When Customers Have Negative Emotions…

Most customers decide what to buy and where to buy based off recommendations from others whether from social media, a friend, relative, television commercial, etc. However, emotions play a significant role as well. What many companies aren’t always prepared for are negative or “high” emotions, as Leonard L. Berry, Scott W. Davis and Jody Wilmet explain in their article When the Customer Is Stressed, found in the Harvard Business Review. They point out that one major challenge for companies, especially high-emotion services is anticipating and planning in the case of negative emotions when designing their offers. Prevalent for high-emotion services are intense feelings due to:

  • Lack of familiarity of the experience or service
  • Lack of control over the performance of the service
  • The consequences of divorce, finance, child custody, etc.
  • Being involved in long processes

These and many others can present themselves a challenge for many companies, especially service providers if they are not able to anticipate or be able to alleviate them.

The Solution

In order to satisfy anxious customers, according to Berry, Davis and Wilmet, providing a positive influence to help shape their expectations and perceptions of quality and value and improve their satisfaction can be accomplished by the following four guidelines:

  • Identify Emotional Triggers: In pinpointing areas of service that are most likely to provide stress or negative emotions, the service provider should be able to create a strategy to help reduce those emotions.
  • Respond Early to Intense Emotions: Attending customers’ needs in a timely fashion helps moderate their emotional intensity. Also helpful is preparing customers for what is next because not knowing what lies ahead is a source of anxiety. It is also important to look out for emotional spikes which call allow the company to best serve the customer. Companies should also communicate with care because certain factors, body language and choice of words can impact customers who are anxious and want to be reassured that they have a good service provider.
  • Enhance Customers’ Control: To give them a greater sense of peace, a company must provide a direct contact to the customer because knowing that assistance is available and where to obtain it quickly resolves anxiety.

An important approach to enhance customer’s control is to empower them with mobile technology, which can also help with anxiety by providing them with real-time and personalized information and assistance. It shouldn’t be a replacement for phone conversations with customers, rather it should be a complement.

  • Hire the Right People and Prepare Them for the Role: Especially for high-emotion services, it is important to hire people that are able to deal with stress, communicate properly with customers, can engage in difficult conversations and can strengthen people’s confidence. Employees should be taught about the customers, the strategy and culture. Individual service providers should also know where they fit in the organization and the importance of their work. Peers learning from peers is powerful because it has credibility and facilitates teamwork and accelerates learning.


Today’s customers have a lot of choices and buying options, and being able to analyze and identify what factors trigger intense negative emotions towards our products and services is a must responsibility for the marketing team.

  • What can we do to make first impressions of our service exceptional?
  • How can we train employees to be more empathetic to our customers?

If we want our product to be industry leaders, we have to set high service standards in order to constantly create positive emotions in our customers.