Emotional engineering  …feeling products and services

Alex could not believe what he had just done. He did not need another pair of jeans so why had he spent all that money on those pair of blue jeans. As he sat on the edge of his bed clutching the trousers, the question that kept coming to his mind, was what made him do that. Why did he buy a pair of blue jeans that morning? Maybe, the stories of guys walking through town using charms to get people to buy their wares might be true after all. If those were just stories, what possible explanation could he give for what had just happened to him?

It is true that he fell in love with the jeans when he saw the guy holding it inside the shed. They cut and overall design felt right. It was just like the jeans he had recently seen on a social media page a few days before. But he had no plans of buying any pair of jeans that morning. He had gone to town that morning for a totally different reason. So why did he come back home with a pair of deep blue jeans?

Eric was at a total lost as to what had happened to him. But maybe, he should not have been. What had prompted him to purchase that pair of jeans was not a charm, an amulet or a spell cast on him. It was none of those things. What had made him buy those “unwanted” jeans is the same thing that makes each and every one of us buy things without really thinking twice. Emotions. Our Emotions.

The truth is that the importance of emotions to the customer’s purchasing decision and experience is something that can never be easily discounted. In spite of all attempts to mask that part of our makeup, we—human beings—have proven to be largely emotional creatures. It is common knowledge that we mostly buy emotionally and justify logically afterwards.

Noted Israeli-American psychologist, Daniel Kahneman asserts that when faced with a purchasing decision the average person has two systems working in the mind—one system is fast, which is the emotional system, while the other, which is the logical bit, is a lot slower and more deliberate.

So, as I understand it, by the time the logical system reaches a conclusion as to whether the purchase should go ahead or not, the emotional system would have taken the decision, money would have exchanged hands and the purchase concluded. It means you can get home before you realise the “folly” of a particular purchase. That was exactly what had happened to our good friend, Eric. He had not been bewitched as he wanted to believe. He had acted as a normal human being. He was only worried because he had no knowledge of how that being called a human being truly functions. If he did he would have taken it easy.

The truth is that the way a customer feels about a particular product (or service) tends to become very important in the purchasing decision. Danish author, Martin Lindstrom in his interestingly-titled bestseller, Buyology: Truth and Lies about Why We Buy, argued that products that appeal to us are those that appeal to our senses. It is really hard to argue against the facts presented in his three-year, seven-million-dollar neuromarketing study of 2,000 volunteers from all around the world.

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It is therefore incumbent on every organisation that intends to thrive on the market to necessarily ensure that the products and services they put out there attract customers in a very emotionally-connecting manner. It is not enough to put out a product (or service) just for it to solve a problem in the customer’s life. The offering that is put out in the market must also appeal to the customer’s emotions. It might not sound logical or reasonable at all, but that is the whole idea.

Enter Emotional Engineering……

“Emotional” and “Engineering” are two words that you would not normally expect to see sitting side by side in a sentence. Engineering, as a branch of science, is not associated with the soft fuzzy feelings of emotions. The engineers I personal know do not come across as “emotional” folks. They are some of the most cold, calculated, logical beings I know. These are people who have been taught for years in engineering school that machines, systems and structures require logical reasoning abilities to be developed. Emotions were not in the equation at all.

However, Emotional Engineering is not an oxymoron. It is a whole revolutionary approach to engineering that has widely been embraced all over the world. It is a concept that effectively combines the engineer’s rational thought with emotional awareness.

The Japanese refer to it as “Kansei Engineering” and the man reputed to be behind the term, Professor Emeritus Mitsuo Nagamachi of Hiroshima University defined it as “the technology to design goods which appeal to emotion and sensibility by translating human sensibility and images into physical design factors.” The word “kansei” itself has several meanings but the one line that runs through most of these meanings is “sensitivity”, “sensibility” or “sensitiveness”. The idea is to design sensitivity into products.

Another name given to this kind of engineering is Affective Engineering—the word “affect” being used in the psychology sense. Other names have been proposed for this trend of engineering including Affective Design, Affective Ergonomics, Design for Experience, Pleasure with Products, Pleasure Engineering, Design of Metaqualities, Design for Human Senses as well as Sensorial Engineering.

From the definition above, it is clear to see that Emotional Engineering (or whatever name you prefer to call it) is all about designing products and services in such a way that they primarily appeal to the emotions of customers, i.e. products or services that appeals to the senses. In Emotional Engineering, the product or service designer’s main preoccupation is capturing the emotion behind the customer’s experience.

There used to be a time when engineering was all about getting the functionality of the product right. A great product was a product that performed its functions and performed them well. The quality of such a product was measured with parameters such as overall performance, its features, how reliable it was and how durable it was. Household appliances such as electric irons, cookers, washing machines, dishwashers, fans, refrigerators, etc. had to be durable to be classified as good products.

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I want to believe that this is why many of the appliances from days gone by were so aesthetically-unappealing. Product designers, engineers and manufacturers did not know any better. The customer who was so happy to have had a problem solved was also not too bothered about the design.

However, eventually the definition of what constitutes quality has changed over the years. I believe the best definition of quality was given by American organizational theorist, Myron Tribus: “Quality is what makes it possible for a customer to have a love affair with your product or service. Love is always fickle. You must be ever on the alert to understand what pleases the customer, for only customers define what constitutes quality.”

Emotional Engineering is all about getting the customer to fall in love with the product or service. Emotional Engineering, therefore, engenders true customer romance. With Emotional Engineering the product must not only perform well; it must also appeal to the emotions of the customer. A good product is one that makes a customer feel good. A good product does more than just meet the needs of the customer. It is a product that touches customers at the heart and make them feel something every time they use that product. In that regard, a functional product can end up failing on the market because it does connect emotionally with customers.

In times past, the failure of such a product on the market would have been attributed to a variety of factors. However, in the era of Emotional Engineering, such a failure would be seen as a design failure and the blame would rest at the doorsteps of those whose duty it was to design the product—the engineers. A good product designer would have found out what would make customers become emotionally connected to the product and then infuse those elements into the design. It must be said that the phenomenon of Emotional Engineering is really tearing up the rulebook.

The concept of Emotional Engineering might seem like a novelty. However, as far back as the 70s, researchers, especially in the Orient had already started developing the concept. Interestingly, a majority of these researchers were Japanese. It seemed their attempts to catch up with the West pushed them to look for unique ways of ensuring that any products they brought on to the market was received well. It took a while before the concept of Kansei Engineering gained grounds in the West.

As with a lot of strategies that have to do with customer service, the service blueprint plays a very important role. The designer must be very conversant with the customer’s journey from beginning to the very end. In most cases, the best way is for whoever is in charge of designing the product or service to walk in the shoes of the customers.


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