Blog post

For A Better Customer Experience Evoke Emotion Rather Than Manufacture It

By Augie Ray | May 26, 2016 | 2 Comments

MarketingCustomer Experience

There is a trend in customer experience circles to focus on emotion. To be sure, emotion is essential to a brand’s customer experience, but focusing on emotion is a little like obsessing over the score of a sporting event. Yes, our team wants more points, but you get there by executing on the mechanics of the game, not concentrating on the scoreboard.

Emotion isn’t a tactic in customer experience; it is an outcome. You cannot manufacture emotion; you can only change what you do to evoke a shift in perception. This is why, as we point out at Gartner, customer experience is owned by the customer–it is their perceptions and related feelings–while customer experience management is the responsibility of the marketer.

The distinction is subtle and one of perspective–outside-in rather than inside-out. Marketers can attempt to manufacture emotion by changing website copy to sound friendlier or posting a touching video to YouTube, but we evoke stronger, relationship-building emotions by altering the product or service experience to meet customers’ expectations. The former focuses on what the brand wants; the latter on what customers want.

Think of your personal relationship with brands. Do the brands to which you are the most loyal win that loyalty by telling you you’re important or by making you feel important? Do they share emotional stories or do they evoke strong emotions through a customer experience that creates value?

What are the emotions you associate with those loyalty-building brands? Does your iPhone pull your heartstrings? Does Costco make you verklempt? Customers do not need brands to manufacture emotions of joy or sadness through stories and scripts but instead to foster feelings of trust, confidence, pride, security, protection, and serenity. Those are the emotions you likely feel toward your favorite brands, and those are the emotions your brand must evoke through its customer experience.

Take Uber and Lyft, for example. Both launched peer-to-peer ride sharing at around the same time. Lyft tried to manufacture emotion with giant Pepto-Bismol-colored mustaches for cars, chatty driver introductions and Lyft fistbumps (because “it’s the Lyft thing to do”).  It turns out that when taking a ride with a stranger, consumers don’t want to be part of a rolling social event in a flamboyant vehicle; they just want a clean, efficient, convenient ride. Lyft has since shifted strategies. Uber’s approach did not win because it was emotionless but because it better understood and supported the emotions customers wanted in context–not togetherness, pride and amusement but trust, modesty, and comfort.

For another example, we can turn to the world of banking. Banks put a lot of stock in the branch and teller experience and continued to expand their expensive branch networks well into the Internet era. As the tide turned on the value of these storefronts, banks tried to improve the branch experience by making them more like Starbucks or Apple Stores. This strategy fell flat because it did not reflect what consumers want in the context of banking–an efficient, always-on advocate protecting our financial interests and not a physical place to hang out and commune with bankers.

It is not emotions of welcome or physical comfort we seek from our financial service firms but empowerment, intelligence, control, trust, and confidence. Even USAA, famed for its caring and personal service, knows that warm, friendly welcomes won’t make a difference unless the organization follows through with rock-solid execution that evokes the right emotion. Today, banks are slowly shuttering the branch networks they spent years building; meanwhile, finserv players are now battling to earn the right emotions with functional and usable apps, fair fee structures, great customer service in digital channels and proactive value-added services that save money and protect customers.

It is easier to create a heart-tugging post on Facebook than to understand what your key customer segments want, and it is simpler to update a call center script than to collaborate across organizational silos to change processes to meet and exceed customer expectations. But in the era of always-on information, smart devices, word of mouth and empowered customers, our job isn’t to manufacture more emotion, it is to provide the experiences that evoke the right emotion in the right moment.

Think of it like that sporting event I mentioned at the start. What was the most memorable and emotional moment you’ve had in a stadium or arena? Was it created by a player’s victory dance, the stadium soundtrack, or the cheerleading crew? Or did it well up inside you as a result of a hard-fought triumph for your home team? Manufactured emotions are fleeting, but evoked emotions are more memorable and change attitudes (and purchasing behaviors).

The Gartner Blog Network provides an opportunity for Gartner analysts to test ideas and move research forward. Because the content posted by Gartner analysts on this site does not undergo our standard editorial review, all comments or opinions expressed hereunder are those of the individual contributors and do not represent the views of Gartner, Inc. or its management.

Leave a Comment


  • Linda Obert says:

    You asked a question, that peaked my interest.
    You asked your readers, to think of a sporting event that emotionally moved your readers & how that happened.
    Arena Football, (the equivalent of the Super Bowl, but inside field vs. outside). The game has different rules, different size playing field, (1/2 the size), faster paced game, but it’s still football,—and I actually was startled
    WHEN: Final game of the Season, (like the Super Bowl game).
    Pure “excitement”; so “proud” of players; “hyped”.
    To have my team,—be at this game, this is plenty to be excited for. But to actually watch them WIN!!
    FOX TV NETWORK, was even “Taping” the game! FOX TV’S “Erin” was MC’ing the game, & doing the numerous interview’s of players and coaches. To be sitting there, watching this live, the excitement when all the confetti came falling down from above, with, what seems as an endless supply,—this is “exciting”! GREAT, PHENOMENAL, AWESOME…..
    Players performance!!!!! — Coaches performance!!!!!


    • Augie Ray says:

      Interesting story, Linda. Mine would be quite the same–a win by my alma mater, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, over a rival, UW-Green Bay. Two small teams–it had nothing to do with the size of the TV audience or the reputation of the teams. In this case, it was just a surprising win by an upstart team pulling off a come-from-behind victory. I’ll never forget it.

      Which brings us back to the point–it wasn’t the music, the cheer squad, the mid-game entertainment or the beer that made the experience, (Okay, it may have had a little to do with the beer) but the actual game experience. The best experiences–sports or brand–come from producing a great core product.