The Emotional Context of a Business Transaction

Years ago, my MBA program had a course on the history of business management. The work of Frederick Taylor featured prominently as the late 19th/early 20th century originator of the Scientific Management movement.

My summary of Scientific Management:  business profit is optimized by breaking down work into its smallest, atomic tasks, and hiring and training individuals who are optimized for the execution of those discrete units of work.  The task of management is to squeeze the maximum output from
each work unit.   This is done by applying techniques such as "time and motion studies" to ensure that employees were maximizing their economy of action.

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I understand that Scientific Management contributed many fundamentals to effective methods that we use today to manage business operations. However, Scientific Management, while contributing greatly to efficiency, eventually hit the wall because it didn't leverage the passion of the individual- the desire to imprint our work with our own style and insight.  In other words, we cannot be separated from our emotions.

For over 100 years now, analyzing and improving business processes has involved minimizing the emotional element of business transactions- noise to be removed in order to focus on the signal. But now we have the tools and knowledge to model and make positive use of the emotional dynamics of a business transaction such as customer support calls.

Understanding emotional context and integrating it into process improvement methodology is a prerequisite for us to make the next leap forward in improving The Customer Experience.

To test this premise I worked on a framework for analyzing customer service interactions and mapping the emotional context and flow of transactions.  I found that the state of each of the parties and their baseline assumptions led to a discrete, predictable set of flows and outcomes for transactions.

This validated my thought that lofty goals such as "exceeding customer expectations" are unattainable and costly, and by their very definition can set employees up for failure.  What is really important is understanding the customer's assumptions, how they were formulated, and the flexibility in the emotional of both customer and employee to seek a resolution.

  • Each customer enters a transaction with goals, desires and emotions that are often not explicit but tend to be revealed Iin bits and pieces.  I call these Emotional Influences
  • These Influences come from all our prior interactions
  • As a customer and employee begin a transaction, they tend to align with one of several common Participant Archetypes
  • Particpant archetypes, the content of the transaction, and their emotional influences combine to determine why an interaction results in a satisfying experience or why it does not.
Some emerging tools can also identify and map the emotional changes over the course of a support call.  When ive done this type of analysis simply via listening and annotating I have found that tension is often due to emotional influencers that were expressed earlier but were ignored by the other party.

(for some great background on role analysis, read  Eric Berne's classic work on transactional analysis: Games People Play: The Basic Handbook of Transactional Analysis.)