Emotionally Intelligent Retention: How to Love Your Customers at Scale

It might sound a bit touchy-feely, but maintaining love in your customer relationships is crucial for retention. Alas, loving your customers without emotional intelligence is doomed to fail. Not only because it doesn’t consider the customer’s needs, but because it doesn’t even consider your own

Aaron Orendorff
May 18 2017

An E.I. retention strategy is the best way through your customer’s heart. Love isn’t for the faint of heart. Falling in love is easy. Staying in love, however, is anything but. Broken promises. Unintended slights. Awkward moments wondering, “What’d they mean by that?” And, of course, cold silence. Love’s challenges are numerous, not just personally, but professionally as well.

While it might sound a bit touchy-feely, maintaining love in your customer relationships is crucial for retention.

Why? Because love is the central ingredient that transforms visitors into customers, customers into repeat buyers, and repeat buyers into raving fans. So, the question is: how do you love your customers? Two words: emotional intelligence.

What is Emotional Intelligence?

The Institute for Health and Human Potential (IHHP) defines emotion quotient (EQ) — known more popularly as emotional intelligence (EI) — as the ability to (1) “recognize, understand and manage our own emotions” as well as (2) “recognize, understand and influence the emotions of others.”

In Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ, Dr. Daniel Goleman breaks the concept down into five domains:

1. Knowing one’s emotions
2. Managing emotions
3. Motivating oneself
4. Recognizing emotions in others
5. Handling relationships

Put more succinctly; emotional intelligence is the cultivated ability to recognize our feelings, extend that recognition to others, and then utilize those feelings appropriately. Three words are vital in that definition.

First, “cultivated.” While some people are born with more emotional savvy than others, the literature on EI makes it clear that we can develop and grow as an emotional thinker. Second, “extend.” EI starts within us, but empathy extends it to others. And third, “utilize.” Far from manipulation, those skilled at EI can not only read others but deploy emotional language and physical cue to move both individuals as well as entire groups toward common goals.

Inter-personally, the connection between EI and loving relationships is evident.

But what does any of this have to do with retention? Especially customer retention online where so many of the tools that drive EI — eye contact, body language, tone of voice, etc. — are absent.

The answer doesn’t so much lie in becoming an emotionally intelligent person, although that’s part of it. Rather, it lies in becoming an emotionally intelligent business.

How Can You Become an Emotionally Intelligent Business?

According to the IHHP, there are two parts to EI: awareness and empathy. To be an emotionally intelligent business, you need both.

(1) Awareness: “Recognize, understand, and manage our own emotions.”
Businesses are emotional creatures.

We know this at a gut level, but rarely focus on actively developing it beyond motivational slogans, wall-mounted mission statements, and lofty “core values.” However, without strong internal EI, you’ll never be able to exercise EI externally.

In this sense, what awareness really comes down to is honesty: being willing to ask difficult questions and face difficult answers. This could be co-working relations, employee environment, overall culture, open communication (or lack thereof), right down to the quality of the work being produced.

The truth is, your retention efforts will be a direct result of the love expressed within your business. But EI can’t stop there.

(2) Empathy: “Recognize, understand and influence the emotions of others.”

When EI turns outward, the most natural place to go looking for “the emotions of others” isn’t their words … but their actions. Facial expressions, body posture, hand gestures, and eye movement bring the needs, pains, and desires of other people to life.

Of course, digitally, all those emotional clues are off the table. Worse still, retention isn’t about empathizing in one-off relationships. Instead, you’re dealing with hundreds, thousands, or even tens of thousands of customers all of whom are feeling different emotions at different times.

Part of this dilemma can be answered through qualitative research. Things like voice of the customer (VoC) surveys, review mining, and social listening all create feedback loops that lead to powerful insights. But, each of those approaches is word based and what you want are the actions.

Online, empathizing with actions requires monitoring a host of analytics:

• Email open rates
• Clickthroughs
• Time on page
• Bounce rate
• Purchase tendencies
• Behavior flows

The list could go on, but the point is clear. Since you can’t be emotionally intelligent in person, you need software that does it for you. Software’s attuned to your customer’s emotional states as revealed by their actions, aggregates those states, and adapts accordingly at an individual level.

That can feel (pun intended) like a tall order … So before heading in that direction, one more question must be addressed.

Who Does Emotionally Intelligent Retention Benefit?

The short answer is everyone. But, of more interest to you, two recipients stand out.

(1) Your Prospect

your prospect. The focus of EI is predominately about existing relationships. But high EI in your marketing benefits prospects too, namely because they need the solution you offer, they just might not know it yet. How do you bring that need to their attention with emotional resonance?

First, explain with loving diligence the problem they’re encountering. Fear is the most primal human motivator and leaning on it in marketing can be a slippery slope. With love, however, you can relate to your target market, empathize with them, and remind them that they’re not alone in their pain.

Second, you can unearth the hidden problems. These are the costly consequences that your prospect isn’t even aware their predicament is creating. It’s important to bring these costs to the surface so that they fully understand the depth of their need. As long as those hidden problems are real and can be substantiated with objective data, speaking the truth will be understood not as manipulative, but beneficial.

For example, the surface level problem might be disengaging emails that dramatically reduce click through rates. But the hidden, deeper, and more damaging problem is that disengaging emails hurt a company’s image. Even more troubling, disengaging emails lead to a swarm of consequences — as demonstrated by independent research from CEB’s The Challenger Customer — that can actually end existing customer relationships: Customers’ Response to Supplier E-mail and Other Communications

Third, because you understand your prospect’s problem even better than they do, you can offer a solution that meets their intellectual and emotional needs. Data must back the solution, but be driven by stories.

So how does EI benefit your current customers?

(2) Your Customer

Simply put, high EI companies love their customers. Customers who feel loved, stay committed. And committed customers don’t churn.
What’s the secret?

Honestly, there isn’t one … Not really. Instead, the same two ingredients we’ve already covered come right back into play: awareness and empathy. Just as becoming an emotionally intelligent business requires facing hard questions, so does emotionally intelligent retention.

Your relationship may have started off with a bang — especially if you were able to deliver the solution or experience you promised — but all relationships atrophy over time. The downturn may be the result of product flops or less-than-perfect customer service. It may be the result of reaching out too often. It may be the result of not reaching out enough. Could be that you’ve miscalculated the average buying cycle or that your incentives, coupons, and offers aren’t all that enticing. Finally, it may simply be that the shine has worn off.

Whatever the cause, discovering your weaknesses and adapting not only creates a better product, but it also ensures that your customers don’t go elsewhere.

Developing awareness and empathy demands listening to your customers’ likes, dislikes, hates, and mumbled complaints. And, of course, that kind of listening requires both qualitative insight and quantitative data, bringing your customers words and actions together.

Emotionally Intelligent Retention … at Scale

Loving one person is hard enough. Loving thousands on a daily basis and making each one feel heard and cared for? Virtually impossible (pun intended).

Unfortunately, most CRMs aren’t equipped to handle this kind of emotionally intelligent experience. They offer aggregate insight into customer behavior and can be fantastic at one-on-one client management, but — because they rely on preset “journey builders” — scaling to 10s or even 100s of possible journeys is unworkable.

The good news is you don’t need software to become an emotionally intelligent human. And the lessons above are powerful additions to any business’ approach to leadership, marketing, and retention alike.

Loving your customers without emotional intelligence is doomed to fail. Not only because it doesn’t consider the customer’s needs, but because it doesn’t even consider your own.

Love never was easy. But then, love is only powerful because it’s unusual.

Be unusual.

Aaron Orendorff

Previous the Editor in Chief of Shopify Plus, Aaron Orendorff is now the founder of iconiContent, where he’s busy “saving the world from bad content.” He’s also a regular contributor at Mashable, Entrepreneur, Lifehacker, Fast Company, Business Insider, Content Marketing Institute, and more. Connect with him on Twitter or Facebook.

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