You Can't Afford to Overlook Your Customers' Emotional Experience

In 2014, Forrester analyzed CX Index data to see which of the three dimensions of CX quality matters most to customer loyalty – effectiveness, ease, or emotion. We found that emotion, how an experience makes the customer feel, has a bigger influence on their loyalty to a brand than either of the other two factors. Repeating that analysis with data from the first wave of our 2015 CX Index only strengthened that conclusion. Emotion was the #1 factor in customer loyalty across 17 of the 18 industries that we studied this time around.

Unfortunately, few CX programs pay as much attention to emotional experience as they do to functional experience. That’s partly because few people understand emotions very well. Conventional wisdom says that emotions are too unpredictable to manage. We disagree. True, we can’t control customer emotions (nor should we). But we can understand and influence them in a way that makes everyone happy.  

How, exactly, do you do that? Forrester hadn’t explored that question in much depth in the past, but that’s changed. Just last week I published the first of a series of reports on the role of emotion in CX and what it means for CX professionals across the globe.

This first installment debunks some myths about emotion and explains what CX professionals need to do to factor emotion into the larger CX management practice. For example, when we reviewed the latest academic and scientific literature we found that emotional response isn’t as illogical as it seems; it just follows a different set of rules than rational thought. The report outlines the four rules of emotion that every CX practitioner needs to know and summarizes best practices for working within those rules based on the real-world successes of 19 emotionally savvy firms. We even explore the latest in emotion detection tools. It turns out that technology, which one interviewee said has “cut the soul out of customer interactions,” can help solve some of the very problems that it creates.

This topic is a personal passion of mine, so I’m excited to get a conversation going in the broader CX community. If you’ve got questions or comments, leave them below. You can also listen to the episode of  CXCast (our CX podcast) where I discuss this research with my colleagues Sam Stern and Deanna Laufer.

And stay tuned…we’re diving deeper into topics like measuring emotion, designing for emotion, and ways to include emotion in customer research. If you’ve got a burning question about emotion you’d like us to answer in future research, we’d love to hear it. 



Having spent 8 years looking at emotion in CX and designed a Forrester cited emotion research tool as well as over the last 2 years looked at emotional intensity through story metrics and IAT, I really appreciate the chance to put my view.


I would be extremely cautious about conflating an attitudinal response on a survey with emotion (see Ortony and Clore). The risk of survey response is that even though you use an emotion-type word you assume customers interpret it as such. So enjoyable is no more than an attitudinal statement towards high satisfaction.

Since emotions are also more fleeting in 'the decision moment', in terms of measures, some of the best I have seen are complex adaptive and/ or based on gut reaction since emotion is a cognitive agitation not a post hoc rationalised response alone (e.g., Sensemaker, Emotix and immersion).

In addition, emotions are prototypical, which means that they are based on something: e.g., an appraisal (as per Lazarus, CMR theory). So it makes no sense to me to say lets create happiness! Happiness about what?

Emotions are also for learning. Hence a big mistake people make is assuming in text algorithms that if I say something negative I hate you: I may say it because I notice it and care.

Or we have to feel oh so emotional all the time; not a bit of it, once we have learnt, we have learnt. Emotions head towards a norm (homeostatic regulation to quote Baumeister).

Or lie in memory for the next time they impact a decision (see Somatic Markers - Damasio; If then rules (Baumeister).


To say it follows a different set of rules than rational thought, would also assume it follows a different system. I do not buy that. To quote Antonio Damasio, 'emotions put the body in the loop of reason', they are intertwined (to quote Byron Sharp). Although I accept you can create a 'mood' which leads to a predisposition (such as relaxation through mood lighting in a restuarant)

So, emotions matter, but are not enough. They require antecedents. They are based on something. Emotions should be a consideration as part of a design process. But think carefully about your measurement paradigm. The daftest question I ever saw was, 'whats the value of this emotion'. Well it depends what you do. The stupidest measurement system, one that omits its fleeting nature and builds recursive regression models with false predictability.

Appreciate Forrester interest in my opinion.

Customers' Emotional Experience

Hi Megan,

Making our customers love us, and irrationally prefer us, is absolutely what we should deliberately aim to do!

Putting aside the disruptive innovators like Amazon, Uber, Air BnB and Tesla, most of us offer similar products and services as our competitors. Loyalty-inspiring (i.e., emotional) experiences overcome the obvious, rational similarities.

I think that's the entire point of creating a differentiated customer experience. To gain competitive advantage that cannot easily be copied through purely rational means.

Jack Mackey CCXP
Chief Evangelist annd VP Sales. SMG

Emotional experiences

Well Jack, I get the sentiment. But how do you do that? Emotions are generalised words, they mean nothing on their own. Create happiness, love: about what? why? and where? sometimes I just want it easy or well a non-experience; so picking how you inject a sense of emotion is important.

Interestingly, by the way, the evidence from How Brands Grow (Byron Sharp) is that Harley Davidson, and Apple show no higher than average purchase 'loyalty'!

I am also not sure I agree on the 'overcome rational similarities'. Emotions are built on appraisals so 'rationality and emotion' are intertwined (Lazarus, CMR theory) within the individual; hence I think to separate rationality from emotion is a heavy step. But I accept the interesting point about emotion is how it presents perceptual bias. So a CTO who thinks they are rational, will buy based on a beautiful IT architecture diagram.

For me, 'its not the emotions that matter, its what they mean.' Emotions frequently are not direct influences on behaviour: 'Emotion Shapes Behavior:
Feedback, Anticipation, and Reflection, Rather than Direct Causation,' (Baumeister). Which causes an issue with measurement. Let alone the fact they are fleeting not a cause for a scale based measure.

For me start with 'emotional design'.

That old chestnut....

As a chartered psychologists working in this space for the last 20 years it always interests me to read opinions by non psychologists.

I would agree with much of Steven's comments here. One thing to add that we know is that the difficulty of measuring emotions and understanding their influence is that we as humans don't really understand or perceive our own to a large extent most of the time! Much of emotional experience is non conscious and is much more complex than just focusing on 'present emotional experience'. There are two other vitally important emotional dimensions to pin down as well 1) emotional expectation of our future emotions and 2) 'peripheral factors impacting on emotions (such as missing the bus, getting something unexpected, forgetting our brolly) these have great influence on how we react to unrelated things such as brands and products.

Trying also to map out emotions without understanding the needs of a person is like climbing aboard a rowboat without any oars - the two things are interlinked.

The work we have been doing in this space has supported that notion.

So my recipe is:
Research the three dimensions of 'emotion'
Research emotions from a non conscious perspective
Understand the psychological needs of your customers - as emotions are artefacts of whether they are being met by you or not!

Easy to Measure Easy to Improve

These guys are able to increase CS by 10% year over year, by engaging all levels of the organization in the reporting.