In a fast-paced world pervaded by Artificial Intelligence (AI), where anything ‘fully-digital’ is typically associated with better efficiency and performance, believing that emotions and human relationships are crucial to deliver an excellent customer experience (CX) might seem counterintuitive. It is not hard to understand that some customers, especially from certain age groups, feel more at ease talking with a human rather than to a machine, however, it might be more difficult to believe that being able to identify and manage our own emotions and others’ is the key.
The ability to read and understand our emotions and those of others is known as ‘Emotional Intelligence’ (EI), a concept that has been around for almost thirty years.
The EI notion was formulated in 1990 by two psychologists, John Mayer and Peter Salovey, and made popular a few years later by David Goleman, who is still considered one of the leading experts on the topic.
According to Goleman, EI comprises of five elements, namely: Self-awareness, Self-regulation, Internal motivation, Empathy & Social skills, which help individuals identify their feelings, relate to other people, build relationships as well as control their impulses and how they communicate.
If we consider the five elements above, it is not surprising that emotionally intelligent employees tend to establish better relationships with customers and provide them with a better CX.
The How is as important as the What
Having high levels of EI means being able to understand customers’ emotions, empathising with them and responding appropriately.
Customers’ tone of voice, facial expressions and body language can help you understand how they feel, however, these elements are not always available (think of customer service via online chat, for example), which makes reading emotions even more challenging. This is the reason why it is important to train your employees to recognise customers’ feelings, no matter how explicitly they express them and which channel they are using.
Understanding others’ emotions is just the first step though. Sympathising with them and reacting properly needs to follow. The way you talk to your existing and potential customers is crucial and cannot be left to chance: it influences brand perception, impacts user experience and can really make a difference in their ‘final verdict’ about your company (e.g. positive vs. negative word of mouth, brand advocates vs. brand adversaries).
A few weeks ago, I contacted the customer service of an online organic farm asking if it was possible to select a certain time slot during the day to receive my order. To my regret, the answer was that it was not possible and that they only deliver in my area on weekdays, which means I had to do without it (and I will have to continue doing without it unless I stop working 9 to 6). They couldn’t solve my issue and I haven’t been able to become a customer.
Despite the unfortunate outcome, the way they approached my request made me have a positive perception of their brand and still makes me think of them as a company who has customer experience at heart:
“I am really sorry, we plan our routes to be as economical as possible and as much as we’d love to offer customers a specific time delivery this unfortunately cannot be the case.
Due to traffic, driver sickness or unforeseen problems, we cannot guarantee to be with you between a certain time. Also, it depends on how many customers we’d deliver before you, this can change on a weekly basis depending if they order or not. I can understand how frustrating this may be, but we don’t want to give you any false hope and say we’ll be with you at a certain time then not being able to fulfil that promise.
Sorry for any disappointment caused and we look forward to seeing you soon.”
There are a few things that I appreciated:
They apologised (which is the minimum, but not so common these days). They explained why they were unable to fulfil my request (which sounded reasonable to me, given the fact they are a small farm). Finally, they understood my feelings (disappointment, frustration) as well as showing they care about the promises they make to customers.
This made me think that How you deliver a message is equally (if not more) important than What you communicate, as it can make a tremendous difference in how that message is received by your audience. This does not mean that being emotionally intelligent will make you satisfy your customers even when you do not meet their needs, but it will likely make them ‘not so dissatisfied’ and the impact on your brand and image will probably still be positive.
A number of studies show that higher EI displayed by customer service providers leads to greater customer satisfaction. Similar studies came to the same conclusion when looking at sales representatives or other front-line roles. For instance, research found that customers who like their sales representatives are twelve times more likely to purchase.
Emotional Intelligence should be part of any organisation’s DNA
Thinking that EI matters only for front-line employees and customer service, as they are the ones in direct contact with clients, is an easy misconception. EI matters, at all organisational levels, in all departments. And it is fundamental for leaders too.
Some studies demonstrate that leaders’ EI positively relates to subordinates’ job satisfaction and that EI amplifies perceived organisational support and shared vision, and that these are positively correlated with employee engagement. In essence, having emotionally intelligent people within your organisation (at all levels) is likely to make your company stronger and contribute to its success.
Are we born emotionally intelligent or is it something we become?
Some aspects of EI come naturally and are innate to some individuals, they are part of their personality. However, the good news is that EI skills can also be learnt, developed and improved. Once learnt, empathising with other people and maybe even going the extra mile for them will come naturally (or at least more easily).
Given the benefits that EI can bring, organisations should consider training their employees on EI to increase their awareness and help them behave, communicate and interact more effectively, regardless of their role in the company and who their audience is.
Artificial Intelligence still has its place in industries and is increasingly used, but it is important to remember that human touch and emotions are still key to reaching customers’ hearts and minds. The way organisations communicate with them is crucial at every step of the journey, no matter how small the interaction with them is. This is also probably why emotionally intelligent/humanised robots are now being developed. However, an ‘empathic robot’ is probably not the type of reassuring customer service rep some customers have in mind, is it? Well, at least not yet…