Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Design for Positive Emotional Benefits

The post I wrote last month about NineDesirable Emotional States has garnered more attention that I anticipated – and in response, I am getting the question of how an experience designer can leverage this information to improve their customer experience.   The original article explored the emotions, and did not connect the dots.   And so, this follow up:


Tranquility pertains to the status quo: a person feels happy (not merely contented) with their current situation, feeling everything to be acceptable (or even excellent) just as it is.

The most common way in which this emotion is leveraged is to destroy it, to cause a contented person to feel discontented and want something more.  This does not qualify as leveraging positive emotion: it is undermining positive emotion for the sake of restoring it – a sort of Munchausen-by-proxy approach to design, and it is ethically questionable.

Since the emotion pertains to a satisfactory status quo, one which is not motivation to change the way things are, the best way to leverage tranquility is to extend it: to design products for durability (a good will last a long time, or the benefits of a service will be long-lasting).  Where it is not possible to make a good everlasting or a service’s benefits will wane, assurance can be provided that the good will be replaced or the service will be repeated as necessary to maintain the status quo.


Confidence is a sense of power to be successful at doing something in the future.   A person may experience a feeling of confidence in their capabilities, even if they have no plan or reasonable expectation of using those capabilities.

To create confidence, customer experience must communicate the capabilities that the product will provide when it is employed.   Because you have this thing, you will be able to accomplish this goal … when you get around to it.

The desire for confidence is what leads consumers to amass a horde of unused products, so caution must be taken.  To stay on the sunny side of the street, ethically speaking, you must avoid creating or pandering to the desire for power that is highly unlikely to be used in the future.   To sell a product that will never be needed is still a “sale” but eventually leads to discontent when the customer recognizes the opportunity cost: the cost and effort expended for an unnecessary product could have been applied to one that would have created value.


Excitement is the anticipation of a positive outcome in the course of performing a task.   The key difference between confidence and excitement is that excitement pertains to actions that are taking place immediately or in the very near future, and that it is highly unsustainable: excitement fades quickly.

Creating excitement about a product in advance is similar to creating confidence – the chief difference being that the positive outcome does not depend on the capabilities of the customer himself.   It is the difference between promising “you will enjoy a tasty meal” and “you will have the ability to prepare a tasty meal” – the latter is confidence, the former excitement.

To create excitement in the course of action, a customer experience must be designed to provide a sense of positive progress.   The experience provides reassurance that the customer is doing the right thing and that a positive outcome will be achieved if he continues in his course of action.

The evanescence of excitement is worth mentioning, because it is a common mistake to attempt to generate excitement too far in advance of an experience.   The further in the future an event will occur, the less likely a person is to feel excited – and if you generate excitement too far in advance, it will sour and the person will instead feel disappointment that the positive outcome has not happened yet, and begin to doubt it ever will.


Relief is the emotional consequence of achieving a positive outcome in spite of doubt, which may be a proactive accomplishment but is more often merely the avoidance or mitigation of damage from an external threat.

The most obvious example of commercial solutions that deliver relief are medical care to alleviate pain or restore health after illness or injury.   Insurance products work in much the same way for financially damaging events.   It is possible to cause a person distress for the sake of providing relief afterward, but this is highly unethical.

For the sensation of relief to be genuine, the distress must be genuine (relief from psychological distress is also relief, but it can be difficult to assess and the subject may not recognize the value of the solution).  Moreover, the restoration or alleviation must also be genuine – a “fake cure” may sell on hope, but will not re-sell unless it delivers genuine relief.


Satisfaction pertains to philosophical fitness rather than the functional outcome of undertaking an action.  It is a sense of justice, that the outcome was “right” regardless of whether the outcome is positive or negative. Satisfaction can be difficult to deliver because it requires understanding and meeting expectations, and not all customers have the same expectations.

While “customer satisfaction” is a term that is so widely used it has lost its precise meaning, the core quality of satisfaction is simple enough: the customer felt the service provider did what he was supposed to do and what it was “right” for him to do.  It can occur even when the outcome of a service experience was a functional failure: the customer is satisfied that the firm did its best, even though it did not ultimately succeed.

Conversely, satisfaction may not occur when a service experience is successful, but the customer feels that the firm did something wrong or unethical in their process.    This is the reason that the public turns against brands that are involved in scandals, even if their products are perfectly satisfactory in meeting their functional needs.


Amusement is the pleasure that arises from a positive or benign discovery, the self-satisfaction experienced by a person who has “solved” a mystery or untangled a dilemma.   It is an emotion that is short-lived and fades quickly.

Amusement is the emotional benefit of any new product – it is the natural reaction to any non-threatening novelty.   However, the amusement can generally be effected only once: the second time a person solves a puzzle is not as satisfactory as the first.  Once they have experienced it and know what to expect, there is no surprise that causes amusement.

While many products can cause amusement once, few can do it a second time without making significant changes to the product itself.   A person may enjoy a comedy performance once, but the second time the jokes aren’t as funny – the performer must come up with a new routine to re-create amusement.


Gratitude is an emotion felt by one person in regard to another who has rendered them some benefit.  It is an emotional component of any successful brand experience, but is particularly pronounced in personal services in which the customer meets the employee who provides service, or who is responsible for making a good they enjoy.

I cannot conceive of a product whose primary emotional benefit is gratitude, and there likely is not one because gratitude is a reaction to what someone else has done – and there is no action that merits gratitude in and of itself, as it is always attached to the consequences of the action.   So it will always be on the periphery of a brand experience.

While gratitude is generally felt toward individuals, it can also be attached to things through the process of anthropomorphization.   When people state that they “love” a physical good, or that they feel affection toward a company or brand, this is generally gratitude attaching itself to a non-human object or idea.


Admiration is a feeling of affiliation to an individual – though, again, it can be attached to an anthropomorphized object, company, or brand.   An individual has positive emotions toward another person and derives personal happiness in having a social connection to them.

The most common cause of admiration is quality: when a firm provides a product that impresses the customer, the customer admires the product or the firm for its competence.   It is not that the person admires the product, but admires the qualities that the product embodies or suggests about its maker.

Admiration can also be for non-functional reasons.  Quite often, a brand is admired for the conduct of the company that makes it – hence many firms make use of conspicuous charitable giving to align themselves with the moral sentiments of desired market segments, thus creating a “brand halo” that wins admiration regardless of the quality of their products.


Wonder occurs when an experience defies comprehension, but seems to pose no threat.   It is most often described in the context of something quite large, whether physically or conceptually, or something that has a supernatural quality about it that cannot quite be fathomed.

Products that are described by their customers and prospects as “miracles” instill a sense of wonder – however, wonder is short-lived.  When a person comes to understand something, becomes familiar and inured with it, the sense of wonder fades.   It is not an emotion that can be repeated or sustained with much success, and is generally strongest in the first encounter with a brand.


I’ve gone a bit further here in exploring how brand experiences can be aligned with the positive emotional sates – though my sense is that this has been a bit of a meander that has barely scratched the surface.   There are certainly other ways in which these emotions can be leveraged as part of experience design – and much is going to be specific to the product, the customer, and the particulars of their situation.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Degrees of Service Experience

One of the distinguishing characteristics of a firm is the degree of service it provides.  A customer seeks a given benefit from interacting with a firm, and the specific type of benefit he seeks dictates the degree of service he will seek.  Choosing the degree of service is a significant strategic decision that determines the kind of customers a firm serves, the types of competitors it has, and the manner in which it will seek to obtain and retain clientele.

First Degree: Making Things

The first degree of service consists of providing things to the market, and as such it is almost exclusive to the manufacturing of goods rather than the provisioning of services, though entertainment experiences tend to be a “thing” unto themselves with no functional purpose.    Even goods at this degree are rare: because the product is the thing itself rather than any benefit to be derived from employing it for an ulterior purpose, first-degree service in manufacturing is limited to objects d’art: items that are owned as curiosities to be looked upon but never used in any significant manner.

It is entirely possible for an activity to begin as a non-commercial enterprise that eventually finds a greater purpose.  For example, scientists, engineers, and inventors are often fascinated with the task of creating a thing for reasons that have nothing to do with any practical use – and it is when someone else finds an application for their bizarre creations, it becomes a viable commercial product for employment in providing another level of service.

Second Degree: Facilitating Tasks 

The firm that provides the second degree of service concerns itself with a task that its customers are interested in performing, but doesn’t give much attention to why they are performing that task or what they mean to achieve.    Distressingly many firms seem inappropriately focused on the second level of service – providing the fastest, strongest, or best widget that can be used to perform a certain task more efficiently or effectively, but not caring much what that task happens to be.

This is not necessarily a bad thing: material and component manufacturers often pursue some esoteric quality in the things they produce, leaving it to their commercial customers to find applications that include their products as components.   A highly fuel-efficient engine is of no value in itself, but when someone installs it in a vehicle, the benefit of its efficiency translates into something meaningful for a user.

Third Degree: Serving Purposes

The third degree of service begins with the notion of purpose: the customer is attempting to achieve an objective by performing a task, and the firm provides a product, be it good or service, that enables the customer to obtain that objective – more efficiently, more effectively, or at all.  

Very often, the customer may have no sense of what tasks he must perform in order to achieve his objective until he encounters the product.  The firm may educate him in the use of their products, or the product itself may be so intuitive that the customer is able to recognize the purpose it serves without explicit instruction.

Fourth Degree: Fulfilling Needs

When a firm seeks to fulfill customer needs, it tends to depart from manufacturing goods and focus on providing services.   The customer in this instance is not aware of what tasks must be performed nor of the purposes of the tasks themselves – and he may be entirely indifferent to what is done to fulfill his ultimate need.

Firms that provide this degree of service often consider themselves to be full-service firms or claim to provide a turn-key solution in which the customer remains entirely hands-off in the process of need fulfillment.  Aside of making payment, it requires no effort on the part of the customer to achieve the fulfillment of his needs.

Fifth Degree: Autonomous Service

The fifth degree, and the highest of which I can currently conceive, is the firm that provides autonomous service.   It does not merely determine how to fulfill the need, but defines the nature of the need itself.  In such instances, the customer may be only vaguely aware that he is lacking something, or that something can be done to improve his situation, and leaves the management of his affairs entirely in the hands of the autonomous servant.

Such services are generally accessible only to the wealthy, as they provide a high level of expertise and an intense level of engagement by the service provider.   There have been various attempts at the use of artificial intelligence to stand in for human expertise in providing autonomous service, but I cannot think of a single one that has achieved any appreciable degree of success.

Afterword: Choosing the Right Degree

As I began this meditation, I was using the term “levels,” but along the way I came to recognize that this was wrong- or at least it implies the wrong thing.  The word “level” implies degrees of advancement, and that everyone should evolve to provide the highest level of service – but this is not correct.

The customer desires a given degree of service, and each individual may seek service to a different degree depending on the nature of the benefit he seeks to derive.   A person who enjoys gardening, for example, doesn’t want a fifth-level service in which everything is done for him.  He is likely to want a third-level service, in which the task is facilitated but he does most of the “work” himself, because he enjoys engagement in the activity.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Why You Should Never Ask For Referrals

Word-of-mouth seems to be back in fashion, as I’ve recently read a handful of articles on the topic of getting referrals from customers.   And to my way of thinking, the advice that’s being promulgated is dead wrong.   That is, I’m seeing advice to ask customers for referrals right away, upon closing the sale, and providing them with incentives for their next purchase if they send the firm any business.

What makes that advice so wrong is that it is usually far too soon to expect a customer to make a referral: he has just purchased a product, has yet to try it out, and does not know whether he is actually happy with the outcome.  Being pressed immediately to tell others about his experience with a product he hasn’t even take out of the box is inappropriate and uncomfortable. 

What makes word-of-mouth so powerful is its raw honesty.   When a person tells another person about their success with a brand, the person they tell receives this as legitimate and trustworthy information that is well-meant, because the person who is telling them this is concerned for their welfare and is not seeking anything for himself by passing along the information.

So it should be immediately evident that offering customers a premium or discount for spreading the word is immediately harmful to their integrity and the value of their recommendation.   If the person to whom they are promoting the brand knows about this, the integrity of the referring party is called into question – and they certainly will learn of it when they purchase and the brand makes them the very same offer of a benefit to promote to their friends and neighbors.

Even suggesting to a person that they ought to advocate for the brand is an affront to their integrity: they will decide, on their own, whether their experience is worth sharing.  A person who gives a referral is staking their personal reputation on the outcome to others, generally those with whom he has some manner of relationship.  The degree to which he values that relationship governs his likelihood of recommending a brand to the other party – thus an attempt to cajole a person into referring others is interfering in their personal choices, their personal relationships, and their personal brand.

In all, there is likely no proper time and no proper way to ask others to advocate for the brand, and word-of-mouth is entirely out of the brand’s control – but for one thing: a brand can earn word-of-mouth by actually delivering value to the customer.   Customers will give referrals when they are ready, and not sooner.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Types of Organizations

This may be a topic I’ve covered before – I vaguely remember it but can’t find the post – but I have had several conversations lately about the differences between business, charity, and government organizations.   And when I find myself having redundant conversation, it’s fodder for the notebook.


An organization is created to achieve a benefit for someone, but only if there is a need for the participation/contributions of more than one person.  Where one person is capable of doing something, he does it himself. 

It is also generally true that an organization is created when there is an ongoing need.   There are some ad-hoc organizations that disband as soon as their purpose is achieved, but these are by their nature temporary.   Most organizations are ongoing concerns that serve ongoing needs.


The most familiar kind of organization is a business, which has the following critical characteristics
  • The benefit is enjoyed by someone other than those who contribute to its creation
  • Those who wish to enjoy the benefit are willing to compensate those whose contributions are required to furnish it
  • Those who furnish the benefit wish to be compensated for their contributions


A social organization forms when people seek to organize for their own benefit. 
  • The benefit is enjoyed by some or all members of the group
  • Those who furnish the benefit are compensated by their enjoyment of the benefit


Charities (nonprofit organizations) have the following characteristics:
  • The benefit is enjoyed by someone other than those who contribute to its creation
  • Those who wish to enjoy the benefit are unwilling or unable to pay the cost of furnishing it
  • Someone else is willing to pay for the beneficiaries to receive the benefit 


Government programs are created when there is demand for a benefit but no-one is willing to pay for it voluntarily.  That is:
  • The benefit is enjoyed by someone other than those who contribute to its creation
  • Those who wish to enjoy the benefit are unwilling or unable to pay the cost of furnishing it
  • No-one else is willing to pay for the beneficiaries to receive the benefit 


And as I was reviewing and whittling down the criteria for the four main kinds, it occurred to me that there do exist dysfunctional organizations
  • The benefit is not enjoyed by anyone
  • Those who receive secondary benefits (employment) seek to perpetuate the organization in spite of its lack of a primary benefit

What’s the Point?

This meditation is admittedly outside my usual milieu, but I find the topic comes up fairly often in discussions of new products and programs.  So the value in this consideration is winnowing down a large number of ideas to a smaller number that are worth pursuing: if people could benefit from something but aren’t willing to pay for it, then it’s not a fruitful pursuit for a commercial organization (but might be a good idea for a nonprofit if you can find donors, or a government program if you cannot, or a social organization of the people are able and willing to organize and provide for their own needs).