Emotional intelligence is an emerging marketing topic for good reason: Customers have high expectations about how well companies understand their needs, whether they’re interacting online, in person, or over the phone.
As artificial intelligence (AI) and automation become the norm for businesses, brands with a strong EQ, or emotional quotient, will beat the competition. EQ may not be a new concept for some areas of study, but it’s new for marketers and businesses to focus on it given that understanding, relating to, and building trust among with customers has never been more important.
EQ is hugely important for selling a company’s most profitable, differentiated products and services. Take the finance category. Consumers might be perfectly fine opening a checking account online without anyone else’s help. On the other hand, more is at stake when picking a mortgage. The process requires consultation and personal service—an experience that can be vastly improved if a rep is able to meet the consumer on his or her level emotionally.
Little data exists that speaks to consumer expectations for EQ and its relevance to brands. That’s why Invoca and Adobe recently partnered to research the topic, surveying 1,000 U.S. consumers for the report "Emotions Win: What Customers Expect in the Age of AI". (CMO.com is owned by Adobe.)
Here are six takeaways for marketers.
1. EQ Is Irreplaceable
Great EQ typically requires a human touch. It’s hard to match the experience of speaking with a customer rep when making a big or complex purchase. In fact, 54% of customers said they are relieved when they can turn to a live expert for information, compared with 40% who feel relief via chat and 34% through email. Also, we found that EQ is best delivered in person (80%) or on the phone (49%) vs. through a voice assistant (24%) or chatbot (22%).
While AI and automation will continue to play a role in the future of customer experience, such technology should complement human interaction, not replace it. Companies including TurboTax, for instance, are combining self-service options, such as online chat, with a human touch. During tax season, for $50 TurboTax customers can move past automated tax preparation and get instant access to a CPA-level adviser who can find new exemptions and answer questions about filing. This digital-and-human approach often saves customers hundreds of dollars and shows that the company cares about their needs.
2. EQ Requires Actionable Data
Consumers want all the help they can get when making tough purchase decisions. When asked specifically about stressful or complicated purchases, one in four (25%) of survey respondents said EQ is the attribute they most value in a salesperson. When Adobe surveyed 1,500 people for the Adobe Experience Index, respondents were asked to score what mattered most to them as customers on a scale of 0-100. “Know me and respect me” scored the highest (61), suggesting that striking the right balance between personalization and privacy is key to customer loyalty and a high brand EQ.
For modern marketers, delivering high EQ involves unearthing data about customers’ previous actions. Brand reps can then help them with relevant information that’s delivered with the right tone.
3. Financial And Travel Brands Need Higher EQs
I mentioned how mortgages can be a difficult purchase decision. Our survey found that 69% of consumers consider financial purchases to be stressful. Yet financial brands scored low for key EQ traits, with only 18% of respondents who said financial representatives display empathy and 21% who said representatives demonstrate adaptability.
Travel companies also struggle with EQ—even though there’s a huge opportunity for them to become known as emotionally intelligent. More than half (53%) of consumers said travel purchases are somewhat or extremely stressful; therefore, airlines, travel agencies, and hospitality brands can build loyalty by helping them make their decision. Consumers ranked travel reps highest for efficiency but lowest for emotionally intelligent characteristics, such as adaptability, an even temper, and empathy.
4. Customers Expect To See More AI
AI is starting to become part of everyday life for many consumers. More than two-thirds of consumers we surveyed (69%) said they anticipate AI will handle the majority of brand-based communications in the next five years.
At the same time, their feelings about AI are mixed. While 61% of respondents envision that AI will make shopping faster, most think it will be more frustrating (51%) and less personal (61%).
5. Young Adults Are More In Tune
Generational attitudes toward AI differ; according to our research, Millennials have a higher opinion of AI’s ability to understand their needs than their older counterparts. We found that 29% of respondents under 35 said AI could deliver EQ compared with just 15% over the age of 55 who said the same. What’s more, more than half of Millennial (54%) believe AI will gain EQ in the next five years compared with 45% of those over age 35.
Millennials and Gen Z consumers also understand the topic of EQ better than older generations. Of Millennials, 71% have heard of emotional intelligence or EQ compared with 58% of people 35 to 54 and 34% of those 55 and older.
6. The Future Is An Emotionally Intelligent Future
In the next few years, as younger generations gain purchasing power and become household decision-makers, the importance of EQ will only increase. Businesses need to demonstrate EQ by personalizing customer interactions, whether or not they’re automated. The data shows that customers want personalized care from human reps. And according to Adobe, 64% of people say they can be delighted by an automated service if it’s done well. The successful delivery of EQ hinges on brands using actionable, cross-channel data.
EQ will play a critical part in the big purchase decisions that are costly for consumers and profitable for brands. For all marketers, it’s imperative to know what motivates consumers to contact their brand and put systems in place to respond to their needs with both empathy and intelligence.