The paradox of the emotional customer experience and the bottom line

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou 

I love this quote because it articulates what drives human beings—emotion.  

Humans have a primal instinct to remember their emotions, for good or bad, which can hurt or help business in a major way. The paradox of the emotional customer experience and the bottom line is pretty interesting. Businesses, focused on their profit and growth, will stick to tried-and-true tactics that make them money. However, in order to win over customers today, companies must shell out overhead costs to create a memorable and emotional experience for their customer, which ultimately decreases the immediate bottom line. I say “immediate” because, if consistent enough, brands have potential to earn lifelong supporters much like Apple and Nike have and grow their revenue significantly.  

In short, in order to make money, you have to spend money. And you need to spend that money on your customer’s heart, with no tangible ROI.  

For most marketers, it’s frustrating to try and connect your emotional branding content to tangible objectives—ones that impact the bottom line. How do you measure an experience? Where is the conversion chart that converts satisfaction to dollars?  

Emotion is hard to win over and easy to lose, which makes the great customer service and the bottom line paradoxical. Theoretically, you would be saving money in the long run by just creating a great product, but unfortunately, that isn’t enough to succeed. You need a fantastic product married with an emotional customer experience—preferably a positive one.  

Let’s take United Airlines as a case study for this point. Currently, United is popular in the media right now for their unfavorable handling of their overbooked flight. Overbooked flights are nothing new, and all travelers in their lives have had some discontentment with it. It’s not unusual for passengers to give up their spots on those flights for something as meaningless as a $600 voucher. United is getting slammed because their actions resonated harshly with the emotions of the general public.  

Imagine reading a headline that says, “Man forcibly removed from United Airlines flight.” Just another day. Now, imagine watching the video of a man being aggressively removed—a woman pleading for airline officials to stop, unsympathetic flight attendants standing by idly, and a seemingly unconscious man being pulled on the airplane floor by his hands. Which one evokes emotion for you? I’m sure plenty of customers have had great experiences with United, but I imagine those people have altered their opinions. It’s the emotional impact, which will ultimately affect the bottom line. I’m sure United has plenty of ways to quantify that experience—media mentions, revenue, social engagement, etc.  

Let’s look at a positive example. Disney is the leader in entertainment, and as a consumer of their content, I can’t help but feel happy when you say “Disney.” Disney’s ultimate product is content, but the experience they connect to that content sets them apart. From a brand perspective, Disney invests billions of dollars behind their brand to make it what it is, and they focus on the little things that create that great experience. Creating those experiences keeps people wanting more of Disney’s content, inevitably boosting Disney’s bottom line.  

Now, the question becomes, how do you apply this?  

Implementing an emotional customer experience that benefits the bottom lines takes time, but there are two priorities. First, put your customer at the center of your strategy—find out what emotional value you can add and execute that. And second, be in business for the long run—sometimes your strategies take longer to bring in revenue, but be sure to invest in your future.