Published in General

An Emotional View of a Customer’s Experience

Editor’s note: This is a chapter from the ebook Unlocking the Value of CX. You can download the entire ebook here.

In today’s day and age, where companies and consumers impact the messaging of products and services (P&S), creating emotional connections is taking on more prominence. Studies indicate that positive emotions may have more of an impact on loyalty than the rational evaluation of product attributes. In many P&S categories, companies are looking for ways to create a deeper experience. These experiences preferred by many consumers, especially millennials, require a marketing and services approach involving head and heart.1

Within the customer experience world, the measurement of overall satisfaction (OSAT) has been paramount in keeping track of the relationships between customers and companies. Using both OSAT and other P&S survey measures, companies can identify important attributes and touchpoints through key driver analysis. This comprehensive approach leads to action plans with well-defined steps. However, the historic and underlying assumption is that OSAT is primarily a rational measure.2

Traditionally, businesses paid little attention to emotions but focused more on functional aspects of experiences. Colin Shaw said in his book, The DNA of Customer Experience, “Emotions are at the very core of all the actions buyers take, and yet for years, businesses have ignored them.” This is probably because businesses have a hard time determining ways to measure and act on emotions. However, the ultimate question is: What is the benefit of measuring emotions?

The Case for Capturing Emotion

The primary reason to capture emotions in your customer experience program is to account for the “human nature” element in developing your action plans.3 For example, if a customer has a negative experience, is the associated emotion fear? anger? alarm? frustration? or grief?4 Identifying the most likely emotions can help a company to tailor and “humanize” the steps within an action plan. For example, situations that cause customer anger might be addressed by the employee staying calm, speaking slowly, sympathizing, and using effective questioning techniques. Situations that might cause fear could be addressed through assurance supplemented by educational brochures, warranties, and customer testimonials, etc.

In this article, the authors examine transactions in eleven industries, measuring overall satisfaction from not only a functional standpoint, but also noting their associated emotions and intensities.

The researchers used an omnibus survey to collect panelist evaluations about their transactions with companies. Each panelist rated their OSAT on a ten-point scale where ‘1’ is ‘Extremely Dissatisfied’ and ‘10’ is ‘Extremely Satisfied’. The intensity of the emotions selected were rated on a scale where ‘1’ was ‘Slightly Felt’ and ‘10’ was ‘Strongly Felt’.

The industry averages of emotional intensity and the OSAT score are shown in Figure 1. The two major grid lines represent the averages across all industries

The industry averages of emotional intensity and the OSAT score

As shown in figure 2, for most industries customers mention positive emotions related to trust and serenity, specifically ‘comfort’, ‘feeling valued’, and ‘confidence’. Take a look at the examples of what emotions were prevalent in certain transactions.

 A graph showing emotions experienced in industries

In general, customers who report high satisfaction levels mention more positive emotions related to the experience. Where there is higher dissatisfaction, there is also a higher mention of the negative emotions, as seen in TV/Cable, Utilities, Wireless, and Mortgage industries (see Figure 3).

Negative vs. Positive emotions by industry

Emotional Sources

Emotions stem from various sources: customers sometimes get into an experience with intense emotions already triggered by a previous event, which may be the reason for needing to conduct the transaction. For example, a car accident can lead to an auto insurance claim experience. Other times, customers are neutral as they start new transactions, but emotions get triggered throughout the experience. An example of this is going to the ATM to withdraw money before getting on a flight to a town where the bank has no presence, only to find the airport ATM is out of order. Feelings of anger or apprehension may be triggered due to the situation, as the consumer is concerned about not having the cash required for a taxi upon arrival.

Additionally, some transactions are more prone to emotional intensity than others. For example, a Disney trip is a transaction that is truly an emotional experience. On the other hand, a convenience store experience is more about functional needs than feelings.

In short, we observe different levels of emotions with different industries and transaction types. Here we delve into four of these industries with their sub-categories to postulate reasons for the emotional responses and functional measurements recorded (see Figures 1 and 2):

1) Utilities: Low OSAT, Low Emotion
2) Restaurants: High OSAT, Low Emotion
3) Automotive: High OSAT, High Emotion
4) TV/Cable Services: Low OSAT, High Emotion


Let’s take utilities… It is an aspect of life that we all need, but as long as everything is fine, we don’t think about it much. In developed countries, utilities are often not a top-of-mind issue. They may be taken for granted, and do not usually require choice or decision-making. Thus, utilities are not normally an emotionally-charged aspect of our lives, unless there is a major issue.

In general, the reported emotions experienced in a utilities transaction are not felt strongly. Some of the negative emotions are related to annoyance and sadness, and satisfaction levels prove to be lower than other industries.


Restaurants, both fast food and full service, tend to have average or above average OSAT ratings. However, emotional intensities are lower than many other industries, especially for the fast food sector. Fast food is usually chosen to fulfill functional needs of speed, convenience, and low price. Consumers’ expectations for a fast food experience tend to be in line with the transactional experiences.

On the other hand, we see that full service restaurants show higher emotional scores than fast food restaurants. This is probably because the need for “full-service dining” comes with an expectation of services that feed into one’s feelings in addition to the functional primary need of eating.

Generally, when consumers choose full-service restaurant options, they consider criteria such as cuisine (taste preferences), relaxation/comfort, ambiance, and a potential to create a specific mood or feeling for a special occasion. When rating a restaurant experience, many patrons mention feeling emotions related to joy.

Automotive Industry

For the automotive industry, there tend to be higher OSAT scores and higher emotions. Cars are frequently given as examples of emotional products or purchases. For example, a fancy sports car purchase may come with emotions anticipating a thrill and satisfaction, whereas purchasing a sturdy sedan with high-quality safety ratings may trigger emotions related to protecting a family.

Transactions within the auto industry remain higher than those in other industries, but show some variation, as the auto purchasing experience tends to be more emotional than the auto service experience.

TV/Cable Services

Lastly, an infamous example of customer experiences shows up here, with lower satisfaction yet higher emotions: TV/Cable Services. Satisfaction levels are even lower when repairs are involved in the transaction. One theory behind the higher emotions related to this category may be that many of us rely on TV experience as a primary form of entertainment, which is more related to emotions than primary functional needs. For new TV/Cable services, customers mention positive emotions associated with joy, while for service repairs customers mention annoyance and stress.

Understand the Emotions Connected to Your Experiences

The examples above illustrate how many experiences across diverse industries can trigger emotional responses in consumers. Thus, when improving the customer experience, it is essential to acknowledge and understand the emotions customers may be experiencing. This will enable organizations to make better strategic and tactical decisions and provide experiences with nuances that fill customer needs and result in more positive emotions than negative ones. Haven’t we all heard the saying “It takes three positive experiences to make up for one negative experience”?

“Bad emotions, bad parents, and bad feedback have more impact than good ones, and bad information is processed more thoroughly than good. The self is more motivated to avoid bad self-definitions than to pursue good ones. Bad impressions and bad stereotypes are quicker to form and more resistant to disconfirmation than good ones. Various explanations such as diagnosticity and salience help explain some findings, but the greater power of bad events is still found when such variables are controlled. Hardly any exceptions (indicating greater power of good) can be found. Taken together, these findings suggest that bad is stronger than good, as a general principle across a broad range of psychological phenomena.”

“Bad is Stronger than Good” by Braumeister, Bratslavsky, Finkenauer, VOHS


[1] TOMS shoes and Love Your Melon apparel make donations to make consumers feel good
[2] Actually, OSAT can be defined in two ways: a) the fulfillment of one’s needs or expectations (rational) b) a synonym for pleasure, gratification or happiness (emotional)
[3] Sometimes emotions may be captured in open-ended comments
[4] See Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotion