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Finding emotional motivators using jobs-to-be-done customer interviews by Hostile Sheep

The following article was written by Jordan Julien, Founder of Hostile Sheep, User Experience and User Research consultancy in Toronto, Canada.

I got early access to the Customer Experience Deck from Jeremy Dean. After remixing his deck with the Hostile Sheep approach to Jobs-to-be-done, I supported his Kickstarter and got 5 decks.

The big news: I completed two studies using the new approach and it's fantastic.


Those familiar with JTBD know how rational the whole process is. Customers understand rational, logical questions. They're great at telling rational, logical stories. The problem is uncovering emotional needs, or desired emotional states. We all know emotion plays a major role in hiring (or firing) products.

The Customer Experience Deck has been instrumental in uncovering these emotional needs and desires. It's been a fantastic tool when conducting customer interviews, so I wanted to share how Hostile Sheep has used it.

I’ve been a huge fan of jobs-to-be-done for years. Depending on who you ask there is still some question about whether it’s the JTBD theory, framework, methodology or something else. Regardless, there are four aspects about jobs-to-be-done I absolutely love:

  1. Anything customers can hire (or fire) is a product. Goods, services, experiences are all products customers can hire.
  2. Products help customers complete jobs-to-be-done and should be optimized to get those jobs done better, quicker or more completely.
  3. Competition is defined as any product that helps customers get the same job done as your product.
  4. You can uncover and learn about jobs by interviewing customers who’ve recently hired or fired your product, or a competitive product.

There’s lots to love about jobs-to-be-done, so if you’re interested, I recommend following some JTBD thought leaders like Clay Christensen, Bob Moesta, Tony Ulwick, Alan Klement, and others that share similar kinds of information.

Where jobs-to-be-done stumble

It’s hard to say a bad word about jobs-to-be-done, it’s a great way of thinking and a fantastic approach to product innovation. I think it has broad-reaching implications for things like personas, usability testing, and continual improvement; but I digress. JTBD is inherently logical; it’s a logical way of thinking about why customers hire products and, thus, a logical way of designing products to better meet customer needs. However, persuasion isn’t exclusively logical; in fact we know there are three pillars (or modes) of persuasion: logos, ethos, and pathos — logic, emotion, and reputation.

While jobs-to-be-done is a very logical approach and produces products that appeal to customers in a very logical way, it has a hard time producing products that appeal to customers emotionally or through brand/reputation.

So, JTBD suggests customers will hire products that help them get a job done easier, more effectively, or quicker than other products. Logical right? Well, we know that the other two pillars of persuasion also play a role:

  • Pathos: Customers are more likely to hire products that make them feel happy or feel like they belong or feel safe. Figuring out these desired (or undesired) emotional states has traditionally been very difficult to identify through customer interviews.
  • Ethos: Customers are more likely to hire products from brands they trust and have hired before. This has traditionally been a tricky thing to figure out because it’s not just about the brand; pathos can be used by competition to persuade users to hire their brand. (For instance, the Lenovo Ideapad uses a lot of the Apple design cues to improve it’s chances of being hired.)
This isn’t an Apple computer, but uses their design cues to seem like a more credible product.

Uncovering how emotion influences product hiring/firing decisions

As described previously, determining how emotion influences a product hiring decision is tricky. Emotions vary, widely, between different customers; what causes one person to feel something might not cause another person to feel something completely different. In addition, customer interviews are notoriously bad at uncovering emotional triggers and mapping emotional states to product features. Customers usually have difficulty articulating emotional states or correctly identifying why products make them feel a certain way. Until now. Introducing the Customer Experience Deck by Riders & Elephants.

The Customer Experience Deck is a sequel to the Emotional Culture Deck and is a unique stand-alone tool unto itself. Although it’s meant to be used as an internal tool, I’ve found it to be a very useful tool when conducting customer interviews with external customers.

As you may remember, from earlier in this post, customer interviews are used by the jobs-to-be-done methodology to uncover and clarify jobs customers want to get done. To do this, we recruit customers who’ve recently hired a product or competing product. We essentially ask users why they hired the product they hired; why they didn’t hire a competing product. When we have the job (or jobs) well defined, we start to unpack each job to learn what product features are most valued by each customer. This process generally leads to the identification of gaps the product doesn’t fill and identifying how each customer fills those gaps; this generally takes the form of a rough customer journey map sketched on a large white board and filled in with post-it notes.

Once we have a rough journey map sketched out, we try to uncover emotional triggers and desirable emotional states throughout the journey. Sounds easy right? We just need to ask about what customers feel or want to feel or don’t want to feel right? Well, as I alluded to earlier, customers have a VERY hard time articulating emotions they feel or want to feel or don’t want to feel. At least without the Customer Experience Deck.

So, the Customer Experience Deck is intended to be ‘played’ on a large boardroom table. It involves sorting ‘emotion’ cards into piles of emotions we want our customers to feel or not feel; and sorting primary feelings from fringe feelings. An important and valuable exercise unto itself. However, since it’s intended to be used on a tabletop, I changed a few things to make it work on a whiteboard and with external customers:

  • I got rid of the instruction cards because each customer interview was conducted 1-on-1 and instructions could be conveyed verbally.
  • We skipped right to mapping feelings to each point of the customer journey. We did this point by point and used a full deck for each touchpoint. (Because we know users feel the same things during various points in the customer journey.)
  • We used post-it note glue (yes, that’s a real thing) to affix each emotion card to the appropriate place in the customer journey map.
  • We used dot-stickers to differentiate primary feelings from fringe feelings.
  • We used these happy-face & sad-face stickers (from Amazon) to differentiate current-state feelings from desired feelings and undesired feelings.

Now, the Customer Experience Deck made it to market via a Kickstarter campaign I supported. So, I got 5 decks sent to me. This is great because it allows me to give customers access to the full breadth of the emotion cards, to map across 5 separate touch-points.

The other great thing about supporting the Customer Experience Deck from the start is that I got access to the PDF version of the deck. So, I was able to print out additional sets of the emotion cards — this allowed customers to map emotions across the entire customer journey; even if the journey includes more than 5 touch-points.

What to do with emotions?

Now that we’ve collected some great insights regarding how customers feel along the customer journey & feelings customers want to feel or want to avoid along the customer journey, we need to do some analysis and experimentation to figure out how to apply these insights. We tend to begin with a simple correlation. We examine each touch-point (and the journey as a whole) to determine how many customers feel the same thing, or want to feel the same thing or want to avoid feeling the same thing. This begins to tell us whether we’re dealing with one (emotionally similar) persona or multiple personas. For instance, if we conduct 20 interviews and find 18 want to feel ‘playful’ during an on-boarding experience we can conclude everyone desires the same emotional state; thus, we can design a playful onboarding experience. However, if we find 50% of customers want to feel ‘playful’ and 50% want to feel ‘secure’; we can conclude there are two groups of customers who desire different emotional states. This means we should design an onboarding experience that delivers both feelings of ‘playfulness’ and ‘security’.

Once we’ve done some correlations and prioritization, we can begin forming theories and defining experiments. This is the stage most people are familiar with. Not only do we have the logical side (jobs, tasks, features), we have the emotional side (desired feelings, undesired feelings) to base experience design decisions on. This is where experimentation and testing comes in handy. We can choose specific places to test different designs or flows. We can use multivariate or A/B testing; we can choose usability testing; we can choose surveys.

The great thing about this whole process is that we can apply continuous improvement principles to the customer experience. Every few months we can learn what’s working and promote experiments to permanent designs and features. Every year, we can come back and conduct customer interviews to determine if customers are feeling the same things or if we’ve made a positive (or negative) impact on the emotional states they attain while moving along the customer journey.

You can read more of Jordan Julien's posts on Medium here