This article was originally published by Shephyken.

When you check into a hotel on a business trip–at the end of a day of meetings or a less than relaxing flight–how do you feel? If you’re like us, you’re tired. And if you’re like us, the last thing you want is a complicated check-in process handled by an aggressively cheerful person. You want a smooth passage so you can get upstairs, throw your bag on the bed, and exhale.


But if we’re going to Yankee Stadium, it’s a different ballgame. We’re exhilarated, energetic, ready to roar. Do we want a soothing, solicitous ticket-taker? Fuhgeddaboudit.

Every customer goes into a service environment, from barbershop to bank office, with emotions that color his or her expectations. Understanding the link between emotions and expectations can help you design a better experience—one that is more likely to delight customers and to strengthen your business.

Design is the key word here. You can’t improve your ability to manage customer emotions just by telling employees to be sensitive. You want empathetic employees, sure; but you want to support them with a service design that anticipates the emotions customers carry with them and helps employees deal with them. If you know your customers’ likely emotions, you can recognize critical customer interactions more clearly, know better whom to hire and how to train them and even design specific ways of ensuring that your customers’ emotions help forge a bond between the two of you.

It is useful to look at customers’ emotions in several dimensions. How much emotion is the customer likely to have? A customer calling an insurance company after an auto accident is going to be more keyed up than the same customer calling to add a new vehicle to a policy. Do you want to alter the intensity? If so, how would you do it? You’d have a different approach for a customer calling a complaint line than you would for a potential customer calling for information.

Is the customer in a hurry? Does the customer feel a strong commitment to you and your brand? Can you use emotion to take a generic offering and brand it? Buying a cup of coffee in America was a low-commitment deal until Starbucks’ Howard Schultz designed a café vaguely modeled on what he had seen in Italy and suffused the whole experience with a different pace and, consequently, more – and new – emotions and expectations. Is the customer a free agent (“I hear you have the best steak in town”) or a captive (“Is this the line for the DMV?)? Is he spending his own money or is she in town on business?

Misunderstanding the customer’s purpose and mindset can be as grave a faux pas as wearing a business suit to a barbecue. Of course you can’t always predict people’s emotions, instantly gauge the intensity, or divine their purpose. That makes it all the more important to design for the emotions you’re most likely to encounter, or that you want to create, change, or reinforce–while building flexibility into the system. And where you can always be clear is in managing customers’ expectations, which you do well before they even come to you. You design your service to meet those expectations and that will give you a head start in managing their emotions, because one feeling you don’t want them to have is disappointment.












© Thomas A. Stewart and Patricia O’Connell

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