Big data, semantic understanding, sentiment analysis, neurobiology, genome research, artificial intelligence, neuromarketing: not a day goes by or amazing new discoveries and advances in any – and often many – of these fields are announced.

We live in an age of data and certainly also of ‘exact sciences’. I don’t mean the company with the same name but mathematics and all these other sciences we call ‘exact’ in my native language Dutch. And it sure impacts how we look at the human mind and emotions.

Emotions - brain and hart

Are we forgetting what emotions are?

In this age of data and ‘exact sciences’ applied to so many fields of society and business it’s easy to overlook phenomena such as creativity, emotions and the subconscious.

I know, it isn’t modern to talk about that subconscious anymore as it’s not ‘proven’ by science and a lot that comes from the likes of Jung, Freud or Lacan is dropped in favor of more ‘pragmatic’ and ‘scientific’ approaches. But by overemphasizing the ‘exact’ we risk losing out on where true value sits.

We are far from having unraveled the mysteries of the mind (whatever that may scientifically mean) and tend to forget it now and then. Fortunately the crucial role of emotions is understood by many and smart businesses combine data with creativity and loads of (recognition of) emotions.

However, it’s essential to pay far more attention to emotions again. Even if we capture intent and emotional triggers in categories, scientific labels and facts, and data, all too often we draw strict lines between rational and emotional decisions.

And this despite the fact that it’s a known fact we explain our decisions in rational a posteriori ‘facts’ or don’t understand the emotional aspects of our decisions and thoughts altogether. That’s normal. After all, who has time to really think about what might be behind a seemingly rational decision. We have other things to do, right?

From employee engagement to storytelling and customer experience: emotions

Still, if we want to really understand how customers, employees, people take decisions, we need to focus on those – often hidden – emotions. Don’t take my word for it and feel free to rely on left brain and right brain narratives but to succeed in business, enhance customer experience, engage employees, tell stories that get shared or meet the needs of whomever we value enough to meet their needs, emotions are king.

Colin Shaw on Twitter
Colin Shaw on Twitter

In good storytelling and customer experience management the huge importance of emotions is understood.

Colin Shaw, for instance, wrote a book called “The DNA of Customer Experience: How Emotions Drive Value“. I seem to remember Colin used to say that only emotions matter in customer experience. A little Google search to check that made me stumble upon a post and recorded webinar on Bruce Temkin’s Customer Experience Matters.

I haven’t listened to it yet but the description says enough: “Customer experience is all about people (human beings!) who don’t behave as rationally as many people tend to believe, and they are often driven to action based on their emotions”. It’s good to hear those messages and repeat them.

The dangers of too much brain science: forgetting how people – really – tick

A few years ago psychology professor Jan Derksen wrote a great piece for De Morgen, a Belgian newspaper (in Dutch). The title: “We are more than 1,400 grams of protein and fat”. In the article, Derksen attacked the dominance of neurobiology and tackled the risks of too much brain science in psychology.

We forget how people tick. We think we are our brain as neurologist Dick Swaab wrote in a book with that title. Everything is the fault and consequence of ‘the brain’. We train the brain, scan it to find issues (confusing cause and consequence and overlooking it might all be a little bit more complex in an interaction of biological, psychological and social factors) and focus on the outside in psychology, fully overlooking the complexity and extraordinary phenomena underneath ‘the brain’.

We love labels and cherish classifications of psychological ‘issues’, we have life coaches and DSM-5. We prefer to say that we have a burn-out, the accepted disease of the hard working modern person, than saying we feel angry, confused, sad, undervalued, exhausted and depressed. And of course in the deterministic context of the age of technology and exact sciences “we can’t help it, it’s because of an issue with the brain”. To feel better we need to train ourselves to become more assertive or learn how to become “happy” and whatnot in xyz steps. But in the meantime we really forget how we are wired to use a term that expresses the neurobiology dominance in our thinking. We forget to look at the rich underlying reality of human emotions and issues. And ideally we would like to suppress all the “bad” emotions to fit in this demanding society of efficiency where there is little room for reflection and emotion at all.

Emotions are everything – and the missing link in customer experience

I could go on, telling you about the views of Derksen and of how he says that, despite all advancements in neurobiology, there are really few medicines to treat specific ‘psychological’ conditions that have proven to be more helpful than some therapy that goes beyond scratching the utilitarian surface of the visible and the brain. But I guess it’s time to make a point.

Emotions are everything. Trust only on everything neuro and scientific in business, HR, marketing, customer experience and whatnot and see where it gets you. Bring back the emotional richness and see where that gets you. The difference: if you really want to get close and personal with people you’ll need far more than data and those brain cells. Although we all look alike we are individuals. And individuals all have their context and history. Do you need to know those? It depends on whom you’re dealing with and for what reason. You can’t scale it, that’s for sure. But now and then looking underneath the surface of behavioral assumptions doesn’t hurt. And so doesn’t reminding that customer experience is all about emotions.

Bruce Temkin on Twitter
Bruce Temkin on Twitter

The reason I wrote this and remembered the interview with Derksen is because a friend today asked me if I knew a neuromarketing expert to speak at a conference (nothing against neuro as long as it doesn’t dominate) and because Bruce Temkin shared this nice, funny and highly recognizable video in a LinkedIn Group that landed in my inbox, called “Emotion: The Missing Link in Customer Experience”.

From the video: “neglecting emotion happens all too often…and emotion is the lowest scoring component of customer experience”.

Top image purchased under license from Shutterstock