Tag Archives: qualitative research

Measuring emotion


Is it possible to measure emotion?

I don’t think so, at least not with a survey. Emotions are largely unconscious and experienced in the moment; asking customers to accurately remember and score them after the event misrepresents the nature of emotions.

That doesn’t mean we should give up on the idea of trying to understand emotions. Here are some tactics we can try…

Qualitative research

Qualitative research is all about trying to build up a picture of how customers think and feel, and the context that shapes that. Emotions, as we saw in a previous post, are a vital part of the picture.

The mistake people often make is thinking that qualitative research is about what customers say. It’s not, it’s about why they said it. Good qualitative research digs beneath the surface to understand the deep psychological needs and reasons for customers’ behaviour, thoughts, and feelings. That’s where the emotions sit.

How do we do that? It starts by asking probing questions, but ultimately it means we need to add a layer of interpretation; so qualitative research is never entirely objective. To counteract the subjectivity of interpretation, we can turn to established models.

Models to interpret

In her excellent book “MindFrames“, Wendy Gordon outlines 6 distinct lenses we can use when trying to make sense of what customers say, based on decades of practice. This is a good example of a tendency that all qualitative researchers have to build up mental models to help them translate from what customers say and do in order to understand why.

Good researchers keep up to date with what the cognitive sciences have to tell us about how the human mind works, looking for ways to translate that into the messy real world of customer experience.

Measurement (not questions)

What about measurement? Why can’t we take something like Plutchik’s list of basic emotions and ask customers to score them on a scale? There’s nothing stopping you from trying, but I don’t believe it often works. Introspection is a terrible tool for understanding our unconscious mind, and you’ll find that a few easy to articulate emotions such as “anger” dominate.

So what can we do?

  • Focus on causes and outcomes. Qualitative work can highlight which events and behaviours cause emotions, and which outcomes derive from them. Those are often easier to measure quantitatively.
  • Interpret. Know that what customers say is not always the true cause. If they give a low score for waiting times, understand that anxiety may well be the real problem.
  • Use non-survey methods. Sometimes it’s possible to measure emotion in the moment, without asking customers directly. IDEO’s laugh detector is a good example of this.
  • Quantify verbatims. Customers usually reveal more about their emotions in their verbatim comments. It’s relatively easy to find (or build) dictionaries that will score comments for emotion. This works to a point, but be aware that you are only working at the surface level of what customers say, not at the deeper level of why.

The future for emotions

The latest scientific evidence suggests that emotions may be less innate, less universal, and less monolithic than they feel to us. Lisa Feldman Barrett in “How Emotions are Made” says:

“…your emotions are not built-in but made from more basic parts. They are not universal but vary from culture to culture. They are not triggered; you create them. They emerge as a combination of the physical properties of your body, a flexible brain that wires itself to whatever environment it develops in, and your culture and upbringing, which provide that environment.”

That points us even more firmly away from trying to measure them in any straightforward way.






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User stories & customer journey mapping

noun_1213168A big mistake that many organisations make when they try to map the customer journey is that they stick too close to their own perspective.

The result may be a customer view of their process map, but it’s not a true customer journey map.

Why not? The tell-tale problems are:

  • Too much detail
  • Ignoring context in customer’s life
  • Focused on products, processes & touchpoints
  • Starting too late in the journey
  • Finishing too early in the journey

How can we overcome this tendency to let the inside-out view dominate? The best way is to use qualitative research and allow customers to lead the creation of the journey map.

User stories are a really useful tool to make sure you approach the journey with the right mindset. They’re normally written in the form

As a__________ I want to__________in order to__________.

Doing this will allow you to stretch your view of the journey, so that you start when the customer became aware of their need, not when they first got in touch with you. This more accurately reflects the customer experience, and opens up opportunities for innovation.

It also puts the customer’s goal (not your product) front and centre. This helps you to make sure that the experience you design is addressing the right problem, and opens you up to the possibility of solving it in new ways.

“People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill, they want a quarter-inch hole.”

—Theodore Levitt

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Classifying journey maps – a thought-starter

This is a slide from my briefing on Customer Journey mapping.
It’s my attempt to bring a bit of order to the chaos of journey mapping. The beginnings of a taxonomy, if you’re feeling generous.

It’s not comprehensive, but I hope it highlights some of the things to be aware of when mapping a journey:

  • Is it focused on an individual’s experience, or on more general stages?
  • Does it include:
    • Experiences
    • Emotions
    • Attitudes
  • Is it looking from the organisation’s perspective, or from the customer’s?
  • Is it based on qualitative insight, quantitative data, or a mixture?
  • Does it show us what makes the difference, and how much?
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Qualitative research: conversation not judgement

Focus groups get a bad press.

They’re overused by politicians, ignored by the business leaders we admire (Steve Jobs), often made up of “tame” participants.

Critics usually trot out the Henry Ford quote:

If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.

Which is actually a really good example of what focus groups do badly (innovation) and what they do well (identifying fundamental needs).

It’s true that customers won’t invent your new product, or even your next ad, for you.

They’re not even very good at picking between options, because customers get too focused on details at an early stage of development.

Which is why I wasn’t impressed by the car manufacturer who proudly announced that its new model had been “rejected by focus groups”.

When used properly, focus groups can provide the spark of insight that allows a brand to connect with customer emotions and radically differentiate itself.

At a recent MRS event, Peter from Voodoo gave a good example of this. Lurpak used focus groups to identify a globally shared emotional moment of truth in cooking – the “moment of alchemy” at which a dish comes together.

Based on that they developed an immersive ad called “weave your magic“.
No doubt this ad would have been rejected by focus groups. Probably in favour of one showing a green field full of cows with a dull voice over about quality and provenance.

We all like to think we’re rational.

By engaging customers in a conversation early, using research to inform creative rather than to judge it, Lurpak were able to create something truly memorable.

Qualitative research is about opening doors, not closing them.

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