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Emotion Versus Reason: A Key To Understanding Long-Term Loyalty


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A few weeks ago, I hit a patch of ice driving down a mountainside and crashed into a snowbank. I wasn’t injured but I was definitely shaken. To make matters worse, it was 10° F outside and I’d left my coat in town. Oh, and my gas tank was nearly empty.

As is usually the case in situations like this, I immediately called my insurance company – a major one known for their lighthearted TV commercials – and was greeted with an automated message to download their app. Once I’d done so (luckily there was decent data coverage), I was forced to complete an interminable series of fields, including my exact location, which I didn’t know, and after 15 minutes that seemed like an hour, I was finally connected with an agent.

By this point, a tow truck passed by offering help. So, what did I do? I hung up and took the opportunity to get the heck out of there, even though it would cost me more because the towing service was not in my insurance network. But I just wanted to be somewhere safe and away from the icy highway where other potential accidents in the making continued to fly past me in my helpless car.

Emotions drive actions and impact loyalty

The point of all this isn’t really about my accident, which happens to thousands of people every day. It’s about the emotional state we’re in after an event like this and how it affects our experiences, satisfaction, future behavior and loyalty.

It was all well and good for my insurance company to design a mobile app that provided a convenient way to file a claim or request a service – that is, if you get a flat tire on a warm sunny day in town. And it’s fine to test it and get positive feedback from customers sitting in a comfortable focus group facility. But what if circumstances are more dire? And what happens in situations when customers’ emotions are frazzled?

Organizations often ignore or minimize the importance of these kinds of emotions in driving action or making decisions. But the fact is they’re often the driving force behind our motivation and they impact our decision-making in a myriad of ways – usually in an attempt to avoid negative feelings like guilt, fear, anger, regret or disgust or promote positive ones like pride, joy or love. This is true even when we lack awareness of these processes (for reviews, see Keltner & Lerner, 2010, and Loewenstein & Lerner, 2003).

What’s more, different negative emotions can have different behavioral consequences. So it’s important to know, for example whether a failure in a product or service elicits anger or sadness.

Research suggests that, for instance, that while both make people feel that something wrong has been done to them, sadness tends to cause people to become inactive and withdrawn, whereas anger energizes people to fight against the cause of their anger. (Shaver et al., 1987)

These powerful effects of emotions are a reason why it’s important to not only understand what customers  “believe” rationally but what they “feel”, because as one group of researchers puts it: “Although beliefs may guide our actions, they are not sufficient to initiate action… Emotions are prime candidates for turning a thinking being into an actor.” (Frijda, N.H., Manstead, S.R., & Bem, S., 2000)

Key takeaway

What does all have to do with my stressful experience with that insurance company app on an icy highway? Simply this: that customers’ most memorable experiences – and the decisions they make – are borne out of strong emotions – good but especially bad ones. It’s why, at The Verde Group, we focus on the most damaging problem experiences that happen to your customers – because emotions evoked from a problematic experience will most certainly have an impact on their likelihood to continue doing business with you.

As you design and test your products or services, it’s important to understand customers’ emotional frame and the emotions that their real-world situations generate. Doing so will help you create better experiences in the now and build stronger loyalty over time.