home Customer Experience How does it feel? Understanding your customers’ emotions

How does it feel? Understanding your customers’ emotions

Most brands understand that purchasing decisions are based more on how people feel  rather than logic. According to Forrester, a customer’s emotional reaction to an experience impacts loyalty greater than the ease and efficiency of their interaction. But how do you measure how customers feel ? And what impact does this  have on loyalty and the profitability of your business?

Understanding customer emotions has become a major focus for a number of brands in the last 10 – 15 years.  Their aim is to improve the way they design and market their products. Dr Lucia Kelleher, neuroscientist and discoverer of Busy Brain Syndrome, comments, “there have been numerous studies conducted around customer emotions in the last ten years. This research has contributed to the emergence of a new field of marketing known as neuromarketing. Neuromarketing applies the principles of neuroscience in understanding consumers sensorimotor, cognitive, and affective responses to marketing stimuli.”

“It’s about understanding which emotions and other neuropsychological processes affect consumer decisions, and how they respond to the various interactions they have with a brand. These findings are then applied to the way products are designed and marketed and how brands create experiences for their customers.”

According to research by Motista, a consumer intelligence firm, analysing customers’ emotional responses provides a better gauge of customers’ future value to a firm than any other metric, including brand awareness and customer satisfaction, and can be an important new source of growth and profitability.

What are your customers feeling?

Psychologist Robert Plutchik, outlines eight primary emotion dimensions: anger, anticipation, joy, trust, fear, surprise, sadness, and disgust. He argues for the primacy of these emotions by showing each is an unconsciousness trigger of behaviour with high survival value, such as the way fear inspires the fight-or-flight response. Pinpointing which emotion is being felt by a particular customer or group of customers at any stage in the buyer’s journey is extremely difficult as they are below conscious awareness.

Emotions may stay consistent or fluctuate greatly at different stages of the buyer’s journey and for different individuals. The emotional state of an individual and their response to a product or an interaction they have with a brand, may well be determined by other factors and situations in their life.

Take the electricity retail industry as an example. Whenever there is a story in the media about electricity and electricity bills, power companies will receive an elevated level of complaints and bill enquiries. People don’t like feeling they are being overcharged or rorted. The emotions and feelings connected with complaints over electricity bills, may have very little to do with the actual actions or services of a particular power company.

Feelings connected to identity and status can have a powerful impact on purchasing decisions. There’s the old saying, “keeping up with the Joneses”, where self-respect is measured by the accumulation of material goods in relation to friends, neighbours and colleagues.

Dr Kelleher describes how customers can adopt a herd mentality: they buy because they want to keep up with everybody else. In this case, just as with the complaints about electricity, the emotions driving the behaviour go beyond the immediate interaction or experience customers have with a particular brand and its products.

From excitement to disappointment to anger

Even though there may be numerous factors beyond their control, there are numerous factors that brands are directly responsible for when it comes to the emotional state of their customers. Dr Kelleher has observed, “Consumers may feel excited at the initial purchase of a product or service. People buy things because they think it will make them feel good about themselves as indicated in the Motista findings. The mood at this stage is very up. The brand has inspired a feeling of excitement and anticipation in the mind of the customer.”

Over time, this excitement dissipates and can quickly turn to disappointment if the product or service doesn’t meet expectations. Dr Kelleher says, “Rather than talking to an upbeat salesperson who inspired a positive mood when buying the product, they are now talking to a customer service agent who is apologising for things not living up to the original promise. The emotional mood descends even further if the customer believes the apology to be insincere or that the agent doesn’t really care.”

Dr Kelleher also advises, “It’s important to remember that unchecked emotions can spiral out of control into greater levels of intensity. When talking to customers and responding to their enquiries and complaints we need to be authentic in the way we communicate and attempt to elevate the mood. Otherwise what might start out as frustration could end in anger.”

Measuring customer emotions

Defining a metric for measuring customer happiness is a struggle for most organisations. Customer experience professionals have had measurements systems in place for years to track customer satisfaction and net promoter score. These things are measured by relatively straight forward surveys and research techniques.

However, as highlighted by the Forrester research it’s the emotional reaction of customers not customer satisfaction or NPS that leads to customer loyalty and the resulting increase in revenue and profits. To analyse emotions is a far more complicated challenge. Emotions are often unconsciously felt and not fully understood making responses to surveys very unlikely to provide a true picture.

Dr Kelleher highlights, “Considerable work has been done around techniques that evaluate facial coding and language / speech analysis. Facial coding maps various motions of the face such as raising eyebrows or flaring nostrils and connects them to particular emotions. Shoppers are then observed and their facial expressions analysed.”

“For online customers various techniques around language and text analysis have been developed. Considerable work has also been done around the use of emoticons and emojis”, adds Dr Kelleher.


Customer behaviour is greatly determined by the emotional experience a customer has with a brand. The less positive the mood the less likely that a customer will purchase a product or service in the future. There may be many conscious and unconscious factors beyond the control of the organisation that will impact the emotional mood of the customer. The brand needs to understand these emotions and create experiences that leave their customers feeling positive.

Mark Atterby

Mark Atterby has 18 years media, publishing and content marketing experience.