A long time ago, someone told me that people will not remember what you said, or did, but they will always remember how you made them feel. I could not appreciate this statement then as much as I do now.
As one accumulates experiences, and boundaries between years merge, the only thing that remains are the emotions that one felt during those experiences. We may not be unable to remember the precise details of events, but we will still remember the emotions that those events evoked in us. While experiences eventually fade away into the past, emotions remain alive with us all the time and are powerful drivers of our actions. Let me take a few personal examples:
Sometime during the mid 90’s, I don’t exactly remember when I walked into the 5 Star Oberoi hotel in Bangalore. I do remember that I went there to get some information. I was dressed casually (I guess jeans, an old T-shirt, and sandals on my feet). It was my great luck, that the floor manager was in a “pest-control” mode at that time, and decided to that I was to be the target of his cleanup efforts for the day. Very soon, I was given clear indications that I was not welcome on the premises. Not having the necessary linguistic capabilities to rebut, nor having the confidence to do so, I tucked my tail between my legs and left, feeling very small. It’s been over two decades since that event, but it’s very hard to forget the feeling. I have been to Oberoi hotels subsequently many times, but only out of lack of choice (e.g. when a client or a friend insists on it). So, my experience turned into a negative emotion that will last a lifetime and has driven all my decisions with respect to the brand.
The reason I thought of writing this article is because of something positive that happened recently and is likely to remain a positive memory in my mind for a long time to come. There is an interesting company called Putumayo World Music. They publish CDs with an excellent selection of music from various parts of the world. I already own some of their CDs and during a trip earlier this year, I purchased 4 more CDs from an airport shop. I tucked them in my bag and left them there thinking I’ll open them at a later date. That time came about 2 months later. It was a lazy Sunday morning and I was feeling the need for my music fix. I retrieved the CDs and opened them one by one, listening to them and enjoying the music. But unfortunately, one of the packages was empty. There was no CD in it. My Sunday’s status was reduced from Excellent to Good. I felt a bit irritated at the fact that there is no way I could take a flight back to the same airport, go to the same shop and exchange it. Also, I had not kept the purchase bill with me, so I did not have any proof of purchase even if I contacted them on phone. So, I decided to write directly to Putumayo’s customer support with my dilemma. Within a few hours, I received a response directly from Dan Storper, the founder of the company apologizing for the situation. Further, he copied a colleague on the email, requesting her to ship another CD to me from their warehouse in the US. After a couple of more pleasant email exchanges in which I provided my shipping address, they mailed the CD. Within 2 weeks, my music was with me.
So why is this experience special? Well, I cannot imagine another company in a different continent willing to send me a replacement product at their cost, merely on my word. They did not ask me for copies of my receipt, or any proof of purchase. That made me feel special and respected.
When I received the CD, I was bubbling like an excited child waiting to open his gift. This experience generated in me, positive emotions that have got etched in my memory. Over time, I may forget the details of this experience, but I will never forget how Dan and his team made me feel. In this day and age, when many people don’t pay for music, I will still buy Putumayo CDs even though one can easily get free CD rips on the net. That is the power of managing customers’ emotions.
Here’s an example of an area that significantly impacts customers emotionally, but suppliers mostly don’t do much about it. There are many companies that build apartments and houses. But there is only one company that I know of, that builds homes that are enveloped with emotion. That company is Total Environment in Bangalore. A home is an experience, and every moment within it, and outside, impacts our lives. Our memories are built around relationships and interactions within that space. A mere photograph of a home one has lived in decades ago can evoke emotions connected to memories. Total Environment is the only company I know of, that designs homes with the occupant’s life in mind. From the time of conceptualization of the project to planning, to building and delivering the home, the company focuses on each little aspect to enhance the customer’s experiences. There have been many instances where the company has taken ownership of the occupant’s experience even after delivery, at its own cost.
Is the entire experience perfect? Absolutely not. The company’s employees make several mistakes, but the mistakes made are purely organic, and not due to apathy. That is why the experience still leaves positive memories, and that is the reason why Total Environment has many repeat customers. I am a Total Environment customer as are my parents, and several other friends, so I speak about this with some credibility. Disclaimer: I happen to know the founder of the company very well. But this has given me an opportunity to see the immense efforts the company puts in, at its own cost, to make its homes memorable.
Here is one surprising example that goes against popular grain. Imagine you own a laptop computer and that your entire professional life revolves around it. You have paid a premium for it, and you expect a certain amount of “above the market” reliability and support. This premium has bought you a superbly designed machine, with great features, and a very intuitive user interface. But what if this thing of beauty turned out to be a chimera? It interrupted your thought process by slowing down several times an hour. It melts down when you open more than 10 windows, while your colleague’s non premium laptop with similar specs, worked perfectly fine with 60. The company’s legendary tech support folks are not very transparent when they take your computer for 3 days, and give it back without fixing it and you spend extraordinary sums to replace its withering power supply thrice in 3 years, because its cables flake away like cheap plastic. The emotions that it evokes is that of pure frustration and in the end, this beautiful laptop computer is just eye candy. To take a metaphor, when it comes to a choice between an ordinary car that works all the time, and a beautiful car that works only sometimes, what would you choose? That has been my experience with my Apple Macbook Pro, and my feelings of being let down, are no less intense than what I experienced at Oberoi years ago. The company has done a great job in managing product design, not in managing my emotion. So my next computer will not be an Apple.
The above four examples will probably generate plenty of controversies. In the Oberoi case, it seems irrational to blame an entire organization for one person’s behaviour. There are many other genuine employees who have done a great job. In the case of Putumayo, it must be a boutique company, for the passionate founder to directly answer customer service emails. If someone else had answered it, perhaps they would not have sent me another CD. In the case of Total Environment, I happen to know the founder so one may say my views may be biased. In the case of my Apple Macbook Pro, there are enough fans who will disagree with me for a variety of reasons.
Perhaps some of this is may be correct. But the “moment of truth” is the responsibility of every employee in an organisation, from the founder/ceo to the frontline employee. Their actions impact their own livelihoods in ways that they may not be able to see in a single customer interaction. But the sum total of all interactions that a customer has with all employees of a company, builds an “emotional memory” in that customer. An army of such customers with a negative collective emotional memories will in turn impact the fortunes of the company, and the livelihoods of those who work there.
Therefore, it becomes extremely important for companies to continuously put Customer Emotion Management (CEM) at the top of their to-do list. Merely focusing on Customer Experience, as most companies do today, is not enough. All employees (both customer facing and non customer facing) need to be trained and retrained in this area because apathy can easily set in. When a process that is designed to produce an outcome, becomes more important than outcome itself, customer emotions will eventually be impacted.
To summarise, companies will do well to remember this quote from Mahatma Gandhi.