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Articles | Service & Complaints

Superglue Your Customers To Your Brand
Thursday, October 09, 2003 at 22:00

Copyright © Paul Stewart, 2003 All Rights Reserved


“Think for a moment about the emotions that make up the experiences of everyday life; emotions such as love, anger, excitement and joy.


“Yet it appears that in the business world there is only one emotion that we experience as customers – satisfaction.


“Customer satisfaction is one of those terms that is so ubiquitous that we rarely stop to consider what the word actually means, especially when we can “measure” it so easily with surveys and rating scales.


“The time has come to ask customers how they actually feel.”

                                    Consumer Emotions Study, SOCAP 2003-09-16


Last month I had the real pleasure to be in Sydney for the SOCAP (Society of Consumer Affairs Professionals) annual conference.  While the main purpose of the trip was to spend a couple of days with Janelle Barlow (President TMI US) working on our book, Branded Customer Service (as one of the world’s leading customer service experts Janelle was in Australia to present at the conference and other forums), the SOCAP conference was an absolute bonus.  It is impossible to do justice to this event in one article, but it is certainly worth relating a few points. 


First and foremost, I was surprised that the entire conference was dedicated to the emerging and important topic of “Consumer Emotions”.  It’s very interesting to see how the most progressive parts of the customer service and marketing fields are quickly evolving to reflect a much deeper insight into consumer behaviour. 


I have to say that we are very fortunate to have some of the best research in this area occurring right on our doorstep and it’s a shame that more NZ organisations weren’t represented at the conference.  Michael Edwardson (University of NSW) presented the latest work on how successful brands are built through “emotional connection”.  In recent years he has pealed back the layers to understand what it takes to build customer loyalty – especially for “services” organisations.  In a nutshell, much of our connection to brands relates to our life experiences.


As Thomas Gilbert (2001) said, “we live in stories, not statistics”.  As people we are fascinated in people’s lives, hence our seemingly insatiable appetite for Real TV programmes like Big Brother and Treasure Island. 


Similarly, service organisations are bound up in our life experiences.  If we think about both the highlights (such as purchasing houses, travel, marriage, birth of our children…) and lowlights (such as accidents, illness, legal issues, product failures…), they are inevitably tied up with service providers of different types.  In fact, it has been shown that as a result of these experiences, we develop a strong preference for particular brands, so much so that these brands can help to define who we are as individuals.  For example, I can certainly relate to a problematic insurance claim that has become a defining life experience as a result of how I felt I was treated. That particular insurance company has become an “anti-brand” for me, i.e. one that I really, really don’t relate to!  


Edwardson’s research suggests that it is the ability of services organisations to create just the right sorts of emotions and, avoid creating others, during those specific moments (what we call priority moments”), is critical to building brand connection.  Marketing of brands plays an important role by grabbing us and creating an expectation of what we will get.  But what ultimately counts in cementing the connection if how we feel about the service experiences we have with that brand.  As Michael Edwardson boldly says, “we are not in the service business - we are in the experience business”.


While these ideas have been gathering pace in recent years, this type of research takes it to a new level.  And its not just academic gobbledy-gook , it has implications for everyone who interacts with customers.


Clearly, some emotions are more powerful than others in defining our life experiences.  They are like superglue – you don’t need much of them, but when the customer feels them they create very strong bonds.  Edwardson has categorised emotions into seven groups which each have a different impact upon the relationship between the brand and the consumer.


Going right to the crux of it, if your customer ever feels “insulted”, “cheated”, “neglected” or “humiliated”, then you are in big trouble!  So much so, that you may never restore the relationship with them. 


In contrast, if you can build a sense that the customer feels “valued”, “grateful”, “impressed” and “respectful” into your service interactions you are well on the way to not only building loyalty.  Not only that, but these consumers may advocate that your brand actually helps to define their life experience and, who they are as people. 


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