How Companies Systematically Fail to Weigh Emotional Anchors

Last October 22 was a rough day.

My car broke down in a hotel parking lot while I was heading out to see a client. I had to cab it there, barely making it on time.

I got a call from my Mom while riding in a cab on the way back to the hotel. She told me my Dad had been taken by ambulance to the hospital with chest pain.

My car needed to be towed. I had to trust the internet to find a nearby mechanic with good online reviews. I coordinated this while getting updates about my Dad from my Mom.

The mechanic seemed trustworthy, but it took them a few hours to diagnose the problem. Fortunately, my Dad was stable and feeling okay. 

My car’s diagnosis came in. The clutch slave and master cylinder both needed to be replaced. This is a major repair that requires the mechanic to remove the entire transmission. It’s also an astonishing problem for a car like mine with only 37,000 miles on it.

The mechanic told me the car would be ready the following afternoon. The nice-ish hotel where I was staying was sold out, so I ended up in a dingy motel down the street. 

I spent the night feeling stuck and worried about my Dad.

My car was repaired by mid-afternoon the next day. My Dad was feeling okay, but he was still in the hospital. I made the three hour drive to visit him, worrying throughout the entire drive that my car would break down again.

 Companies frequently fail to consider their customers' emotional needs.

Companies frequently fail to consider their customers' emotional needs.

 

The Cold No

I really liked my car before this incident. I had owned it for four years and couldn’t imagine owning another one.

Now, it's hard to drive it without thinking about the huge hassle it caused me. I went from loving the car to feeling like I’d never buy another one from this brand again.

My local dealer wasn't any help. I had bought the car there and take it in for regular service. I contacted them for help. The service advisor flatly told me there was nothing they could do. She delivered the message without the slightest bit of empathy.

I called the manufacturer’s consumer affairs hotline to see if they'd be willing to do something. Anything would do, even a goodwill gesture of some kind. After a bit of back and forth a case manager told me there was nothing they would do.

Just like the dealer, the message was delivered with zero empathy.

 

Emphasizing The Wrong Needs

Customers have two needs: rational and emotional. 

It’s the emotional needs that are often overlooked. Everything is geared towards addressing the rational issue.

Rationally, the dealer was right.

They’re compensated for repairs by the customer or, in the case of warranty issues, by the manufacturer. My repair didn’t fit either circumstance, so there wasn’t any money in it for them.

Rationally, the manufacturer was right.

My car was sold with a warranty that guarantees against these types of problems for a certain period of time. Once that time is passed, those problems are no longer the manufacturer’s responsibility. My car’s warranty had expired.

So, I’m being careful not to call out the brand by name. By the same token, the complete lack of empathy feels cold.

I wasn't expecting to be completely reimbursed for the repair. But nothing? Not even a goodwill gesture? Ouch.

I understand that how I feel about the situation is a mix of both rational and emotional needs. Trust me, emotional needs are far more important than rational ones.

 

It’s the System

What companies should understand is their systems create these emotional disconnects.

  • Companies teach employees to fix problems, not assuage feelings.
  • Companies think in terms of dollars, not goodwill.
  • Companies focus on transactional value, not lifetime value.

Perhaps I should have been more clear. I could have told the dealer and the manufacturer, "I had a terrible experience, and I'd like you to help me feel better about my car."

The problem is customers don't think like that.

They speak in rational terms too. Sometimes, it's hard to understand what you're really feeling in the moment. It seems weird to tell a customer service rep that what you really want is to be emotionally validated. 

Very few employees are trained to decode what customers are really saying. 

I tried to make it clear to the dealer and the manufacturer that I wouldn't buy their brand of car again. They'd both lost my business. I doubt this is tracked.

Most businesses don't have a good system for this. Most employees aren't taught to carefully listen for this information. Very few pass along complaints.

 

Epilogue

Today, my Dad’s feeling great and is in good health. That's what's most important.

My car is driving fine. I think. Something doesn't feel quite right, but I'm not sure whether it's real or imagined. Emotions have a funny way of playing tricks on you like that.