By: David Chung
What is the critical driver for customers to make their buying decisions?
While it is natural to expect customers to make buying decisions with a rational approach, by analyzing details like product features and functions, this is often not the case. Perhaps over 50% of a shopping experience concerns customers’ feelings or emotions, which shape the attitudes that drive decisions and behavior far more than technical or functional factors.

I believe the majority of B-to-C customers are influenced by their emotions, although they may not realize it. How customers care about your products/services may be unconscious, but these unconscious feelings can have a very concrete effect on your business. Emotional connections can determine the strength and length of a customer relationship; they drive passion, engagement, loyalty, and advocacy.

Most organizations are much better at the material aspect, and the effects are clear. A recent Forrester Research survey revealed that 89% of consumers feel no personal connection to the brands they buy. Without that emotional bond, customers can be easily swayed to try a competitor’s product.
In other words, if you fail to engage your customers’ emotions, you will fail to make the sale. Pursue a strategy that focuses on the human side of service, and make a conscious choice to strengthen these emotional connections.
Based on my experience, there are four effective steps to building strong emotional connections with your customers: Listen, Understand, Care, and Keep.

1.  Listen to Your Customers

Do you regularly listen and respond to your customers? Do you truly understand their concerns and needs? Listening makes customers feel welcome, comfortable, and important in every interaction, whether it be a phone call, face-to-face, email or chat.
Walgreens has spent 30 years listening to its customers. When its customers’ home and work lives became more hectic, Walgreens developed the drive-through pharmacy and began refilling prescriptions at any location. When customers with English as a second language said they could not read their prescriptions, Walgreens started printing prescription labels in 14 different languages. When older patrons noted that the print on the labels was hard to read, Walgreens created large-type labels.
Make a point of listening to your customers. Listen for validation or inconsistencies with your brand image. Be sure to listen to your associates, too. View the front line as much more than service responders who need to meet certain metrics—as a source of essential data and a driver of customer service innovation and satisfaction.

2. Understand Your Customers

The more your staff can understand your customers’ experiences, feelings, and expectations, the better they can serve them.
An innovative example of this is Fairmont Hotels & Resorts, which designated a “Customer Service Champion” in a Fast Company study. They created an orientation program to help staff shift their perspectives after focus groups revealed that “empathy” was a key service differentiator. Now, new employees experience what guests experience.
For example, at the Fairmont San Francisco, new employees get the same penthouse champagne toast the hotel uses to woo meeting planners. At many properties, employees arriving for their first day have their cars valet parked or receive vouchers for a free night’s stay. This is not just a perk—it is a practical way for associates to feel what it is like at every touchpoint of their guests’ experience.

3. Care for Your Customers

Examine your processes and procedures and even the messages you send to your employees. Where is the focus? Is it on you, or on your customers? Wells Fargo is an organization that has made a commitment to put customers first. Their website displays their philosophy: “Our success has as much to do with attitude as aptitude—what’s in our hearts, not just our heads. Our success depends on how much our team members care for their customers, for each other, and their communities; it is the most important difference between a great company and a good one.”
Every time they serve a customer, they ask; “If I were the customer in this situation, how would this experience feel for me? Did the transaction feel simple and easy? Did my issue get resolved quickly? Did the team member accept responsibility for making sure I got what I needed?”
What are your staff members saying or asking when they connect with your customers? Consider changing your processes and systems with your customers in mind.

4.  Keep Your Promises  

What can you do to respond in a way that demonstrates understanding and respect and creates a stronger connection with your customers?
Do you deliver on your promises in a timely way? When things go wrong, do you go out of your way to apologize and fix the issue quickly? Do your staff members treat each other with respect?
For four consecutive years, Bloomberg BusinessWeek magazine ranked USAA, which serves America’s armed forces, first in its “Customer Service Champs” survey. J.D. Power named it a 2011 Customer Service Champion, for consistently delivering on the promises they make to their customers.
USAA’s staff members demonstrate respect for customers, and the senior team also shows great appreciation and respect for the team. After winning these awards, USAA president and CEO retired Army Major General Joe Robles noted, “To continue our streak is…entirely due to our employees’ professionalism, diligence and the fact that they care so deeply about our members.”

What’s Next?

How would you describe your current connections? How does your organization make customers feel? Do they feel secure, content, special?
Consider how you can make a stronger connection with your customers. What emotions do you want to evoke? What can you do differently to provide the kind of service that doesn’t just fill a need or an order, but inspires trust, that motivates customers to return, to tell others, and to become advocates for your brand?
I strongly believe the future belongs to those who make emotional connections with their customers. Keep your customers through good L.U.C.K.!