Why Turning the Customer Experience into Emotional Engagement Adds Value to a Brand
Harley-Davidson knows how to build ownership. For decades, the motorcycle company has attracted and retained a client base that shows no signs of waning. People purchase its products without solicitation and they gladly spend millions of dollars to wear its advertising on clothes, attend national and international H.O.G. rallies and even tattoo the Harley-Davidson logo on their body. As the tagline goes, Harley owners “live by it.”
For decades, Harley-Davidson has been “engineering” customer expectations, says Lou Carbone, founder and chief experience officer of Experience Engineering, a Minneapolis-based consulting firm.
What Harley-Davidson gets—as do Starbucks and Disney—is that it is selling more than motorcycles (or coffee or entertainment). “It is all about understanding the psychology of the customers,” Carbone begins,. “It requires getting into the mind and heart and head of customers,” and ultimately, discovering the clues that make them loyal, sometimes irrationally so, to a brand.
“What we’ve done at Experience Engineering and I say experience engineering, not customer engineering, is focus on how to turn the customer experience into value,” he says. “Whether it is an employee experience, a shareholder experience, or the customer experience, all of these experiences are the totality of creating valuable personal relationships.”
Several key principles are necessary to engineering customer experience, says Carbone. “You are moving from making and selling to really sensing and responding. We create an emotional by thinking and looking at everything from the customer back. It’s understanding and leveraging the role of the unconscious mind, becoming clue conscious and developing a rigorous system that manages those clues.”
Carbone fondly remembers the travels of his childhood, a time when the Howard Johnson’s restaurants and motor lodges were a habitual stop off the fledgling interstate system (eventually the chain boasted more than 1,000 restaurants and 500 motor lodges in 42 states and Canada). In the 1950s and 1960s, the United States was a country of budding Baby Boomers and, for the first time, disposable income. “HoJo’s” empire of orange-peaked roofs was as familiar a sight as the Golden Arches are today. The chain wooed children and adults with its dependability, always featuring 28 flavours of ice cream and special menu caps for the kids. It became a pop culture icon. Supposedly, the Watergate burglars gathered in the HoJo’s restaurant across from the infamous building before perpetuating their crime.
“I got to work with Howard Johnson’s in the last six months of its existence,” Carbone jokes. “I was very impressionable. I was going to work with this organisation that created franchising, which founded one of the first restaurant brands,” he excitedly remembers. “I’m in meetings with these folks and we’re talking about cutting a sixteenth of an inch off a straw in order to save $17,000. We’re trying to go from four-ply napkins to two-ply to save thousands of dollars. It was all about efficiency—how much value can we extract? They had three flavours of ice cream that took too long to produce. There was talk of getting rid of Frozen Pudding, because it had rum flavouring.”
Slightly overwhelmed, Carbone quietly questioned the vice president for marketing. “But you’re known for 28 flavours; that’s how the brand is known. He said, ‘Don’t worry about it, we’ll just tell people we are out.’”
Not long after this discouraging incident, he began to work for an organisation called Disney. “I was never the same again,” he continues, excitedly. “Here we were talking about the temperature of the velocity of the wind blowing in your face at Spaceship Earth. They were talking about the temperature at where an ice cream bar melts, because in summer it will melt at a very different rate in California than in Orlando. The scent of chocolate chip cookies is actually pumped out onto Main Street.”
Many have looked to mimic Disney’s success, but only a few have reached that nirvana. “What we miss when looking at Best Practices is what Next Practices are. The ultimate beginning of next practices to me is in the genius of a man who understood a very essential question: ‘How can you make that emotional connection.’ He built a story with a set of clues and then it clicks.”
“I became fascinated by the power of the mouse. Peter Drucker said years ago that the purpose of a business is to create value and the reward is profit. We lose sight of the richness and the robustness and the palate that we have to draw on to create value when we become so focused on the manipulation of the dollars to generate profit.”
To understand the value, Carbone stresses, you have to understand people. “Customer satisfaction isn’t a predictor of customer loyalty,” he adds. ”Most defectors are actually satisfied customers. It’s really based on the need for emotional engagement.”
To prove his point, he reaches to another personal experience, this one with Northwest Airlines. Carbone hails from Minnesota and regularly flies to and from the Minneapolis airport on Northwest “which has 87% of the lift in Minnesota,” he notes.
“I’ve been platinum as long as they’ve had it, with almost four million actual air miles?. They think I’m loyal.”
But Carbone says there is a distinct difference between necessity and likeability. “I hate [Northwest]. I feel they have to reward me for the pain that they inflict on my life and how they cause me to feel.”
Is this rational? Experiences have nothing to do with the rational side of your brain, Carbone says. “There are experiences that we accept and experiences that we prefer. Then there are those we prefer with such a passion that we don’t even understand. How loyal do you have to be to tattoo someone’s logo on your body?” he asks, referencing Harley-Davidson.
Here in the twenty-first century, we are witnessing a dramatic shift in how and why people spend money. “The tools, perspectives and the way we think and form our firms are still built off the model of making and selling in the industrial age,” Carbone says.
“The world has changed dramatically into a world of sensing and responding. Sensing things that we don’t even know we don’t know. So it is fundamental to understand how customers behave. We begin to become very concerned about attitudes. How they feel about us as a firm. How they feel about our products and our brand. But the ultimate value is how it causes them to feel about themselves,” Carbone contends. All of a sudden, marketers are studying neuroscience.
“Customers consciously and unconsciously filter a barrage of clues and organise them into a set of impressions—some rational, some emotional,” he continues. These clues involve all five senses. Some clues are relayed from human behaviour (voice tone, body language) and others are mechanical (design, colour, temperature). Thus, without consciously knowing it, we are aware of the comfort of a chair in Starbucks or how our hotel folds towels and half-empty toilet paper rolls.
In fact, says Carbone, it is impossible to NOT have an experience. The server’s choice of words, the layout of a room, the music in the background while shopping all scream “experience” to a customer.
Unfortunately, most of the time it’s not the one you want your customer to experience.
Lou Carbone, founder and chief experience officer of Experience Engineering, a Minneapolis-based consulting firm. Visit the EMI webpage to learn more and to access free managerial articles. http://expeng.com/lou-carbone.htm