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The Art and Science of Meaningful Customer Experience

Jennifer Clinehens

minute read

“People spend money where and when they feel good.” — Walt Disney

Whether you’re designing a single touchpoint or trying to shape an entire customer journey, you want to create experiences that are seamless, functional, and inspire action. But there’s something else, an “X factor,” that the best customer experiences share. What is it? Meaning, driven by emotion.

According to the Havas Meaningful Brands study, people wouldn’t care if 77% of brands disappeared tomorrow. There’s clearly a disconnect between the utility of an experience and the meaning of an experience for many customers. It’s important that your experience is functional. However, if your brand solves peoples’ problems but doesn’t bond with them emotionally, customers won’t care if you disappear. So how do brands go beyond the basics to create experiences that are not only effective but meaningful for customers?

What is a Meaningful Experience?

The job of customer experience is to deliver on the promises your business makes to customers. But meaningful experiences go beyond the mechanics of delivering the promise — they deliver an emotional experience as well. Meaningful experiences are a balance of efficiency, effectiveness, creativity, trust, and emotion. That’s where the magic of CX lies — it’s that combination of art and science that goes beyond the obvious and creates meaning from utility.

How We Can Use Behavioral Science to Drive Emotion and Meaning

“What people say, what people do, and what they say they do are entirely different things.” — Margaret Mead

Behavioral science aims to get under the skin of why people behave the way they do. Part of that is understanding humans’ cognitive biases and the heuristics they use to make decisions, and part of that is understanding what motivates and influences people.

Although many behavioral science principles can help you craft meaningful customer experiences, there are a few that are critical to delivering the emotions. They include the Peak-End Rule, the Endowment Effect, and the Self-Reference Effect.

1. The Peak-End Rule

Peak-end is the “golden rule” of applying behavioral science to customer journeys and experiences. It states that people judge an experience based on how they felt at its peak and its end, not the average of every moment of the experience. And that’s true whether the experience was good or bad.

People judge an experience based on how they felt at its peak and its end, not the average of every moment of the experience.

The Peak-End Rule is great news for brands who want to create meaningful experiences because they don’t have to waste time perfecting moments that aren’t as emotionally powerful as the peaks and ends.

2. The Endowment Effect

The Endowment Effect states that people place a higher value on items they own or intend to buy. Ownership, or intent to own, creates emotional bonds that people don’t want to break.

“Ownership” creates emotional bonds that people don’t want to break

When a customer puts something in their cart, they begin to dream about their future with that item. Fantasising about how it will look in their living room, and how much guests will admire it. Once customers create “pre-memories,” they start to become emotionally bonded to the item.

3. The Self-Reference Effect

The Self-Reference Effect states that people remember information more easily when it’s relevant to them. Our brains encode personalised information differently, resulting in enhanced recall, learning, and persuasion.

The Self-Reference Effect states that people remember information more easily when it’s relevant to them.

Several studies have found that customers are more likely to respond to ads when the models look like them. Referencing a customer’s internal picture of themselves is even more powerful, because it begins to evoke emotions.

For example, if a woman thinks of herself as “strong,” she’s more likely to prefer experiences that reference “strength.” If she’s shopping for running gear and notices the female mannequins have obvious muscle tone, she’ll see the brand as more relevant to her, as UFC fighter Tecia Torres did in the tweet below.

Source: Tecia Torres on Twitter

The Bottom Line

Using behavioral science to drive emotion can help create meaningful experiences for customers. But this article only skims the surface of how BeSci principles can help you create an emotional bond with your customers.


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Hello! I'm Jen Clinehens,

Marketing CX Strategist & 

Founder of Choice Hacking. 

I help B2C brands create digital experiences, marketing comms & user research 

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