How to use emotional design in CX to escape the B2B commodity trap

Our focus in B2B is on how we design experiences that plug into positive emotions to build credibility, trust, loyalty and high lifetime value. We’ve known for years that emotion has an out-sized influence on buying decisions and customer relationships. It’s storytelling that brings out the emotions that motivates a customer.

Rationality matters. When buying enterprise technology products, say, they have to solve critical problems. Decision-makers need to think about productivity improvements, ROI, margins and long-term profitability. But, even rational decisions have an emotional core – the pain point.

The question is, as our products become increasingly commoditised, how do you leverage emotion in your CX to differentiate and drive growth? Emotion is a subjective state of mind. Everything starts from understanding this state.

Emotional desiGn in CX

Understand your customer’s emotional state

Leaders with a customer-centric mentality understand the full range of emotional (and rational) factors behind business purchases. They understand how customers feel, and what motivates them. However, most customer research begins and ends with how people feel – safe, stable, reassured, confident, proud, excited, reliability, frustrated, anger, apathetic, confused etc. Business customers also want to feel an affinity, understood, and a valued partner. But, this doesn’t go far enough. They also care about the personal consequences of a purchase. We need to understand what motivates a decision-maker: personal achievement, competency, problem solved, financial gain, job security etc.

Start with the data you have – you’ll already have masses of unstructured customer data – survey responses, sales and delivery feedback, email responses, phone and chatbot transcripts, social media mentions etc. to mine for insights on behaviour, values, needs and preferences. Understand the decision-making process. Think about the reasons why a customer chooses one vendor over another. They are often searching for the best long-term partnership that can efficiently solve their organisational issues.

Interview decision-makers / loyal customers – what were the emotional drivers behind their decsion to buy your product, and stay with you?

What’s the view from the frontline? – talk to your sales, customer success and customer service teams. What do they pick up from interactions? Human feedback and perceptions are still going strong and having a great value.

Think as if you were in a customer team – people who are emotionally intelligent have self-awareness and many times have a natural empathy. Ask yourself how would you feel if you had your customer’s problem. What would the personal consequences of buying your product be? How would you feel when the problem is solved?

Create empathy maps – create a simple persona around how a representative customer thinks, feels, says, and does.

Apply these insights to your CX design.

Focus on simplicity

Making experiences too complicated activates the logic centre in the brain. This wipes out the powerful emotional driver you want to trigger to get a desired response. There’s also a premium here. When an organisation’s offerings are simple and easy to adopt or use, people are prepared to pay a premium for the simpler experiences. Siegel+Gale put the figure at 57%. Learn more about simplicity in CX design here.

Be specific. If you are planning a campaign, focus on one experience, one feeling and one response. (See Adobe below).

The art of design – strengthen the emotional impact of product experiences

CX leaders understand that product experiences – how customers interact with products and how products make them feel – is a critical part of the overall experience. Moreover, they understand how to apply the principles of emotional design to create positive associations. They do this by evoking a positive emotion like joy, or a negative emotion like fear, and promising the product will alleviate that emotion. The result is a deep connection between the customer and the product. These positive reactions drive product stickiness. Leaders never underestimate the role emotion plays in our experience of everyday products.

You might already know that emotional design was introduced by Don Norman, co-founder of the Nielsen Norman Group, in his seminal book Emotional Design: Why We Love (Or Hate) Everyday Things. As Don Norman says: “Everything has a personality: everything sends an emotional signal. Even where this was not the intention of the designer, the people who view the website infer personalities and experience emotions.”

Designers applying the principles of emotional design aim to reach customers on three levels: visceral, behavioural and reflective. They focus on user needs. But critically they also focus on user responses, which are steeped in emotion. Learn more here.

“Everything has a personality: everything sends an emotional signal. Even where this was not the intention of the designer, the people who view the website infer personalities and experience emotions” - Don Norman #emotionaldesign… Share on X

Design empathetic experiences

Mapping critical journeys will help you design empathetic experiences. How can you inject empathy at critical touchpoints (moments of truth in old money)? What’s the human story? How can you express empathy naturally in different countries and cultures?

Coach your customer support team

Have you coached your frontline teams to show empathy in interactions – voice and text? You’ll know that empathy is a must-have soft skill to build stronger relationships, identify needs, resolve problems and better manage conflict. But, how do you build an empathetic team that has the capability to connect emotionally, affirm a customer’s feelings, understand their perspective and viewpoint, and respond with compassion?

Empathy is not a ‘have it’ or ‘don’t have it’ thing. It’s something that can be developed with the right coaching. Leaders role play lots of different customer scenarios. They analyse their data and review real-world interactions to prepare their people. Their people listen. They are clear and concise during interactions and know when to escalate. Empathy needs to come naturally. Customers know when someone is reading from a script. To learn more about empathy in action, my advice is to read this great book by Tony Bates and Dr. Natalie Petouhoff – Empathy in Action.

Build your content on empathy

Customers will dismiss content that doesn’t show that you understand their needs and everyday problems. As April Henderson, Forrester Research’s consulting vice president of market impact told Content Marketing Institute: “They want your business to understand and share in their feelings. Why do they want that? Because business buyers aren’t buying your product. They’re buying into your approach to solving their problem.”

’They want your business to understand and share in their feelings. Why do they want that? Because business buyers aren’t buying your product. They’re buying into your approach to solving their problem” - April Henderson #cx… Share on X

The power of emotional creative

We’re all wired for stories. B2B market leders have been sharing stories for decades. They create stories that are grounded in customer insight to work out what types of narrative and messaging will win hearts and minds. Experienced storytellers will skilfully, carefully, and most importantly believably, create empathetic stories to engage, inform, educate or entertain. Make your customer the hero of the story – your brand, products and services are playing a supporting role.

Let me give you two examples.

Samsung, through the first series of its ‘Work Wonders’ multichannel campaign, wanted to show how technology could help businesses confidently accelerate in the new normal. As Sharon Hegarty, Marketing Director at Samsung UK and Ireland said: “Work Wonders was designed to flip the norms of B2B campaigns on their head – putting dynamic storytelling at the heart of our executions to prove that with the right tools and technologies in place, anything is possible”. The campaign also included advertorials about the products themselves. I’m not sure if you’re aware, but Samsung is a massive conglomerate that encompasses much more than just electronics, mobile, and telecommunications companies. All of their B2B and B2C ventures share a common element: a perception analytics tool and reports related to customer perception, which includes emotional design analysis

Adobe’s Click, Baby, Click campaign is one from the very old archives. But, it’s still a brilliant masterclass in how to use emotion and humour in B2B to get across your message. Adobe is selling a scenario that is relatable to every marketer measuring a campaign.  A fictional ‘underforming’ encyclopeadia company suddenly sees a spike in order orders – campaign clicks are “off the charts”. Production and the supply chain bursts into action to fulfil orders. Executives are jubilant. Cut to a baby clicking on the ‘buy now’ button of an ad. Adobe’s message: marketers need sound analytics to understand how campaigns are performing.

That is a fun note to end on.

To conclude

I hope that these tips on how to design a customer experience with emotion are valuable. It’s a challenge. But it’s possible. Rationality matters in B2B. But, even rational decisions have an emotional centre – the pain point. It’s our emotions that are the biggest influencer on the decisions we take in business and in our personal lives. We’re just wired that way.

Start with your customers’ emotional state. Focus your research on understanding how they feel AND what motivates them to buy and stay loyal? Infuse these insights in your CX design. Map customer journeys to identify criticial touchpoints to design empathetic experiences. Simplify experiences to avoid wiping out emotional drivers. Identify empathy roadblocks – is it your culture or a lack of employee coaching? And, finally, we’re all wired for stories. Evidence-driven storytelling will help you win hearts and minds. Just remember to make your customer the hero.

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11 Emotions That Influence the B2B Purchase Decision-Making Process
Four examples of world-class customer experience design
B2B Full-Funnel Marketing, Part Three: Emotional Marketing
Emotional Design: Why We Love (Or Hate) Everyday Things
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Adobe Click Baby Click
 Spark of the week 5: Adobe’s Click Baby Click Ad
How To Best Connect On A Human Level: Are Emotions The New B2B Marketing Tool?

About the Author:

Ricardo Saltz Gulko is the Eglobalis managing director, a global strategist, thought leader, practitioner, and keynote speaker in the areas of simplification and change, customer experience, experience design, and global professional services. Ricardo has worked at numerous global technology companies, such as Oracle, Ericsson, Amdocs, Redknee, Inttra, Samsung among others as a global executive, focusing on enterprise technologies. He currently works with tech global companies aiming to transform themselves around simplification models, culture and digital transformation, customer and employee experience as professional services. He holds an MBA at J.L. Kellogg Graduate School of Management, Evanston, IL USA, and Undergraduate studies in Information Systems and Industrial Engineering. Ricardo is also a global citizen fluent in English, Portuguese, Spanish, Hebrew, and German. He is the co-founder of the European Customer Experience Organization and currently resides in Munich, Germany with his family.

A diabetic who wants to wipe diabetes from the Earth for all of us, the proceeds from his forthcoming book will be going to the Faustman Lab. The Lab is working to eradicate it, based out of Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School. You can also support and donate to The Lab. It would mean a lot to me, and millions of others struggling with diabetes.

You can learn more about him, his passions, and his charitable causes at his LinkedIn or Eglobalis or Facebook or Twitter.

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