CX is the Emotion Business: Why Emotional Intelligence is Crucial for Customer Experience Leaders

Leading CX requires leading people—even those who don’t report to you.

Especially those who don’t report to you.

And while we humans have spent the last few millennia trying to convince each other we’re a rational, logical, structured, analytical, consistent, data-driven, strategic-planning, business-case-writing, common-sense kind of folk, we don’t act that way.

When your inbox dings and you read that condescending email from Camille—who copied your boss’s boss and half the executive team, of course—blaming you for the customer escalation, your first thought is not to consider her perspective and calmly reassess your position. No, you want to hurl your laptop across the office, scream at the intern, and set fire to the copy machine. Do copiers even burn? Time to find out.

Have you ever been cruising down the highway—daydreaming about quitting your job, buying a one-way ticket to Costa Rica, fixing up an old fishing boat—and whoa, suddenly there’s a massive black Ford on your bumper, inches away from plowing you into a fiery interstate death?

Where did he come from?! You weren’t paying attention to traffic. You didn’t consciously check the rear-view mirror. Your brain was on cruise control. But while you were lost in thought, your subconscious mind was scanning the environment for threats because that’s what your subconscious is always doing. And when it noticed Rick, the road-raging regional sales manager bearing down on your tail, it activated your fight-or-flight response and yanked you out of your daydream.

And what’s your first instinct? Pump the brakes. Give Rick back there a jolt of “wake up and get off my backside.” Basically, the most dangerous thing you can possibly do at 77 miles-per-hour. Are we rational beings? No, my friend, we’re not.

But we do have critical thinking skills, lurking in our cerebral cortexes, just behind our foreheads. And when we apply those skills to our emotions, we make better decisions. We don’t hit reply-all to Camille with a scathing assessment of her intellect, fashion sense, and oral hygiene. We don’t pump the brakes on Rick. Instead, we flip on the turn signal, change lanes, and let him pass safely. We choose our response to the situation, rather than reacting emotionally.

That’s called Emotional Intelligence, and it’s the key to maximizing your CX leadership effectiveness.

What is Emotional Intelligence?

Emotional intelligence is the ability to understand and manage your own emotions, and the emotions of others. People with high emotional intelligence do this in the moment as the emotions are happening.

Managing emotions doesn’t mean suppressing negative feelings or being Mary Poppins. Rather, you understand and accept all emotions as normal and part of being human. This includes regulating your emotions—being able to control or redirect emotional reactions in order to stay calm and constructive—even when your heart is racing, your face is turning red, and you feel like the second coming of Godzilla.

You choose your response to emotional triggers and play the “long game,” managing relationships instead of winning arguments. Persevering through difficult seasons when you feel like quitting. Speaking up with courage when you’re afraid of rejection and ridicule.

Why Emotional Intelligence is Crucial for CX Leaders

The skill to identify and manage emotions is crucial for two reasons.

First, emotional intelligence helps you understand customer emotions, which have the biggest impact on customer loyalty. Among the three elements of customer experience—success, effort, and emotion—XM institute found that “across all industries, emotion most highly correlates with likelihood to purchase more, with 86% [of customers] that had a high emotion rating likely to do so.”

Identifying customer emotions and designing experiences to trigger the desired emotional response is the highest-order objective of customer experience management.

The second reason why CX leaders should improve their emotional intelligence is to boost their own performance as change-makers in their organizations.

It’s frustrating when you share real customer stories about elderly patients stranded at the hospital for hours because the transportation service went AWOL, and the the VP of Ops dismisses them as “one-off anecdotes that don’t indicate a trend” in front of the entire executive team. (True story from a former mentee—and yes, that VP was in charge of the transportation service!)

Emotional intelligence allows you to recognize that you’re experiencing a difficult emotion and re-engage your rational brain. Instead of reacting to the situation emotionally, you can choose a better response.

Instead of arguing with the VP of Ops in front of the executive team, you say, “Stan, it sounds like you’ve got some concerns with the data, and it’s important to me that we look at this from all angles. I’d like to schedule some time for the two of us to explore it together next week. Would that be ok?”

Using emotional intelligence to choose that response redirects the conflict energy into a collaborative trust-building session where you can use the psychology of persuasion to influence Stan’s thinking.

Portions of this article were originally published in Sell More and Retain Top Talent with Emotional Intelligence.

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