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Can emotional intelligence improve your customer communications?

Can emotional intelligence improve your customer communications?

'Emotional intelligence’ is a concept that business gurus often tout as an essential component of leading people in the 21st Century. The idea is that, if you are emotionally attuned to the people around you, you have a better chance of inspiring your colleagues and leading a team successfully.

After seeing more and more mentions of emotional intelligence online, we decided to investigate, to see if there are any lessons for customer communications professionals – or if this is just new age psychobabble.

Before we decide if the theory of emotional intelligence has any place in customer communications, let’s explore the basics.

What is emotional intelligence?

The term was first coined by two researchers, and then popularised by Dan Goleman in his book Emotional Intelligence: Managing emotions to make a positive impact on your life and career. While the concept has been enthusiastically adopted by the business community, and is even included in some job applications, some commentators remain sceptical, in part because emotional intelligence has no defined measurement or scale. To some people, emotional intelligence is too vague a concept to be meaningful.

Emotional intelligence is described as having five components:

Self awareness

Understanding your own strengths and weaknesses, emotions and moods. This helps to you be tolerant of criticism and not easily offended, as well as open to new ideas and willing to consider your own behaviours.


To think before taking action. This includes expressing feelings maturely and with restraint, rather than over-reacting.

Internal motivation

Emotionally intelligent people are typically motivated by their own goals and desires rather than external motivators like money or status. Their motivation comes from within and is less influenced by people or events around them.


The ability to recognise, understand and feel the emotions and situations of the people around us.

People skills

Emotionally intelligent people are good at building relationships with others, and establishing trust quickly. This is, in part, because they are naturally good at self-regulation, empathy, internal motivation and self-awareness, and these qualities engender a spirit of respect and cooperation rather than competition.

Using the principles of emotional intelligence in customer communications

There are some practical steps for people that want to become more emotionally intelligent, and more in tune with the people around them.

Can these behaviours be applied to customer communications?

Pause before speaking. For leaders, this advice is designed to create time to reflect and to show people that they have been heard. Rather than rushing to respond, good leaders take a moment to think.

For companies communicating with customers, perhaps this means trying to remember our customers as individuals when we are communicating. It might mean drawing on past communications or preferences, or it might mean using their data to personalise communications. By making small changes to customer communications, we can show customers that we see them as individuals.

Listen carefully. What are our customers trying to tell us? What can we glean from their behaviours and responses? It’s important that customers are heard, and that their comments inform our responses.

Give praise. For business leaders, this is relatively easy to do – even if it doesn’t come naturally to some managers.

In customer communications, how can we praise customers without being patronising? Perhaps the equivalent for customer communications professionals is to offer gifts as a form of recognition and reward.

Reflect on criticism. This is definitely an area that organisations can improve on. Instead of assuming that complaints are somehow wrong, we can all try harder to find the value in criticism. Even when a customer is in the wrong, their complaint may tell us something about the experience of our customers, and may help us empathise with the lives and challenges of the people we serve.