2pm, it’s too late to leave… The gates will be closed by the time Valentine arrives at the boarding gate for her flight to Tokyo. Nevertheless, she perseveres, backpack in one hand, coat over her shoulder and ticket in her pocket as she dashes through the corridors of the metro. She loses time because the direction to the airport is poorly indicated. At last, she is standing in front of the Air France staff, breathless and almost pleading.
- “Hello! Is it too late?”
- “Good afternoon! No, don’t worry, catch your breath. You can board now.”
Accompanied by the airline staff, Valentine sinks into her seat on the plane. What a relief! Her satisfaction is soon added to when she receives refreshments and a compassionate smile from the hostess.
- “I hope you are recovering from your stressful journey. Let me know if there is anything I can do for you.”
The plane takes off, and Valentine’s spirits soar.
During this small part of her customer experience with Air France, Valentine expressed a range of emotions to varying degrees of intensity. The company’s challenge is to detect them, show compassion and provide appropriate solutions.
In light of new developments in artificial intelligence (silicon technology), predicted to take over whole areas of business activity, there is growing awareness that people are irreplaceable when it comes to stimulating and assessing emotions. In the coming decade, it is likely that customer relations will take on multiple forms. A few key questions reveal the scope of the issues at stake.
Emotional satisfaction is at the heart of challenges in customer relations
I was invited to take part in the Customer Relations Day organised by IAE University of Versailles-Saint Quentin and asked to prepare a talk on the place of emotional intelligence in customer relations.
I will leave it to psychologists and neuroscientists to explore the cognitive aspect and interpersonal issues of artificial intelligence, which is more a topic of scientific study than marketing.
In terms of business strategy, emotional intelligence (EQ) is defined as an individual’s ability to perceive, understand, control and express their own emotions and discern and decipher the emotions of other people. This form of intelligence goes beyond traditional cognitive and intellectual ability, making it a challenge for marketing professionals who want to offer the best interpretation of the customer’s emotional perceptions in their interaction with the brand.
The future of customer relations lies in showing an interest in people, not just in technology.
Ways to measure emotional satisfaction among customers
Customer satisfaction measurement tools allow emotional satisfaction to be measured if questions concerning sensorial perception, memory, etc. are included in the survey, or if “rating” questions are combined with “open-ended” questions. Semantic analysis tools boosted by AI can read levels of customer satisfaction on various topics based on what the customer says and can even add an “emotional layer” when voice analysis is used in conjunction with text analysis.
2023 has seen the first experiments in emotion detection through facial recognition. One example is the experiment carried out by the cruise company Costa Crociere to measure customer satisfaction on board in order to adapt their service offer. The retail giant Walmart has also adopted this technology to measure the satisfaction of its customers during their shopping experience. The aim is to improve their knowledge and understanding of their clientele. However, designing a reliable system that respects customer privacy while accurately capturing emotions in a range of situations remains a challenge.
Overall, emotional satisfaction cannot really be measured, it is perceived. It is seen in an individual when the brand has met their basic expectations. All that remains is to create a surprise to enhance their memory of new emotions. Above all, this requires emotional intelligence among employees (in interaction with customers) and empathy. It is the employee’s feelings that count!
Exploring emotional intelligence in customer relations involves addressing employee satisfaction just as much as that of the customer.
Using customer feedback to improve emotional satisfaction
Sources of customer satisfaction or dissatisfaction can be identified fairly accurately by analysing what they say. In order to be effective, systems for measuring customer satisfaction must be used over time. Systematic and regular customer satisfaction measurements must be implemented throughout the customer journey, as required.
Analysis of the responses allows two obvious things in the customer relationship:
- Continuous improvement of services and customer relations (cf. human)
- “Incremental” innovation of services through co-construction with the customer
To achieve this, employees must be given the means to acquire new skills linked to the use of customer relations technologies and, most importantly, improve their ability to perceive a customer’s emotional satisfaction. Two ways to do this:
- Provide training for employees to allow them to acquire purely soft skills. This requires a managerial change in organisations, whether private companies, local authorities or public bodies.
- Give employees the right tools to collect, analyse and share the customer’s voice. A builder with no ladder can’t raise the roof of a house very high!
Above all, exploring emotional intelligence in customer relations involves addressing employee satisfaction just as much as that of the customer.
I predict that customer relations will increasingly rely on two key things: technology for tasks with no added value and people for all the tasks with very high added value in terms of customer engagement. In this way, brands can relieve employees of the tedious aspects of customer interaction and let them concentrate on assessing customer perceptions and how to maximise their emotional satisfaction.
The future of customer relations lies in showing an interest in people, not just in technology.
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