Lately it’s become en vogue to talk about how to “surprise and delight” your customers. And why not? If companies are competing on experience, they need to find ways to impress and engage their customers. Figuring out how to do this is difficult but doable.

I recently had the pleasure of editing a report that Vidya Drego wrote that outlined three categories of customer research techniques: exploratory, evolutionary, and evaluative (read or download the report here). That process led me to think about my own research on Emotional Experience Design, which asserts that in order to engage their customers, companies have to craft interactions that address real goals, craft a cohesive personality, and deliver the right sensory experience. It’s this first principle of addressing real goals that I’ve looked into more deeply in a new report called, “Mastering Emotional Experience Design: Address Customers’ Real Goals.” Here are a few examples of companies that address real goals by extending value beyond the functional needs of a single interaction:

Of course, this is all good stuff, but how do you get the insights you need to understand these deeper needs and context? Countless times I’ve spoken with companies that think they can use surveys or focus groups to get users to tell them how to frame interactions. These are valid research techniques, but for different purposes. Identifying needs and desires — and the things that will delight people — is hard because people aren’t often aware of what influences their behavior. That’s why we have the field of psychology and books like Predictably Irrational.

So what should companies do to make sure they’re laying the foundation for emotional engagement with their customers? They need to foster a culture of empathy, invest in exploratory research, and validate designs with techniques that understand the rational and emotional parts of the experience. And they should remember that they don't have to build the next iPad to successfully engage their customers.

To get more details, read my latest report.