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The phrase “Emotional Intelligence” entered our common vernacular in 1996, with the publication of a book by the same name. Since then talk of Emotional Intelligence, or EQ (emotional quotient), has become ubiquitous. Although we remain fascinated by the idea, and have even integrated it into our public education, few of us understand what emotional intelligence really is. In actuality EQ consists of two separate components: The first is an individual’s capacity for identifying and understanding their own emotions and those of the people around them, and the second is their ability to use this information to guide thinking and behavior.

The ability to harness emotional information can be a key factor in the success of individuals and organizations. Being able to influence an interaction so that it leaves each participant with a good emotional experience is an indispensable skill, and it affects our work performance more than we might imagine. More than ever companies are focusing on creating a culture that encourages creativity and productivity. Innovation guru, Tim Brown argues that empathy and emotional intelligence are inextricably connected to productivity and innovation. Employees that work well together are more productive. Seeing things from the perspective of others is also known to give a boost in creativity. An organization that fosters a cooperative environment and makes an effort to improve emotional intelligence will have an advantage over their competitors.

Emotional intelligence is important in a company’s internal communication as well as customer-experience activities. A recent Gartner survey shows that 89% of executives believe customer experience will become their key competitive differentiator in the next year. Leading companies and Customer experience analysts have discovered that a customer’s emotional experience with a company is the most important component in developing a relationship. In fact, according to noted customer experience expert Bruce Temkin’s extensive research, customers who experience an interaction in which a good emotional connection is developed are 12 times more likely to recommend that company to a friend. Those good emotional connections are reliant upon emotionally intelligent company representatives, employees that are able to effectively demonstrate empathy and build rapport with customers.

There is significant value in fostering emotional intelligence within customer facing organizations. Customers that feel good about an interaction with a company are 5 times more likely to forgive a mistake, and 6 times more likely to buy additional goods or services. Accenture estimates that 1.6 trillion dollars are available in the U.S alone from customers choosing to switch providers each year. How can companies create the strong connections necessary to capitalize on this value?

To improve, companies must start by acknowledging that emotional intelligence is a key component of a productive culture. Companies must then implement an approach to spreading emotional intelligence throughout their organization. They must measure if it is being adopted across the company and if it is delivering on targeted results. Co-workers and customers easily recognize attitudes of empathy and compassion that are fostered throughout the organization. Empathy is infectious; when people are surrounded by other respectful, caring and compassionate people it raises the satisfaction level and output of the individual and the group. Technology will play a crucial role if companies are to effectively foster emotional intelligence, deliver empathy at scale and measure the results.

The latest applications have progressed to the point where they are able to augment our emotional intelligence by deciphering our social signaling. Technology can help individuals become more aware of their behavior, and to understand the impact of their behavior on the emotional state of those they interact with. It is especially helpful on phone calls, the most common channel for customer interactions, where there is no physical frame of reference. Technology can now provide individuals with the real-time emotional information they need to help guide their thinking and adjust their behavior, resulting in better outcomes for all.

Emotional Intelligence is a concept with strong positive momentum. It is proving critical in helping companies meet and exceed their goals. Now is the time for companies to embrace this idea, and to do their best to teach and improve emotional intelligence across their organization. Improving emotional intelligence will lead to more collaborative business teams, higher employee engagement, increased productivity, and happier, more loyal customers. With a combination of focused effort and cutting edge technology, organizations can separate themselves from the pack and establish emotional intelligence as their key differentiator.