Here’s How to Transform Your Customer Service

When Harvard Business Review was approached by a successful company whose online platform had failed dramatically, they set out to discover the reasons.

Initially, what the company had done made complete sense. It had come up with an online platform for sourcing farming supplies to remote farms. The platform was meant to be easier, more convenient, and faster for farmers to get what they needed. Whether the farmer was looking for a tractor part, cattle feed, or fencing, they could simply buy it with a few clicks of their mouse. There was no need to make a call to a distant operator.

But despite the fact that the online platform was well-funded, looked fantastic, and was easy to use, it was missing a crucial element…

An emotional connection to its customers.

After watching the farmers at work, Harvard Business Review noticed that their phone calls to order supplies involved much more than transactions. The farmers looked forward to talking with the operators who placed their orders. In fact, their phone calls lasted well over half an hour, on average, even though the orders were placed within minutes.

Most of the calls were spent exchanging information about one another’s families, personal interests, and other events in their lives. These close relationships with the call center operators transformed transactional calls into an enjoyable ritual that the farmers looked forward to.

What this company experienced is a common pitfall for companies today—a laser focus on what Harvard Business Review refers to as the “transactional layer.”

“Transactions alone don’t create sustainable engagement. What is critical is the emotional layer, the features of a product or service that tap into the fundamental, and under-the-surface, motivations and emotions of customers.”

Source: Harvard Business Review

Transform Your Customer Service

“Connecting with users at an emotional level can translate into concrete monetary gains,” says Harvard Business Review.  As information in the HBR article “The New Science of Customer Emotions” points out, fully connected customers are 52% more valuable, on average, than those who are merely highly satisfied.

So how do you identify the emotional layer that will deliver valuable customers?

While your brand may be both liked and trusted, it’s still possible to fail at aligning itself with the emotions that drive customers’ most profitable behaviors. You do, however, need to gain a deep understanding of what your core users want.

“At the most basic level, any company can begin a structured process of learning about its customers’ emotional motivators and conducting experiments to leverage them, later scaling up from there.”

Source: Harvard Business Review.

With the data you uncover from analytics tools, customer reviews, and user surveys, for example, you can identify the emotional motivators for your most valuable customers.

Strava, the company that created the website and mobile app to track athletic activity, found it’s most valuable customers when it realized that the feelings of accomplishment and camaraderie were missing for the cyclists who worked out alone—cyclists up at the break of dawn who, after months of training, wanted the feeling of being able to race against others (or themselves) as motivation for improving their performance.

Strava’s valuable customers—those who were emotionally connected—generated momentum, vouching for Strava’s authenticity to other avid cyclists. This group of customers also spread the word about Strava and drew in the masses, while generating high-quality content for the Strava community.

Going beyond the transaction layer helped Strava differentiate itself from the competition by using GPS data that allows users to log, track, and compare their performance, as well as find new routes, groups, and workouts through the Strava community. In other words, the company’s emotional layer provides much needed social motivation for athletes.


Building on the feedback about the farmers’ loneliness, the company mentioned previously—whose online platform had failed in an epic way—redesigned its call center, making it a fundamental part of both the customer support process and the online platform.

Customer support agents were renamed customer engagement agents, and farmers now have a dedicated customer engagement agent who advises them on relevant products and tools. The farmers can connect online with their dedicated agent or contact them using the app on their smartphone.  As a result, the company’s new sales leads have a higher success rate because the farmers trust their customer engagement agent.

Because the company was genuinely interested in their customers’ needs, it was able to transform itself from just another transactional supplier to a true partner.

“Focusing solely on the transactional layer of a company’s offering can hamper its chances of finding success and attracting a passionate, enduring customer base,” says Harvard Business Review.

Adding an emotional layer will help your company rediscover who its customers are and what they really want. Then you, too, can transform your customer service into a partnership with your most valuable customers. 

Also published on Medium.

Sherene Funk is the author of the contemporary romance Autumn in Your Arms and two small business e-books. She is a voracious reader who owns more books than she can ever read in this lifetime. A graduate of Brigham Young University, she worked in advertising for many years before moving to her current writing position at Rain Retail Software. She researches non-stop to see what successful retailers do and loves to share what she learns with small business owners.