emotions in customer experience

6 Core Emotions in Customer Experience and Why They Matter

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Sometimes “Customer Experience” feels like a book everyone talks about, but few people actually read. Luckily, the conversation is inspiring and a lot of fun. There’s a rich and vibrant discourse on social media about customer experience and customer service, and so many thought leaders who are constantly pioneering the ways we think about the interactions between customers and companies. But at the end of the day, if the customer isn’t in on the conversation, we’re talking in abstraction.

Customer experience is emotion. Plain and simple. It is how a company makes a customer feel. That’s what experience really means, and that’s what really matters in any interaction with a customer. (Notice I didn’t write “customers.” I’m trying to avoid abstraction!)

Why do customer emotions matter? Because a customer is willing to spend more with; to talk positively about; and to stay loyal to companies that provide positive experiences. And of course, customer service is a big part of any customer’s experience with a brand. The customer really wants to feel good and he or she will reward you for delivering a good experience.

Oops, there I go again, talking in abstraction. “Good” isn’t exactly an emotion, and as an experience it’s lackluster. That’s why merely satisfying the customer is no longer enough. Brands must inspire emotions that will evoke positive associations in the future.

There are six core emotions in customer experience: three positive and three negative. Consider each emotion a step, leading on the positive side to customer retention and on the negative side to the loss of the customer.

Positive emotions: Surprise, Happiness, and Gratitude

A customer feels Surprise immediately when he or she experiences customer service that is extraordinary or unexpected in a positive way. Even before he or she feels joy, there’s a feeling of surprise at an unexpected level of service. 

Once surprise wears off, a customer is left with a feeling of Happiness. This is important not only in the moment, but in the future, because it is the beginning of the customer’s positive association with the brand.

Gratitude is the ultimate state of mind in customer experience. When a customer realizes he or she feels happy because of the actions of a brand, that happiness becomes a positive association with the whole brand experience, not just a single customer service exchange.

Negative emotions: Anger, Frustration, and Disappointment

No one really wants to have a disgruntled customer, but the first negative emotion is an important opportunity. Anger means the customer is still emotionally connected to the brand. They haven’t given up yet and gone elsewhere. It is still possible to surprise and gratify them.

When a customer feels Frustration, it is typically after a period of anger. At this point he or she starts to slip away, contemplating a way out of this emotion and perhaps looking elsewhere, (to the competition) for relief. The customer is no longer sure you can help.

Disappointment is a dangerous emotion in customer experience because it is also the longest lasting emotion, meaning when a customer moves from feeling anger and frustration to disappointment it will be much harder to win them back. They have created a long-term negative association with the brand. 

Disappointment leads to Apathy, and that’s when the customer no longer feels anything toward the brand. In other words, they’re gone. 

We’re talking about customer retention

A customer who has positive associations with a brand—who knows the brand will consistently surprise, delight, and resolve—is more likely to become a brand advocate, not only spending more over the long-term, but also bringing in new customers through word of mouth. 

Happy customers stick around. On the other hand, once a customer makes a negative association with a brand, and once he or she is allowed to feel unresolved negative emotions because of problems that are not solved in a satisfactory way, he or she is moving down a path that leads to the competition.

A disappointed customer is not just unlikely to talk positively about a disappointing brand, he or she is very likely to tell others about the negative experience and to dissuade friends and colleagues from purchasing from the brand in the future.  

If we agree that customer experience is important, and it’s clear we do, we need to start finding ways to surprise and delight customers, and we also need to pay attention to their language so we can cut through the noise and recognize how the customer is feeling at any given moment of a customer service exchange. Knowing the customer better is the key to understanding how he or she feels. If customer experience is a book, each customer is a chapter. You don’t have to know every page by heart, but you’ve got to know the most important parts of each customer’s story: Who they are, how they feel, which of your agents is most likely to connect, and how your brand can delight them. We’re here to help you do that.

To learn more about becoming a leader in customer service and the digital experience, we invite you to watch our webinar, “Digital-First Customer Service: The Future is Here Today.”