The X-Interviews | Emotions to Outcomes
Interview #9 - Howard Tiersky on Emotions as the #1 Business Driver
Howard Tiersky on Emotions & Impact
Today on The X-Mentor we are thrilled to have Howard Tiersky, the Wall Street Journal bestselling author of Winning Digital Customers: The Antidote to Irrelevance which was listed by Forbes as “One of the ten most important business books of 2021.” Howard was named by IDG as “One of The Top 10 Digital Transformation Influencers to Follow Today,” and by Enterprise Management 360° as “One of the Top 10 Digital Transformation Influencers That Will Change Your World.”
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As an entrepreneur, Howard has launched two successful companies that help large brands transform to thrive in the digital age: FROM, The Digital Transformation Agency and Innovation Loft. Among his dozens of Fortune 1000 clients are Verizon, NBC, Universal Studios, JPMC, Morgan Stanley, the NBA, Visa, and digital leaders like Facebook, Spotify, and Amazon.
Prior to founding his own companies, Howard spent 18 years with Ernst & Young Consulting which then became part of Capgemini, one of the world’s leading global consulting firms, where he helped launch their digital practice. Howard speaks regularly at major industry conferences and is proud to have been on the faculty of the NYU Tisch School of the Arts. Howard is a frequent contributor to CIO Magazine.
The X-Mentor: Welcome to The X-Mentor, Howard. I’m excited to hear what you’ll be sharing with us today!
Howard: My pleasure, Greg! Thanks for having me.
The #1 Driver of Business Outcomes
The X-Mentor: Let's discuss something we’re both passionate about, and something you have written extensively about in your book, and that’s the business impact of emotions. You’ve said, “emotion is the #1 driver of business outcomes.” What can you share with us today that proves it out as a fact?
Howard: There's various data that supports this idea. For example, 80% of all consumer decisions are made emotionally, that sort of thing. There's a variety of studies, you've probably seen some of these studies, that support this idea of emotional decision making. For me personally, having used these principles as part of the work that I have done for 25 to 30 years, I’ve just seen it work over and over and over and over.
“So, at a certain point it’s like asking, how are you sure there’s gravity?”
So, at a certain point it's like asking, how are you sure there’s gravity?
[Howard holds an ink pen high in front of him. Then he drops it on his desk below. We watch the ink pen as it hits the desk, bouncing briefly, then coming to a stop. Howard looks up and smiles.]
I mean, what more do you want to know?
Some businesses have also studied it, but I live it every day. Every day we see this. All the time. For example, we just rolled out a new portal for a large manufacturing company for all their distributors to use to order things and deal with exchanges and returns and various things. Basically, the main way in which their customers, which are their distributors, order their products to be put in inventory. And the pre-existing system, people hate it. We studied it. We observed how people used it. It was extremely annoying, frustrating, and gave inaccurate data. You know, there were a variety of problems. And we could see the emotional reactions that people had to different things. When we studied and understood that experience, we used that thinking in terms of prioritizing the new version, what capabilities are most important, and we very heavily prioritize those capabilities based on people’s emotional reactions.
If people think some capability is a “Good idea.” That's one thing. But if people think, “Oh my God. That would be amazing and would change my life.” Well, obviously a different kind of emotional reaction. And similarly in terms of fixing the problems that people have, if someone thinks, “you know, yeah, that's not the best.” That's one thing. However, if someone thinks, “It drives me crazy.” Well again, that's a stronger emotion. So, we're very attentive to that.
The nonverbal communication we capture in upfront research is often five times more important than what people say.
So, we're making sure to use those insights to prioritize our work in this portal project. Since the portal rolled out three weeks ago, it's an instant change. You can see it in the data. You can see it in the feedback that we get from the people who are using it, they love it. You can see it in the frequency of use. And you can see it in the percentage of orders that are coming in digitally versus calling. And there's certain things that they're supposed to update. For example, they're supposed to update their inventory levels and a lot of them historically don't because it's a pain. Now, with this new experience, compliance with some of the inventory updating data is way, way up.
So, you can see all these changes. Why? Because we gave them a system that is easier to use, and which gives them positive feelings when they use it and avoids negative emotional experiences.
Essentially there's just two things that we always think about when we are designing a digital interface:
Give me something that's easy and it makes me powerful. Something that lets me do what I need to do quickly and actually get it done. Not that I have to call afterwards to get things done. Give me an experience where I can just go in and really quick, tap-tap, boom! I've updated my inventory. I've ordered the parts I need. And I get on with my day. You do that and its addictive.
Emotions and Customer Value
The X-Mentor: Satisfying the needs of customers more completely and quickly. Do more of that, they’ll love it.
Howard, you’ve written about aligning experiences to customer value. On The X-Mentor, we’ve talked about the different types and levels of value creation.
Could you share your thoughts about how an emotional response connects to customer value?
Howard: Well, emotion is the end value. In other words, is it valuable to get a new sofa? Well, it's only valuable if it improves your life in some way, right? It's certainly conceivable. For example, I see a lot of people who have living rooms that no one sits in. You know people who have living rooms like that? They have a den, they have a living room, really.
The X-Mentor: Nice couch, but so nice you’re not allowed to sit on it. Or there’s so many pillows, there’s no room to sit.
Howard: And then there's a couch. And not only can you not sit on it, but it's covered with drapes, you know? So, let's imagine that someone has a living room like that, and they've got a sofa and it's covered in fabric. And let's suppose someone says, well, I'm going to get a new sofa. And it's much better. It's got steel reinforced, whatever. It's got the newest cushions, the coils. Whatever. Right. Theoretically, much more valuable. And they bring the new sofa in. They take out the old sofa. They take the same cover that was on the old sofa. Then they put it on the new sofa. Now you've got a new sofa. In theory, it's a much better sofa. But, almost no one ever sits on it. They can't even see it.
Have you created any value for that person? I'm going to suggest, no, you haven’t.
The value only comes from the experience.
If you sit on that sofa and you feel how wonderful it feels. Or you look at that sofa and you see how much it makes your living room look better. Or your friends come and look at that sofa and they're so impressed by that sofa, right. Those are all possible ways you can create value.
But what is that value? When do you sit on that different sofa? That more expensive, better sofa? Is it not how you feel? Is that not the difference? And when you look at it, you see how beautiful it is. It's not the abstract aesthetic beauty of it that complies with some Aristotelian idea of beauty. It's the fact that you look at it and it makes you feel good. Or similarly, if your friend is impressed by it, you feel good because of how your friend reacts. So, you could take almost any purchase and say, well, what is the value? What is really the end value that the person's going to get?
There are only two things that people do in this world:
They try to feel good.
And yes, if you don't have food to eat, water, or drink, or air to breathe, or if you're in a situation where you don't have proper shelter, or are endangered by wild animals, or whatever, then clearly Maslow's pyramid, right, that's going to be your focus. Of course, most people in that situation are in a very negative emotional state. So, in the end if you can solve that problem and get them out of that survival anxiety, then you are of course giving them an emotional result. You're saving them from being in panic, or horribly starved, or horribly thirsty. Obviously, these are terrible emotional experiences.
But most of us don't live in that world. So, when you look beyond that higher level of the pyramid, what are we really trying to do? We're really just trying to feel good. I don’t mean that in a Bacchanalian kind of way. But someone will feel good by participating in their church. We can feel good through our relationships with our children. We can feel good through leisure activities. Going on vacation. Sitting on a comfortable sofa. In the end, what else is there in life but making sure we survive and the things that make us feel good? That’s why we buy anything.
“In the end, what else is there in life but making sure we survive and the things that make us feel good? That’s why we buy anything.”
If we buy something, it's either to help us survive and therefore avoid the negative feelings of being in survival anxiety. Or to help us feel better. And I would suggest to you, it's difficult to come up with any product or service that someone buys where the ultimate reason they're making that purchase is not for some form of those two things: Survive and Feel Better.
Why do I have the landscaper cut my grass? Well, I don't want the neighbors to be angry. It all comes down to a feeling. I don't want the feeling of feeling guilty that I made my neighborhood look ugly. I don't want to look out at my lawn and feel ashamed. That's why I pay someone to cut my grass.
It's very difficult to come up with an example of anything people spend money on that doesn't ultimately come down to those things. Survive and Feel Better.
That's why I say, feelings are what drive what we choose to do.
Emotional Inference & AI Analysis
The X-Mentor: In your book, you talked about something you referred to as “Emotional Inference.” These are signals from body language, voice intonations, facial expressions, etc. That's becoming even more prominent today with attempts to capture customer sentiment with AI.
What are your thoughts about the ways, and risks, in which we capture emotional signals?
Howard: Well, there's several tools that are used to evaluate emotions. I would start by saying, Human Beings in general, are very good at evaluating emotion. There have been many psychological tests that show this. It's a survival benefit for you to be able to read the person that you’re dealing with.
For example, can you trust them? Can you not trust them? Are they about to kill me? From a genetic DNA perspective and through evolution, human beings are very good at reading other people's emotions.
I think when you hire researchers to do Primary research work, you naturally want to make sure that you are getting some data and insights about emotions. But this ability to read emotions, like all human abilities, is variable in people. And of course, we know there are people, for example, who are autistic. One of their key disabilities is that they are not able to read the emotions of somebody else as well as others can. And similarly, there are people at the top end of the spectrum who are especially empathic and especially good at reading emotions. So, to do the kind of work that we do, you don't necessarily have to be an emotional genius. But one of the things we screen for when we’re looking for people to do this type of research work, are people on the upper end, shall we say above average, but not necessarily be in the top quartile, of making sure that they have that skill of being able to read emotions from other people. Most people, but not all, are able to do reasonably well.
Of course, we're entering a whole new world with AI (artificial intelligence) and sentiment analysis.
The X-Mentor: Yeah, yeah. We’re not all the way there yet. However, we soon will be much closer to AI being a more useful tool for Emotion related work. Sentiment analysis is not the same as true emotion detection. As a Researcher, I see sentiment analysis as more of a proxy signal, aligned more with Attitudinal research.
Howard: AI technology is very interesting. We don't use it a lot in our work now except in fairly crude ways.
Here's an example of something we do. If we're evaluating an existing app, let's say, and we're trying to think about how to make this something that customers will love more, we will ingest all the reviews from the Apple App Store and from the Google Play Store into a sentiment analysis tool. You know, there might be 10,000 reviews and it will analyze them for us and tell us the emotional nature of each post or the aggregate emotional reactions and which keywords are tied to which emotions.
So, for example, we might get a report that says, people who are angry often use terms like, “Lost Data,” or “Password doesn't work.” Right. Then without having to read 10,000 people's reviews, you can start to see what’s going on with this app. Why are all these people saying the password doesn't work? There's some problem. Right. We're able to see that these things are creating negative emotions. Sometimes it's something that's not working right. Sometimes it's the absence of a feature. Why can't I [blank]? I'm using the shopping app. Why can't I check the delivery dates? Customers expect that, right? Right.
So, understanding what's making people unhappy and what's making people happy. We want to make sure we know what’s working well. Can we do even more of what people like? That's one way to create more positive emotions and to do less of the things that are causing negative emotions.
In the future, I anticipate that we will have a tool that we plug into a Video Conferencing solution (e.g., Zoom) that will tell us what the AI sees as the emotional facial reaction of that person.
Of course, this type of research is always better to do in person. One of the things that we've lost recently is we used to do more than 80% of our research in person. Now it's mostly by Zoom because of COVID, but also because of course it's much less expensive. Unfortunately, you don't see all the body language with remote research. You don't always see the posture. You don't always see, like my hands are off screen right now, so you can't see what I’m doing. So that's a loss because the emotion is not only on the face, but also in how we interact and react within an environment. A Researcher must observe people in their environment to be able to get the best read of what’s happening emotionally.
There are four primary places we look for emotion.
Words – language as verbal expression.
Tone of Voice – intonation and intensity.
Facial Expression – micro-expressions.
Body Language – posture and movement.
There are the words. Obviously if someone says I hate you, then that usually implies certain emotion. However, not always because that's why we listen for tone of voice. If someone says, “that was so funny, I hate you. You make me laugh so hard.” Well, OK, that doesn't mean I hate you. Right? So, we need to combine the words with the tone of voice. And then we need to look at the facial expression. And then we need to look at the posture and additional body language like what are the hands doing?
The X-Mentor: The facial expression is interesting as it relates to AI technology, because today's AI cannot reason like we humans can reason. However, in the very near future new AI architectures will indeed be able to reason.
For example, today if AI were to analyze a picture of the exact moment Serena Williams won the US Open, AI would think that she was extremely frustrated, right? Everything about her face and body language tells us she’s furious. But emotionally, she’s quite the opposite. So, the context is something we understand because we humans can reason. AI cannot, not yet at least. Serena’s facial expression, in that context, actually means I'm so happy I am screaming at the top of my voice. Yet, AI trained on Paul Eckman’s facial micro-expressions research would conclude that Serena is extremely outraged.
Howard: I agree. I think that's why we're not relying on these kinds of tools today.
Some years ago, I saw a demonstration of an app where you’re supposed to drag things, like a picture of the Eiffel Tower, and then it would say France. You know, drag a picture of the Colosseum and it would say Rome, right? And essentially, after playing this little game, based on how you moved your mouse, whether it was straight or curved, the speed, the acceleration, they would guess whether you are a man or a woman. And this algorithm that they had was accurate 90% of the time. It was a form of body language that derived “man” or “woman.” Isn't that interesting? What are some of the implications of this capability for things like remote surveys, for example? How much force did they use to click a button? What was the speed with which they swiped to see the next page of the survey? Surveys are such a powerful research technique because you can reach so many more people for less money compared to doing individual research. Of course, historically, the survey doesn't give you as rich information, but it gives you a larger sample.
In the future I imagine we may do surveys through voice. It’s the most logical thing in the world. I would much rather have self-administered surveys with new AI capabilities.
Imagine a world in which the questions are read to you, and you can speak the response.
First, it’s probably easier to get people to take those surveys because it's going to feel like less work. And second, you're going to get so much more information because if the AI can read your tone of voice, we can get that emotional content. And I just think that's going to be super valuable.
One of our concerns about surveys is that some people will lie on surveys depending on what the survey is about. People have motivations to lie, and if AI can detect authenticity, we have the potential to throw out some surveys, for example, or report back the data and say if you look at all the data, here's what it shows. But if we only look at people in the upper half of authenticity, we might get a different result. So, I think these are all just really exciting opportunities to leverage AI emotional analysis to be even better at being able to understand and research these types of things.
The X-Mentor: Traditionally, we’ve always started by asking what’s the Research Question? Some research questions require us to use qualitative methodologies to answer because you cannot answer the question with quantitative methods. There are behavioral and attitudinal research methods as well that are appropriate for those types of research questions.
The mindset has been to use the right methodologies for the research question you’re trying to answer. Now, AI kind of opens it up to more holistic evaluation and contextualizes it all at once. That's kind of it. In other words, AI has the potential to do the things that a mere mortal can’t do. AI puts the whole story together all at once, without having to use mixed methodologies like [human] researchers do today.
Howard: Yeah. The way I think about AI is that it is not as smart as a person. Let me put it this way. If you think about what the human brain does to try to come up with an answer, whether the answer is writing a sonnet or the answer is just, you know, assessing an answer to an idea or a question, or coming up with an idea. The human brain essentially does two things:
It takes input. This is the problem I'm trying to solve. It accesses a treasure trove memory store of experience. Here's what I know.
Then it analyzes. It uses what it knows to come up with an answer.
That’s essentially thinking.
AI is not as good at analyzing as a human brain. It’s not as flexible, it can't leap to the same kind of intuitive conclusions. But AI can access 1,000,000 times greater store of data than a human brain could ever keep in mind. So based on that, sometimes you get superior results and sometimes you get inferior results depending on what you're trying to analyze. That to me, is the primary difference between the human mind and AI. Of course, continued investments in AI are going to mean that the analytical capabilities of AI are going to get better. I was going to say year after year, but at this point it seems like week after week.
The X-Mentor: Yeah, today’s AI architectures do not have the ability to reason or the ability to plan. That said, and as you’ve pointed out, it’s going to change rapidly.
Howard: And I think we can expect that.
The X-Mentor: As they say, AI is the worst it will ever be right now. Currently, research shows something like 100 trillion neural connections in the human brain. Compare that to your average AR-LLMs (e.g., ChatGPT) which the encoder/predictor architecture uses 1 billion to 500 billion parameters, and the training data uses something like 2 trillion tokens to train on. In this sense, AI is much more efficient than the human brain because it can do more with less connections. Conversely, today’s LLMs have no knowledge of our world’s underlying reality (i.e., no common sense). So, we can expect new architectures to solve these problems, and at the same time it will also introduce new problems. Thus, there’s enormous uncertainty about exactly what will happen next with Autonomous AI. For some, it’s cause for concern.
The X-Mentor: I’d like to ask you about “Emotion Impact.”
In your book, you ask this question: How do you make your idea the other person's baby so that you can actually get them to buy into it and move things forward?
This stood out for me, because so much of what we do at work depends on others to get things done.
Howard: Well, yeah. You're absolutely right. To get anything done in a big company, you've got to get other people on board. Even if you're the CEO. If any CEO says, “I keep telling my organization, they need to be more innovative and bring me fresh ideas and I keep getting the same old stuff.” It’s like, geez, you're the CEO, you'd think they would do exactly what you asked them to do. But people don't always do that. The same way when I tell my kids I want you to do your homework. They don't always do it. But I'm the parent. I'm the authority, you know? People aren't like that.
And furthermore, even though kids can be very good at not doing what they're told. Adults are much more skilled. Because they have many more years to develop the skills of not doing what they're told. You must figure out how to get people to want to drive the change. Not to do it because they've been told.
“You must figure out how to get people to want to drive the change.
Not to do it because they've been told.”
The challenge is that when you're trying to drive change, there are good reasons why people might not want it. If you're the guy at the company who runs the call center and you want to move to an AI chat bot, that's going to mean that we don't need half the call centers, then that would maybe mean your empire is shrinking, right? Your number of FTE's is going to be less. You're less important. You're the thing they're trying to get rid of. So naturally, you're going to be saying, OH. Well, you know, human contact is essential, and we can never replace it with technology. And if the CEO says no, I want it in any way, then you'll say, OK, sure, boss. Yes, whatever you say. But then you're going to find ways to sabotage. You're going to find ways. Or at least that's a common reaction. Not everybody behaves this way. Some people, the smarter ones would say, “I'm going to get on the AI team. I'm going to figure out how to be part of this change. This is the future.” But a lot of people don't react that way because what a pain in the posterior to have to completely change your whole profession when you already have a good thing going. For most people, natural human psychology says, “just stick with it. You're making a nice living. You have got all these people reporting to you. You're an important person. You have got a corner office with a nice view. Don't take the risk of trying to say now we're going to blow up the call center and I’m going to be a digital expert.” Because some 25-year-old fresh out of school might come in and know more than you. But you know it's risky. So just the logical thing to do for yourself in that situation is to say, “I'm going to use my authority to try to figure out how to subvert this change. And if I do it in too overt a way, it won't work because I'll just get fired. I can't be too obvious, so I've got to find more subtle ways to subvert this change.”
I wrote an article once on how to sabotage digital transformation. There's a lot of ways and obviously I'm not doing it because I want people to sabotage transformation. But to know that these are the different ways that people are often trying to do it in almost any type of change.
The X-Mentor: Thinking about the emotional impact and getting people on your side. There's the desired state, sometimes called the “To Be” state. You call them “Emotional Targets.” And thinking about that desired future state, whether it be, as you're saying, someone in the support call center or maybe it's someone trying to gain support for electric vehicles and convince people in the oil industry or the auto industry to change their business model to clean energy.
What are some examples of emotional targets?
How do you go about setting those targets?
Howard: Well, we talked earlier about the importance of emotion in experience. You know, experiences create emotions, right? Go to a scary movie. You feel scared, right? Experience creates emotion and emotions create behaviors, right? You go to a scary movie, you feel scared. You grab your mother's hand, and you hold it tight, right. That's a behavior from an emotion. Similarly, you feel down on yourself today. So, you go to have an experience, you go buy something. Experiences drive emotions, which drives behavior.
“Experiences drive emotions, which drives behavior.”
When we think about creating anything, whether it's a website, or a communications plan to get people on board, or planning a workshop to get people on board with an initiative, one of the things we always want to think about is, how do we want people to feel? Not just what’s on the agenda. This is what most people do, “We want to tell them this.” Now the question is, is that the right stuff to tell them? And the answer is, “well, I don't know.” What results are you looking for? How do you want them to feel?
First, we want to think about how people are already feeling. Whenever we think about a target of where you want people to go, you want to start by thinking, “well, where are people now?” And maybe if you don't know, you need to do a little work to find out, do some research.
For example, your employees are feeling nervous about the fact that you are thinking about changing the call center. Maybe the head of the call center is feeling angry because he feels like you're undermining him by pulling all his people together and telling them the future vision.
Map that out, this is what they feel. If we just give them the information straight, what would be the kind of negative case? If this doesn't go well, how might people feel? They might feel threatened. They might feel fearful for their jobs, et cetera, et cetera. So, obviously you must look at this depending on the circumstances. So, you need to think that through. Because part of your goal is creating certain positive feelings. And part of your goal is avoiding certain negative feelings that people might naturally have when you're trying to articulate a plan for change.
Then go back and say, “OK, so. You know, what do we want to tell these people?” It may just be communication. But it may also be the policy.
For example, if you say to people, “We are guaranteeing that for the next two years we will not lay off anyone in the call center.” That's not just communication, that's a decision that you're communicating, something you're committing to by way of policy. Maybe you can't commit to that policy. So, maybe instead you can commit to something like, “We are going to offer to anyone who wants a course in AI training at the local university and we will pay for that training and give you one day off a week to do your homework.” Companies must decide. But obviously, there's two ways to allay people here.
The Most Powerful Emotion
There's one emotion that's more powerful than any other emotion. What would you say is the most powerful emotion, Greg?
The X-Mentor: Well, according to your writings, I would say fear.
Howard: Oh, you've already read my book.
The X-Mentor: I came prepared, Howard.
Howard: Fear, absolutely. And rightly so. Because, I think of many things, maybe not everything, but a lot of things in terms of evolutionary psychology. And if you read my stuff, you know, I often talk about evolutionary psychology. What is the survival benefit? Why do we even have emotions? I mean, we started as little amoebas in the ocean. And I don't know for sure, I'm guessing that those little amoebas don't really have very sophisticated emotions. You know, those little single celled organisms. Somewhere along the line as we evolved, there was a survival benefit to people having emotions. What was the survival benefit? Why do we have emotions? And I think the answer is:
We have two layers of thinking in our brain.
Layer 1 - Conscious thinking.
Layer 2 - Subconscious thinking.
Our conscious thinking is when we intentionally go OK what's 6 plus 3? It's nine, right. And I'm sort of directing my brain and I'm doing something. But while we're doing that, our subconscious is constantly thinking about all these things about what we did yesterday and what someone just told you and what's the weather going to be? And a lot of what it's doing is looking for threats and looking for possible things that could harm you. And the subconscious is, I don't know the exact numbers, but let's say 10,000 times more powerful than the conscious mind because in the conscious mind, you can only think of one thing at a time.
They say, the human mind can't really multitask, right? It can just switch rapidly. I think that's not true. I think that that refers to the conscious mind. The conscious mind must think of one thing at a time. I can't be simultaneously proofreading my daughter's essay and be on a conference call, listening to what people are saying and be doing my tasks right. Impossible. I can do one thing at a time. But my subconscious mind can do thousands of things at a time. It keeps my heart beating. It's making sure I breathe at the right times. It's listening to see if there's a sound of a missile coming to kill me or a tiger coming to eat me or whatever else. It's doing a lot of things. At the same time. So, the subconscious mind is so much more powerful.
If you accept that idea, then when the subconscious mind draws a conclusion. E.g., “This is awesome” or “you are about to be killed and you need to run right now.” The subconscious mind doesn't take time to explain to the conscious mind how it came to that conclusion because it is so much smarter than the conscious mind. Instead of saying to the conscious mind, “well, we heard this, we saw this. And let me explain it all to you.” The subconscious mind can push an emotional button that makes you feel a certain way. The subconscious mind bypasses the conscious mind entirely because it's more efficient.
“The subconscious mind can push an emotional button that makes you feel a certain way.”
And the reason fear is the most powerful emotion is because fear is probably the number one reason that emotions evolved from an evolutionary perspective. Because of course it's for survival. In a pre-civilization society where humans evolved over millions of years, the biggest, most important thing was to recognize risks. And then either flight or fight.
When we talk about change and we're talking about people's livelihoods and we're talking about people's careers, that fear is a natural likely target that they will go to on their own. Unless we're able to figure out how to navigate them someplace different.
There are two ways you can navigate people to a different place:
The way you frame things, by encouraging people to think in a certain way.
Through what you do, by removing risks.
If you tell your employees, “Anyone who's laid off will get a $500,000 severance package.” Well, you change a lot of people's emotional state as soon as you say that because you've removed a risk. So that's the strategizing that must go into it.
And then the last thing, Greg, I think you mentioned something about “reactance” earlier, which is when people feel something is being done to them, it's especially scary. They have no control. If people are choosing to do something. It may be scary, but they feel very different. But they have a lot more control. There's a big difference between deciding to go up in an airplane with intent to go skydiving with a parachute. And having somebody grab you and throw you off an airplane involuntarily, right? Your emotional reactions to those two things are going to be very, very different.
And that's very often the problem with corporate change. It's more like someone grabbed you and threw you off the airplane.
So, the question is, even if it's a little scary, how can we get people to see this more as the skydiving scenario? And I think it's by involvement, it's by giving people a voice. It's by including them in the change, helping them plan the change, giving them the feeling that they have some control over this change.
I learned something from my son. If I tell my son, “I want you to go clean your room right now,” I get a very bad reaction. Or even when I say, “it's time to go. It's time to leave for Sunday school. We need to leave right now.” He's always like, “I'm not ready. Why are you rushing me?” You know he doesn't like that – he's 10 years old. But if I say Joe, “we need to leave for Sunday school sometime in the next 10 minutes. Tell me when you're ready.” That works very well. And then maybe 3 minutes later or 5 minutes later, he's going to say, “OK, I'm ready” Then we leave for Sunday school. Maybe not every kid is like that, but you know, I’m giving him a little more control over the situation. Not ultimate control. He doesn't get to decide not to go to Sunday school, but I'm giving him something.
So, the process of involving people, doing workshops and things like that which get people involved. It's powerful because it makes people have that feeling like, OK, I'm at least a part of steering this ship. I'm not just a victim of it.
Connecting To Outcomes
The X-Mentor: Let’s talk about some of the things that you have done to connect emotions to business outcomes.
How do we get from what we've learned about emotions in this discussion thus far to translating that understanding into the business outcomes that the business is looking to achieve?
Howard: Yeah, absolutely.
I described this in the book in detail, but essentially, I always think of the Newton balls. You know, we pull a ball back and the ball hits the other balls, and the balls move in a swinging back and forth motion.
The end result is a business outcome.
You know, more customers, bigger shopping cart size, longer retention, lower churn, more self-service, right. These are the common themes and resulting in more revenue, less cost, more profit, ultimately driving higher share price. That is obviously going to be different for different types of companies, but something along those lines is usually the business outcome and everyone's like, yeah, give us those things. That’s what's going to drive the business.
So, we work backward.
We say, what is it that we really want? Well, we want behaviors. Let’s get really clear. We've got different constituents, maybe customers, suppliers, distributors, employees, and we want specific behaviors.
“If we get the behaviors we want, we get the business outcome.”
If one of the behaviors is people buy. They're less price sensitive. They don't call the call center. These are all behaviors. So, most business outcomes can be mapped to behaviors.
So, then we say, OK, but that's not emotions. That's behaviors. So, what is it that causes behaviors?
Well, as we talked about earlier, it's emotions. Most people engage in a behavior, like buying something, to address some kind of emotion.
So, if the emotion drives the behavior. Then our job, whether you're a marketer, or you're in customer experience, or you're designing products, is to ask, well, what causes emotions? And that's experience, you have an experience. It gives you an emotion which drives the behavior.
Then once we understand, there's that chain, there's those “Newton balls.” Now we want to steer. We don't just want to say, oh, we know how things work. But how do we get more of an outcome? Well, we must figure out which behaviors we want. And then through research, what are the emotions that drive those behaviors?
For example, we did a project with a large energy company that wanted people to sign up with their theoretically less expensive rates for electricity compared to their competitive local utility. And so, we did research and we learned that some people were afraid. Again, the most powerful motivation. Afraid of what? People were afraid that if they signed up for this new program that if there was a power outage, they feared their power might not be restored as quickly because the company wouldn't care as much about them because they weren't paying as much for the electricity. We learned that a lot of people were worried about this and therefore they felt it wasn't a good trade off because even if they saved a little money, they wouldn't get their power restored in the case of an outage. But that is not how the electricity industry works. And not to get into distribution versus the billing, but that would just never happen. That's you know, that's not how utility companies work.
Another thing they were concerned about is they said, “You know, I'm worried.” Another powerful emotion. That I'll have to stay home from work for a day if I switch because someone's going to have to come to my house and change the electrical wires. That’s because their prior experience when switching from cable to DIRECTV, someone had to come to the house and switch it around. They were thinking, “I'll probably be waiting for a three-hour window, then they'll be late, and it'll be a whole day hassle. And it's not worth it for the savings.” Again. That's not how it works when you switch to competitive electricity. They just change something in a computer. Nobody comes to your house. By the way, there wasn't anything on their website that said anything about either of those things because it never even occurred to the [New Electric company] that anyone would worry about those things, because those things don't happen, right? Why would you think to talk about something that would never happen, right? It's like, yeah, listen to my podcast. It won't give you coronavirus. Well, why would anyone think that my podcast would give you coronavirus, right?
The X-Mentor: The company knows how it works. But the company is not the customer. Classic!
Howard: You must find out what are the things that people are feeling and worried about? And now suddenly, we have something on the website that says, “This is all done automatically. No one comes to your house, and you know this will have no impact on restoration. We give our guarantee. We'll have no impact on the speed of restoration.” That's just two lines of copy. But it's part of the experience and obviously it's easy to add those messages. But until you know how people are feeling, you don't know what messages to add.
So, that's the process. We had emotions that were not yielding the behavior we wanted because of worry and fear. We figured out what those emotions were, so we created an experience, a little experiential change, just a couple lines of copy, that negated those emotions. People love to save money, so they already had positive emotions around the possibility of saving money. But they had worry and fear that we're keeping them from the behavior. So, we removed the worry and fear. We left the positive feelings because they love the savings already. We didn't have to fix that. Now we just had the positive. We didn't have the worry. We didn't have the fear. Now we have the behavior that led to the results.
So that seems like a simple case study of how you apply this framework to getting better business outcomes by improving emotions. Does that make sense?
The X-Mentor: It does. Thank you so much for your time today, Howard. As expected, you've been fabulous. I really appreciate it and I’m sure our readers will too. So, thank you for your contribution to The X-Mentor!
Howard: My pleasure. Enjoyed talking with you, Greg. Thanks so much for having me!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR(S)
Howard Tiersky is the author of the Wall Street Journal Bestseller WINNING DIGITAL CUSTOMERS - THE ANTIDOTE TO IRRELEVANCE.
Greg Parrott is The X-Mentor and publisher of The X-Interviews.
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