Emotional Role in Decisions

In an earlier post we introduced the concept of defining emotions using two dimensions of mood, valence (the extent to which the emotional state is positive or negative) and arousal (the extent to which the energy mobilization of the emotional state is experienced). In this post we postulated that understanding customers’ innate desire to maintain positive and mitigate negative moods has far reaching implications for the customer experience.

Before we explore these implications for the customer experience let’s explore the role emotions play in customer decisions.

Humans evolved in a complex world and our ancestors lacked our ability for cognitive reasoning. They used emotion as a decision tool to motivate action. Fear motivated their fight or flight response. Happiness informed them of an absence of threat. Emotions are deeply rooted in our evolutionary history, from an evolutionary standpoint our cognitive ability is relatively new. As such, our brains are wired to experience emotions as a way of informing decisions.

Like our ancestors we live in a complex world; uncertainty is part of life. Emotions inform decisions and motivate action when there is not enough information or time available to consider the “right” choice. Emotions are responses to outside stimuli and serve as short cuts to action.

Recent experiments with fMRI machines, which measure blood flow and oxygenation levels in the brain, have determined we make decisions before we are even aware of the choice. Cognitive reasoning does not drive decisions, rather it leads us to conclusions. Emotions motivate us to action, reason, on the other hand, leads us to conclusions. Before we are even aware of a decision, we make an automatic, often unconscious, assessment of the situation. Emotion serves as a necessary short cut for acting on these unconscious decisions.

So what are the implications for managing the customer experience?

As a short cut for decisions, emotions are interpreted in the context within which they occur. Many brands only assess their performance, evaluating the execution of the customer experience, without assessing the emotional response the experience evoked. It is incumbent on managers of the customer experience to include a measurement of the customers’ emotional response to the experience.

When measuring the customers’ emotional response and motivations for their behavior it is important to understand that there is often a disconnect between what people say is important to them and what actually drove their behavior. As a result, customer experience researchers must explore motivations beyond just asking the customer what their motivations were.

Not all experiences along the customer journey are equal. In every journey there are specific “moments of truth” where customers form or change their opinion of the brand, either positively or negatively, based on the experience. Moments of truth can be quite varied and occur in a skilled sales presentation, when a shop owner stays open late help dad buy the perfect gift, or when a hold time is particularly long.

These moments of truth influence the emotional response to the brand long after the event. They form an emotional halo effect that influences the entire relationship with the brand. As a result, emotional responses to a brand do not occur in silos. Customers do not form judgments about discrete portions of the customer journey solely as a result of the specific experience, rather they judge each service encounter with a brand within the broader context of their entire experience with the brand – regardless of whether they are consciously aware of it or not.

Customer experience managers need to be aware of these subconscious influences, both when designing the customer experience and interpreting measurement of the experience itself. In a future post we will examine the implications of this emotional halo effect on customer experience measurement.

Additionally, In future posts we will explore the effect of these moments of truth on everything from customer acquisition, problem resolution, loyalty, wallet share, and customer experience measurement.


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About Eric Larse

Eric Larse is co-founder of Seattle-based Kinesis CEM, LLC, which helps clients plan and execute their customer experience strategies through the intelligent use of customer satisfaction surveys and mystery shopping, linked with training and incentive programs. Visit Kinesis at: www.kinesis-cem.com

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