“Customers want their choices to align as much with their feelings and senses as with their values and ethics. “The rational approaches taught at most business schools — offer customers more value for money, add features, make service more efficient — are not enough.” – Stefan Thomke, professor at Harvard Business School

The Magic That Makes Customer Experiences Stick” is the title of a research paper that appeared in the Fall 2019 edition of MIT Sloan Management Review. Intrigued by the title and eager to find out what this magic is all about, I started reading the article. And, frankly, the answer to the question didn’t really surprise me: the missing ingredient in today’s customer experience design is… [drum roll] emotion.

In the article the author of the paper, Harvard professor Stefan Thomke, describes how he discovered the power of emotion in consumer experiences in the classroom. When he asked his students for their most memorable experiences as customers, they replied with phrases that reflected emotional impact: made me feel special, showed empathy, really cared, trusted me, surprised us — instead of using with the expected terminology functional value, efficiency and cost-value analysis.

Thomson identifies five ways for companies to infuse customer journeys with emotion:

  • Stimulate the senses, and trigger emotions such as surprise, trust, joy, and even anticipation;
  • Turn disappointment into delight. Be prepared to transform negative experiences into positive ones;
  • Plan to surprise. Thrill your customers again and again through continual innovation and unexpected solutions to problems;
  • Tell compelling stories. Companies that infuse stories into the customer’s brand experience can provoke an emotional response and create sticky memories;
  • Run controlled experiments is all about understanding your audience and making sure to trigger the right emotions during a customer’s journey.

I’m not a business school professor (not counting a few guest lectures I’ve given), but still I have written about the power of pathos or emotional appeal in almost any post I published on this blog. And about how storytelling techniques help marketing and communication professionals to get their audience engaged beyond the rational and make them connect emotionally. Not only consumers, but also business customers.


Zan Zig performing with rabbit and roses, magician poster, 1899
(source: Wikimedia Commons)

In my humble opinion, the magic that makes customer experiences stick and that keeps your audience come back for more has been perfectly articulated by American author and civil rights activist, Maya Angelou, when she said that “people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but they will never forget how you made them feel…”