Building Emotional Connections

Jul 15, 2016

BY SHIRAZ ALI – ENGAGEMENT MANAGER

Have you ever thought about how companies actually create customer connections? Some do it through providing a quality product, others rely on providing a superior customer experience, while the rest hang their hat on efficiency and convenience. Each of these avenues can lead to building an emotional connection with the customer, but combining all three is the trifecta businesses should aspire to obtain.

Recently, my wife and a few friends met up at a local spot here in Dallas for a birthday dinner. The restaurant is fairly new and has a full paleo menu, obviously going after a niche market and looking to gain market share based on their menu differential. The meal, service, and atmosphere were great, but dessert unfortunately ended in disaster. Somehow the hot caramel sauce the warm cake was supposed to be served with was accidently replaced with hot Italian vinaigrette salad dressing. It obviously ended up tasting horrible! Once we notified our waitress, she quickly realized the mistake and took care of the bill on behalf of the restaurant, so the only bad taste left in our mouths was of the literal variety.

After this horrible experience we got numerous calls/voicemails/e-mails from the owner of the restaurant directly apologizing, and inviting us back to give them another try. Upon returning, we came to find out that the meal was going to be comped a second time. The owner even asked us to invite the same people we invited to the birthday, so we had about 14 people come with us. Despite the size of our party, the manager refused to let any of us pay the bill. The entire staff even put together an apology card with all the staff signatures included. The message stated, “We understand you have choices when it comes to eating, and we want you both to know how sorry we are!” My wife and I were floored with the honesty and generosity, but there’s more! We’ve returned twice since the owner called us back, and each time we dined there, our bill has always been secretly taken care of with a thank you note each time.

Clearly this is a unique circumstance, but what started off as one negative experience ended up into multiple positive ones. My wife explained all of this in her Yelp review, and was compelled to give the restaurant a five-star rating due to their follow up and honesty. Since then, we always recommend this restaurant to our friends and family, and have a great relationship with the owner.

In the end it got me thinking about how a business actually builds strong advocacy. When customers face a negative situation with a product or experience, are there controls in place to resolve these types of issues? The type of honesty and empathy showed by the restaurant really built trust with me as a customer and the personalized treatment really stuck with me. It got me thinking, in competitive markets, your edge really comes from how much more you do for your customers combined with the empathetic tone and messaging required to build loyalty and trust. Really, it’s about the emotional experience your customers embark on with your product or offering. Every journey has an emotional impact on your customer. Even in a business-to-business relationship.

In Diane Berenbaum’s Four Key Strategies for Building Emotional Connections with your Customers, she states: “All buyers are influenced by their emotions. They just may not realize it.” How customers care about a product or service may be unconscious, but these unconscious feelings can have a very significant impact on your business. Emotional connections can determine the strength and length of a customer relationship. They drive passion, loyalty and advocacy. That said, most organizations tend to focus on the product or the material aspect, and the impact is clear. A recent Forrester Research survey revealed that 89% of consumers felt no personal connection to the brands they buy. Without that emotional bond, customers can be easily swayed to try a competitor’s product. The CEO of Zappos.com recently stated “every call is perceived as a way to make a positive emotional connection with a customer.”

It is almost critical in today’s competitive market to ask yourself as an organization: How can we make a stronger connection with our customers? What emotions do we want to evoke? What can we do differently to provide the kind of service that doesn’t just fill a need or an order, but inspires trust, motivates customers to return, tell others about their experience, and become advocates for our brand?

My suggestion is don’t wait for the next chocolate cake covered with hot Italian vinaigrette to be served! The future of business is inevitable. Those who make emotional connections with their customers are destined to be extremely successful—not just from a financial standpoint, but from a long-term customer retention standpoint.