive advantage in the soft realm, too. In my view, that system also needs to capture any interactions you've had with customers in social networks to be helpful, in addition to specific stages of the service.

Another part of the research I found fascinating is that although credentials, testimonials and recommendations are frequently
important factors in trust — hence follow ups from hotel stays to get good reviews, for example  — many customers make their judgments based on
other cues. Among them, are:

  • professional appearance — it may not trump qualifications in all cases, however we all know that a well-dressed and organized-looking professional gives a better impression. Think of uniforms for example: at hotels, airline counters and on flights, etc.
  • clear communication — so many organizations have a hard time translating their internal speak for the benefit of customers. 
  • smart follow up — a note about staying in touch over the years. Maybe it's just me, I find birthday cards from mortgage brokers who you talked with once ten years ago creepy. And why were they nosing around your private information anyway? This is a way to say that execution really matters to a follow up being smart
  • willingness to take the high road — for example knowing when to cut customers some slack on late fees. A few years back I had a couple of incidents with the local Blockbuster store where the videos I returned to the drop off box had not been checked back in and I was charged a late fee. Thankfully, the store manager figured out that the problem was on their end.

Explaining how something is going to work will set the right expectations. So even when the customer may not have as much control over the course of events, they will know what the process is. This is something we like as employees and clients as well.

Are there opportunities to cede some of your control over decisions to customers? What cues to trust building could you be exploring? Are you mapping emotional occurrences to your organization's responses?

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0 responses to “Emotions, Trust, and Control at the Heart of Customer Experience”

  1. Valeria – You are speaking my language here. I stress the emotional connection more than anything else in customer experience. You also make a great point regarding execution in follow up as a critical part of the strategy. We are all human – so it’s frustrating that so many organizations forget about that. I help organizations map the experience and highlight where emotional connections – not just reactions – are positive or negative. It’s always enlightening.

  2. Glad the post — and article it was based upon — resonated, Jeannie. So many times we do it all right, and forget to tell the other. Closing communication loops is so important and we often forget. Indeed an impression lasts much longer and affects people’s choices more deeply than a quick reaction to something.

  3. Control is a major factor is positive customer experiences, or should I say the “feeling” of control. If a customer feels like they are controlling the experience by doing most of the talking and asking questions, the service provider can then drop in a solution that best fits. The mood can be different though when a customer spends most of their time listening before making a decision – if a customer feels like the provider is in control, and not themselves, then the experience is likely to feel less positive. In both of these cases, the solution can be the same, but the loosening of control over the conversation to allow the customer’s perception to change can make a massive difference.

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