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How to understand your customers

Trevor Johnson explores the technique that allows you to understand your customers and give them what they want How to understand your customers

Do you know what customers really think about your products or services? Is the praise or criticism you get face to face or on social media genuine or could it be hiding a range of emotions - from jealousy and envy to pity or even sympathy?

If big bucks are involved in a deal, can you be sure that what you see and hear is what you will get? Apparently not, according to the exponents of emotional analytics - EA - a technique some claim is revolutionising the way we do business.

Biggest influence

Machine interaction specialist Dr Guy Marshall says: “Computer technology is smart. It knows what we type and touch, where we are and what we look like, but until recently it has been clueless when it comes to how we feel and what we mean. Now this is changing - and changing fast.

“Not before time. Emotions are the biggest influence on human behaviour, as over 90 per cent of our decisions are subconscious.”

Basically, EA uses specialist software to collect data on verbal and non-verbal communication in order to understand a person’s true mood and attitude and create strategies that will improve customer relations.

Converts to the system include Coca-Cola, Apple, Microsoft, Unilever and IBM - and with good reason. Studies show that consumers who feel they are emotionally involved with a company are up to 15 times more likely to recommend it to others than those who aren’t.

Apple acquired Emotient, an emotion recognition technology specialist that has developed a method of collecting 100,000 facial images a day to help give computers the ability to recognise facial expressions.

Consumer research giant Nielsen has bought Innerscope, a company that uses biometrics such as brain scans and galvanic skin response to measure subconscious emotive reaction to media and marketing.

And recently Aff ectiva, an emotion recognition specialist, has raised £12 million to further develop the world’s largest emotion data bank.

Other major companies now committed to EA include Kellogg’s, which used Aff ectiva’s software to test its adverts for a crunchy nut cereal.

When viewers were shown multiple versions of a commercial featuring a range of creatures, one starring an alien got the highest emotional response and was used in the campaign.

“Everyone wants to know exactly who their customer is, but it’s no longer just about understanding their identity,” Michele Goetz, principal analyst at technology consultants Forrester Research, says. “We need to know what they care about and what their frame of mind is at any point in time.

“Brands that don’t know why customers feel the way they do can’t properly tailor their products to meet specific needs. They have virtually no idea how current and prospective clients feel in real time. If they did, entirely new possibilities would be open to them.”

Avalanche of data

With companies and consumers posting their emotions on social media, as well as on websites and in videos, there’s an avalanche of data available to EA software analysts.

Video analysis that captures facial expressions and tones of voice can be fed into machine learning algorithms, which recognise the characteristics that relate to specifi c emotions, even if the subject is trying to hide them.

Text analysis technology can now examine word choices to determine what someone really thinks about a product or service and uses audio mining techniques and a correlation engine to match words with human emotions.

The latest EA software can also monitor a subject’s tone of voice and how often a particular word is repeated to provide more insight into the person’s emotional state Says analytics consultant Richard Drew: “Possible uses of EA are virtually endless as a way of gaining insights into customer emotions.

“Combining sentiment analysis with existing customer relationship management data gives us a holistic view, which is transforming marketing strategies.

“Voice recognition technology can measure specific experiences, while biometrics and facial recognition will help you identify how people feel about a campaign, product or service.

“Factoring in human emotions and sentiment analysis gives us a new perspective on how to interact with customers and connect with them on a deeper level. There have been many cases where negative reactions, revealed by EA, have helped companies improve products and services

“But remember that analysing emotion is a complex undertaking. Quite often, the subjects themselves aren’t aware, or in full control, of their feelings and emotions vary widely between different age groups.”

Accurate insights

Even so, recent studies have claimed that insights provide by EA are more accurate than information obtained by conventional customer satisfaction surveys.

As Mihkel Jaatma, CEO of emotion measurement specialist Realeyes, points out: “EA is faster and cheaper for measuring data than online surveys and polls.”

And Richard adds: “As we know that people invariably react emotionally first and think second, data from an emotional response - known as affective computing - is becoming a very valuable sales tool.”

As EA continues to gather pace, specialists forecast that eventually technology for detecting our emotions in any situation will be found in such unlikely places as car dashboards, refrigerator doors and conference room walls.

“EA is already making it possible to target customers based not only on age, demographics and job specification, but also on an individual’s current emotional state and whether he or she is amenable to doing business that day,” Richard says.

“Make no mistake, some big changes are on the way.”

Two of the ways ea is being use

    Personalisation. As part of its 20th birthday celebrations, EasyJet used EA to find out what passengers felt about their previous flights on the airline. It then used the insights to send passengers personal emails, which had a success rate 90 per cent higher than regular email campaigns.
  • Improved experience. When eBay launched its pop-up stores, EA revealed that 88 per cent of customers found their heart rate increased by up to 30 per cent during the shopping experience. eBay has successfully used the data to help reduce shopping stress.
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