If you had to name one thing that you think has the biggest impact on customer loyalty, what would it be? Price? Convenience? Quality of service? Range of products? Brand presence?
They all play an important role, but research shows there’s one overriding driver of loyalty: emotion. How people feel before, during and after an interaction with your brand, good or bad.
Keeping customers happy is one thing, but great brands turn negative emotions into positive ones – or prevent a bad impression from forming in the first place. And while your brand will want to get the most out of positive customer emotions and experiences, you’ll want to also weed out sources of severe negative emotions too – fear, anxiety and apprehension being some of the worst.
The first step in doing so is recognizing there’s a problem. So here are five fears and anxieties that could be damaging your customer experiences. And how great brands like yours can turn them into a positive.
1. Fear of unfair treatment
Ask any brand if it discriminates against customers and you’ll likely hear a resounding ‘no’. Sadly, in reality, this isn’t always the case. For example, three in five retail shoppers say they have experienced discriminatory treatment as a customer, according to a report commissioned by Sephora.
And a Harvard Business Review (HBR) audit of 6,000 hotels in the US found that front-line employees were less responsive and objectively less helpful to people of color.
Writing for HBR, Assistant Professors Alexandra C. Feldberg and Tami Kim noted: “Given the nature of customer service, whether or not your frontline workers are treating customers equally will likely be invisible to casual observation.”
Senior executives and managers may not realize, but customers certainly will (and do!) notice when they’re being stereotyped or treated unfairly. You’ll agree, it simply isn’t good enough.
2. Fear of embarrassment
Some interactions are inherently embarrassing. Talking to a doctor about personal health matters, for instance. Or buying condoms. Even discussing your finances can be uncomfortable if you’re struggling with debt or unfamiliar with complex financial terms. Particularly for people who struggle with financial literacy – which is most of us!
In fact, any interaction can be embarrassing for customers if they think they’ll be judged for their lack of knowledge or bombarded with technical jargon.
Take the example of retail again. When browsing for laptops, you’ll notice the specs list is flooded with HDDs, SSDs, RAM, GPUs and GHz dual-core or quad-core processors. It’s not difficult to see why many customers may be intimidated when faced with this alphabet soup of acronyms and abbreviations.
And if they feel too embarrassed to ask what something means, they may end up talking with their feet rather than their wallets.
3. Social anxiety
For many people, it’s not just embarrassing interactions that create anxiety, it’s most interactions!
Social anxiety disorder (or social phobia) is an overwhelming fear of social situations, and it affects 7% of Americans. Everyday activities like working, shopping, meeting people in person or talking on the phone can all cause distress.
Understandably, people with social phobias often want to avoid situations that might trigger their anxiety, but they’ll still need to ask questions, make complaints or follow up on their orders. How can brands make this easier for them?
Chatbots, virtual assistants and other forms of conversational AI will increasingly provide a quick and convenient alternative to speaking to a real person. So, whether a customer is embarrassed about certain topics or anxious for other reasons, they can still get the important answers they need, when they need them.
4. Fear of crowds
Social anxiety can make people fearful of crowds. Some people also suffer from agoraphobia, which is a fear of places or situations that might make them feel trapped or helpless, making public places (and lots of people) a big no-no.
It’s not just those with anxiety or phobias, though; we’ve all had a good reason to be more cautious around big crowds over the last two years: COVID-19. Studies have shown that many shoppers felt trepidation at the thought of returning to large shopping centers, even once lockdown restrictions had ended.
It’s still too early to say whether reduction in retail footfalls will be permanent, but brands that give their customers a range of options to get in touch are likely to emerge stronger from the pandemic, whatever the outcomes are.
5. Fear of being ‘sold to’
The 1992 film Glengarry Glen Ross perfectly encapsulates the marketing mindset of the ’80s and ’90s – sell, sell, sell. Alec Baldwin’s character, Blake, is sent to ‘motivate’ a team of underperforming real estate salesmen (mostly by demeaning them and swearing a lot).
Blake’s mantra: ABC. “Always. Be. Closing.”
High-pressure sales tactics still exist – if you’ve ever had to jump through hoops to cancel a subscription, you’ll know what we mean – but it’s a practice that’s thankfully dying out. In its place, empathy marketing and more trusting sales relationships are winning customer hearts and minds.
But people still worry about being on the receiving end of a hard sell, which might make them avoid interactions with your brand. And by avoiding interactions, they’re failing to build the emotional connections that make them loyal customers.
Instead of saying “always be closing”, why not try “always building connections“?
How to confront customer fears using digital humans
Fear is a powerful emotion. It triggers your fight, freeze or flight responses and can impair rational thinking and reasoning.
It’s hardly a shock that happy customers are loyal customers; but the opposite is also true. More than three-quarters of consumers will ditch a brand if they have a poor experience with them.
And fear is rarely part of a fulfilling customer experience (unless you run a theme park or bungee jumping center!).
However, digital humans can be designed in ways that address the fears and anxieties that customers may be feeling. And they can be deployed across different parts of the customer journey to address particular mental roadblocks the customer might have – in marketing, in sales, and in customer service.
For example, your digital human will never judge a customer or form biases (either consciously or subconsciously). You can design the experience so that customers aren’t even identifiable, allowing them to learn information and ask questions with the comfort of anonymity.
You can build more inclusive experiences by designing digital human employees that truly represent the diversity of your customers. After all, it’s human nature for people to connect with those who they can relate to.
Digital humans can also be designed to fit across multiple channels – online, mobile or in-store at kiosks, for instance – meaning customers can interact on their own terms, at any time of day, from anywhere. No crowds, no queues, no stress. They can be contactless interfaces, too, able to interact using voice alone.
Lastly, people tend not to worry about being outsmarted by a conversational AI. A digital human employee doesn’t really have the capacity to “hard sell” like a predatory salesperson might. The best digital human implementations are those designed to build trust through great personable service. It’s about placing interactions above just transactions.
Digital humans aren’t the cure to all customer fears, but by their nature and design they can help make your brand a more comfortable place for many customers. To once more iterate (or butcher) on the famous Glengarry Glen Ross mantra: it’s about ABC. Always building connections.