Harley Manning recently wrote a post that explained Forrester’s definition of customer experience as:

“How customers perceive their interactions with your company.”

The key word I want to focus on here is “perceive.” While business success is viewed by metrics like conversions or average order size, for customers, their level of satisfaction is tied to the sum total of all interactions they have with a company from the first time they click on a link from an online ad all the way to opening and experiencing a product. That satisfaction is based on some rational justifications such as price, but it’s also largely based on the overall feeling customers have about those interactions. It’s that emotional component that can be the X factor in how consumers report whether or not they are satisfied with a brand — and more importantly determine whether they’ll do business with you again.

Think about it, emotions drive needs, wants, and desires and are the triggers that are the basis for most interactions consumers have with a company. Think about something as seemingly mundane as cleaning products. Why do people care about cleaning products? Because maybe they want to have a clean house that smells nice because they’re going to entertain soon and, secretly, they want to leave their guests not with an image of their home, but of how they keep their home. Or, maybe there’s a concern over the ingredients that are in the cleaning supplies that people use because they have young children and want to keep them safe from harmful chemicals. The bottom line is that people bring all sorts of baggage to every experience and that baggage is emotional — even the things that cannot be explicitly stated.

How do you design interactions that enable you to tap into the emotions that users bring to the table? In large part, it’s about empathy. You have to know what they might be going through and what they bring to the experience in the first place. You have to chart more than who they are; you have to understand what your users value and how they feel as they interact with your site, your staff, your products. But it’s also about understanding what you stand for, what your brand really means. It’s not enough merely to cater to every whim of the populace. True engagement is about crafting your own personality in such a way that it will reflect your users’ personalities back to them on a consistent, long-term basis, so that when they look at your site, your app, and your Tweets, they see a bit of themselves in you. Because, let’s face it, in the end, if users perceive themselves positively, and your brand reflects their beliefs and priorities, they will perceive the experiences they have with your brand in a positive light.