A Reflection on Fear in the Customer Experience Roadmap

The dark is not a comfortable place for a customer to be.

It’s been a stressful week. We’re selling a vacation house on one lake, in hopes of buying one on another lake. A perfect situation, you’d think – an all-cash buyer, contingencies lifted but one, and with one week left in escrow we were good to go. Or so we thought. That one last contingency? How things played out with this experience of mine is what got me thinking about fear in the customer experience roadmap, and its cohorts - uncertainty and doubt. You may have heard this referred to as the FUD factor.

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Here’s what happened: with time running out, the title company stated they couldn’t issue title insurance on the property because of a “cloud on the title.” Despite having been bought, sold, refi’d and such through transactions with other title companies over the years, something tripped the underwriter’s switch. “Uninsurable,” they said. This was last Thursday. Now a week later, we’re still not sure what the issue is, much less the solution.

You know the drill – the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing, management says one thing and customer service another – all the while it seems like no one’s actually accountable to the customer. When expectations aren’t set, we (all) expect the worst. For me, this was a capital M “Moment of Truth.”

I get this is a ‘first world’ problem. And in the grand scheme of things, as stressful as it is – it’s working itself out. But pacing around my office earlier (following another unhelpful phone call with our title officer) I reflected on the degree to which emotion in the customer experience roadmap can be boiled down to fear, uncertainty and doubt. The FUD Factor.

Understand and respect what your customers are feeling, and why they feel that way.

We talk the “meeting customer expectations” talk all the time. But those words simply don’t capture the degree to which some experiences drive negative emotions. The title company that won’t communicate issues. The bank that denies a loan without explanation. The new car that needs still more repairs. The website that can’t answer your question about a health insurance claim… and the IVR that won’t connect you with someone who can help.

In each of these instances and countless like them, the issue at hand can be very important – and exceedingly personal – to your customer. Combining lack of knowledge about a situation and inability to meet a goal – first-world problem or not – can knot you up and create a “FUD factor” experience for any customer.

As a customer experience practitioner and consultant for over a decade now, I’m generally able to view these kinds of interactions dispassionately. Not this time. With each fruitless conversation, I became increasingly frustrated. Frustration fueled by the roadblocks I encountered, uncertainty that there really was a resolution, and doubts that the deal was going to go through at all.

I’ve certainly written and talked a lot about the importance and power of emotion in customer experience.

But it’s been awhile since I’ve felt it.

We often talk about customer “wants and needs”, “pain points”, and “experience gaps” without really understanding, how our customers feel, or why they feel that way. The fact is, as an executive (or even as a consultant…) it can be easy to de-personalize the customer, or to view them in the abstract.

Break down the barriers in your business, and build bridges to (and for) your customers.

It can be hard to empathize with your customers. And it’s harder still to make changes to the way you do business to make customer’s lives easier and more enjoyable, insofar as your business is able to do so.

Of course, this is where Customer Experience Management comes into play. Because “customer experience” is the cumulative impact of all the interactions customers have throughout their relationship with you, the customer experience determines how customers feel about your organization as a result of doing business with you.

And the last thing you want customers to feel is fear, uncertainty or doubt. And the more you understand and empathize with them, the easier it is to design and deliver the kinds of experiences that drive positive emotions – the very best kind.

Unfortunately, the ability of most organizations to empathize with their customers is formative at best. This needs to change. Because unless – in the context of the experience – your company can effectively interpret customer emotions and the underlying causes thereof, a single negative experience could easily color the customer’s entire perception of your company. In other words, emotion is the gatekeeper to customer loyalty.

Of course tools like persona and journey maps help. A little. What helps most of all is making customer centricity a true priority. And ensuring that customer understanding and an outside-in view of what it’s like to do business with you is made a central pillar of delivering on that strategy.

After all, we’re all customers. We all have expectations. So the next time you’re making a decision that will impact your customers, try asking yourself this: “How will what I’m doing make my customers feel?”

Your customers will thank you.

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