Product Design: Let’s get Emotional "Product people - Product managers, product designers, UX designers, UX researchers, Business analysts, developers, makers & entrepreneurs December 12 2017 True Product Culture, Product Design, Product Development, Product Focus, product leadership, Product Management Role, Mind the Product Mind the Product Ltd 1582 Product Management 6.328

Product Design: Let’s get Emotional


Having spoken at conferences twice this year on the subject of design and emotion, I was spurred into writing this post by the number of people who gave me positive feedback.

Why is Designing for Emotion so Important?

When we recall past experiences, we are not wired to remember the whole experience with total accuracy. We tend to remember the peak of the experience (whether positive or negative) rather than the end-to-end experience. This is why it’s so important to look at the whole journey and identify the negative experiences that can be turned into positive ones. One great experience can outweigh previous negative ones. It may sound obvious but emotionally-engaged customers are more likely to recommend, more likely to repurchase, and are less price sensitive.

Startups, small and mid-size companies are becoming more technologically sophisticated. Until only a few years ago, large companies had an IT advantage over their smaller rivals – some commentators still give large companies an advantage when it comes to the use of Big Data. But this competitive advantage is small. Hardware, software and mobile technologies have become cheaper and easier to deploy, enabling small and mid-size companies to have access to similar if not better technologies than the big boys. Indeed startups are often launching with or driving the development of new technologies. Ripple, for example, is using blockchain technology to disrupt the global payments market and Babylon Health is using artificial intelligence to drive its consumer health proposition.

A new Type of Consumer

The Digital Age has created a new type of consumer, one who is more informed, more demanding and has a voice. Our need for instant gratification is driven by a seemingly bottomless pit of information on the internet and fuelled by easy access through a multitude of devices. Today’s consumers are quickly becoming dependent on a constant connection with information, entertainment and education, all only a tap away all day, every day.

So where can businesses find new areas of competitive advantage?  That’s where designing for emotion can play a part. I’ve always encouraged my product teams to focus on building products and experiences that are Valuable, Useable and Feasible (ever since I read the book ‘Inspired’ by Marty Cagan). More and more, we also need to build products and experiences that are Enjoyable – focusing on how the thing we have created makes people feel. Emotions are the key driver of customer experience because they are fundamental to who we are and the choices we make. Emotions are what make us different and mark us out as individuals. And we want to be treated as individuals, not as a segment, group or classification.

“If two people buy the same product for the same reason but have no way they could reference each other, they are not part of the same market” Geoffrey Moore, Crossing the Chasm

Social Media and Brand Reputation

Thanks to social media we can all see what happens if we don’t design for emotion. Customers complain and this can be especially damaging to our brand and reputation. Brands such as Tesco, British Airways and McDonalds have all seen their brands tarnished on social media.

Take the example of Hasan Syed, a haircare entrepreneur based in Chicago, who had flown business class with his father to Paris on BA. When BA lost his father’s luggage and failed to respond to his complaint on Twitter, Syed used Twitter’s self-service ad platform to buy and post a promoted tweet, which read: “Don’t fly @British_Airways. Their customer service is horrendous.” This tweet reached over 50,000 Twitter users in the UK and New York.

Historically, businesses have tended to derive most of their value from physical assets like buildings, machinery and people.  Today intangible assets, most notably brand reputation, make up the lion’s share of value for many of the world’s biggest businesses.

We care deeply about what other people say and think. Many of us will use other customer reviews as a key factor when choosing a hotel, movie or book, for example. Customers will leave and go to another brand where they feel they will get a more enjoyable experience. And those that don’t leave are more likely to stay out of lethargy than loyalty. More on loyalty later.

The environment around us is constantly changing. My industry is financial services, and here new legislation such as PSD2 and Open Banking will present customers with even more options about who they bank with, where they invest, what products are available to them and where they go for advice. Competing on a product basis is not a viable option.  Banks must compete experience by experience with a relentless focus on delivering value to customers. This relentless focus on customer experience is something that all businesses should focus on.

There are so many emotional moments in our lives and not all of them are big moments of truth (such as buying a house or getting married). It’s the combination of emotional responses being created every day (worry, suspicion, security, dislike) that influences our feelings of trust and the decisions we make. All of this means we have to change the way we think about solving problems.

“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used to create them”Albert Einstein

So how do we get Emotional?

We need to be more human centred with product design, understanding people on their own terms. This means including the customer in the design process.

The peak-end theory (Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow) has confirmed time and again that the memories people take away from experiences are dominated by two factors: the most emotionally intense moment — the peak — and how the experience ends. We can use Journey Mapping to highlight those parts of the journey that trigger negative emotions and to focus on fine-tuning the moments that matter. Plot how the customer feels during every touchpoint along the journey to identify where these peaks are. Too often research is gathered and decisions are made based on asking the customer what they want or need from a product or experience. We rarely ask or try to understand how they feel.

Examine customers’ expressions and emotions during an experience by observing how they react. This can be done through a variety of observation techniques, especially in the early stages of product development, but technology can also play a part.  Adding voice analytics capabilities to IVRs can identify when calling customers are calm, upset, or stressed, based on tone and pitch. The same technology can be used for (web) chat interfaces. Using this insight we can immediately route customers to the right person to speak to. We can also use this insight to better design our products and experiences. This type of data is gold dust, we just need to mine it and use it effectively.

Turning our attention to ‘the end’, we know that a good or bad ending to an experience can render what went before as irrelevant. We need to design things that work well, especially when things do not go as planned for the customer. We are more sensitive to negative emotions than positive ones so we should design for the unhappy path.

Emotion Does not Equal Delight

It’s also important that as product folk we understand that emotion does not equal delight. Earlier in this post I mentioned loyalty. Return customers and long-term loyalty are created by customers who feel valued, appreciated, and confident. These top the list of loyalty-eliciting emotions — above making people happy (according to the Forrester report “The US Customer Experience Index, 2016.”).

For example, getting customers to engage in digital or mobile banking is top of most banks’ agendas. For some people, the main reason they don’t engage with your digital assets is a lack of confidence.  No matter how feature rich your website or app, they won’t use it. Focus on helping them gain confidence. Tips, tricks and easy-to-access real-time help are ways to increase confidence in the first place. You can also maintain confidence by removing arbitrary steps in a process. When operation or results are predictable, consumers know that what they have now they can expect in the future.

Ensuring customers feel valued is difficult, but there is a simple technique that can be deployed easily, and that is to reinforce positive behaviour so that it becomes habitual. There are numerous opportunities across service-based industries to reinforce positive behaviour using tried and trusted technology. I recently came across a great example of this in healthcare. Sahlgrenska University Hospital in Sweden texts every blood donor immediately after donating to say “thank you”. Nice touch. But what’s really powerful is that they text them again when a patient in need has benefited from their blood donation. Imagine how that would make you feel. Pretty awesome I suspect. And you’ll have a high propensity to donate again.

In Summary

We form emotional connections with products and services we use every day. These connections drive our behaviour and have a direct impact on the decisions we make. In order to create products and experiences that create emotional value, the product community needs to focus on designing products that create positive emotional connections with customers. In particular the way our customers think, learn, solve problems, make decisions, and simply consume information needs to be embedded into our product design. So what are you waiting for? Get Emotional!