As customer experience consultants who focus on the emotional elements of service and product customer experience and value delivery, we are often asked about the behavioral role of tangible, rational, and functional elements of value and experience. These include the factors we typically associate with quality: completeness, timeliness, cost, functionality, accuracy, etc. What we typically find in our client experience assignments is that there is almost invariably an emotional underpinning to these value components. These aren’t the big ‘wow’ elements of experience and value that seem to get a lot of attention, but they help to create customer trust when delivered well and tend to undermine trust and value perception when there are issues which may cause concern.

A bit more esoteric, but no less fundamental and important, are those elements of experience and value which we identify as gray areas between strictly emotional and strictly tangible. These include product and service reliability and consistency, delivery of an experience and value, per customer perceptions, that fall inside of emotional, sometimes subconscious, parameters the customer considers as acceptable. Reliability and consistency, delivered to a customer’s expectations or better, build a ‘bank account’ of positive memory and trust. One of the things most well understood about reliability and consistency within expectations is that, when these delivery components fall outside of, i.e. below, customer expectations, they often trigger emotional responses, which drive strong memories and downstream behavior.

Think about it. On the consumer side, many of us can remember expectations of experience at a restaurant, supermarket, hotel, rented auto, insurance company, department or discount store, etc. that haven’t been met. It’s often the elements of consistency and reliability with the experience that are most dominant in our memories. They actively contribute to emotion and downstream behavior. Poorly trained retail staff, dirty hotel rooms, hot food delivered cold — — the list goes on and on. In services, cable customers seem to get the most emotional on those rare occasions when their system goes down; and this can diminish confidence and trust in their supplier, sometimes enough to drive switching behavior. On the b2b customer side, it is things like consistent and reliable product quality, delivery timing, order completeness, service and the like that contribute to memory. As an example, a fast food distribution client once expressed disbelief that their 99.3% order completeness rate and 99.5% delivery timing rate did not drive higher customer loyalty. When their customers were interviewed, it was not the high order completeness and delivery timing rates that mattered, it was the emotion behind the memory of inconvenience and other problems caused by incomplete orders or delivery that was earlier or later than expected.

Because experience and value delivery are so often multi-channel, even omni-channel, the consistency and reliability we’re discussing must, today, extend across all modes of communication and conveyance. Customers expect experience reliability and consistency, irrespective of channel. . This makes experience with these factors exponentially more impactful on customer behavior. When experience reliability suffers, consumer emotion and memory will trigger offline and word of mouth, usually negative. The stats on this, and their behavioral impact are well known. And then, irrespective of the channel, consumers’ trust bank account will quickly be depleted; and, in the process, they will influence the bank accounts of other consumers. When consumers openly complain, telling others about the lack of consistency and reliability and how it makes them feel, there is always the threat that this will ‘go viral’.

Execs seem to focus more on what will drive the engaging, unexpected ‘wow’ elements in experience and value delivery; however, it is well to remember that a strong structure is built on a solid foundation. Reliability and consistency, as much as other components of value, can strategically differentiate a business. Stephen Covey offers us some good guidelines for how to achieve this. In his Habit #7, Sharpen the Saw, he said “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.” He also said, “ Trust is the glue of life. It’s the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships” This tells us a lot about the emotional power of consistency and reliability.

Michael Lowenstein, Ph.D., CMC, is Thought Leadership Principal for Beyond Philosophy, an international customer-centricity and customer experience consultancy (www.beyondphilosophy.com), based in the U.S., member of Advisory Council, Customer Value Creation International, and CustomerThink Advisor. He specializes in customer life cycle management, strategic/profitable customer relationships, customer experience research/strategy, and employee performance research, consulting, and training, and he is the author of six customer-centric strategy books and over 200 white papers and articles.

Originally published at beyondphilosophy.com on August 17, 2015.