Mapping customer emotions

Most customer experience projects focus on rational drivers of customer behaviour.  Measures like price, speed, channel choice and so on.  Of-course these are important, but they only tell one part of the story.

Is the head or the heart more important for future purchase decisions?

Less tangible, emotional considerations such as first impressions and how an interaction makes a customer feel can be even more important in determining if a customer buys or not, recommends you or not, complains or not.

We have worked with companies who focused for years on delivering speedy, first call resolution believing it to be the driver of satisfaction.  However by exploring customer emotions we revealed that what their customers valued more highly than speed, is to feel confident they are getting the correct resolution to their issue.

We piloted changes that increased call duration.  But by taking time to ensure customers spoke to the right expert, repeat calls and the overall cost to serve went down, and satisfaction went up.

The power of the sub-conscious

Research into human psychology tells us that if the conscious mind has the equivalent of 50 bits of processing power the sub-conscious, emotional mind by comparison would have 11,000,000 bits1.

The subconscious is 200,000 times more powerful than the conscious mind
Like the conscious mind the Mahut may feel he is the dominant force

The most successful brands capture how interactions make customers feel.  They  make sure their staff relate to customers’ experiences on an emotional level.

If your staff feel your customers’ joy and pain, they are far more likely to put in the discretionary effort needed to give customers more of what they want and less of what drives them mad.

Delight and despair

Of course, it is important to understand customers’ highs and lows.  Only then can staff to properly empathise and leverage the power of the experience.

However, the truth is that for most organisations the greatest improvement comes from driving out error.  And that can only come by understanding when, and why things go wrong.

It can be uncomfortable listening to customer’s frustrations and anger.  However the paradox is that firms must both celebrate their considerable successes and be brutally honest about their failings.

5 steps to mapping customer emotions

1.     Start by capturing what your staff know

Front-line staff deal with emotional customers every day and they are the people who must ultimately make the bulk of any change that is required. It is vital therefore to start with them.

Customer Journey Mapping workshops are the best way to systematically go through a journey and explore what happens at every stage. What works well, and what works less well? What are the things that really get customers singing your praises or moaning with frustration?

However staff insight alone is not enough.  Colleagues will have anecdotal stories about Customers’ emotions but can struggle to gauge how common this is, or if these emotional outbursts are a reflection of flawed customers, or flawed services.

All too often these stories become the theme tune to a ‘them and us’ culture.  In many organisations front-line staff feel they must go into battle with customers.

Only quantitative research can give you the unvarnished customer perspective, to clarify what actually happens, what customers expect and how any mismatch makes them feel.

2.     Talk to your customers (in-depth qualitative research)

Very few organisations routinely collect qualitative research about customer’s service experiences.  However this provides the single most powerful insight into customer emotions.

We always recommend Customer Journey Mapping projects include in-depth research with customers who have recently experienced the target journey; including some who have had a bad experience.

Whilst focus groups can be used we generally find 1-2-1 in-depth interviews uncover more detail and make it easier to distinguish the expectations of different types of customer.

Ensure every interview is recorded and edited highlights are produced.  What surprises staff when they listen to customers is the strength of their feelings; something a low NPS or CSat score can never properly communicate.

Although recollections of exactly what happened, when might be shaky customers can provide very vivid accounts of how it made them feel.  As Maya Angelou, US author, poet and civil rights activist said:

I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.

There are other qualitative techniques you can use to add more detail or to reduce cost.

Accompanied visits:  Although expensive, accompanying customers as they go through a process provides a more reliable record of customer experiences.  This can be in person, via screen sharing or listening into calls.  A researcher can get a very immediate view of precisely what happens and the nuances of how people react to the situation.

Real customer stories: Where there is no budget for in-depth research a low-cost alternative is to produce what we call a ‘real customer story’.  This picks a single customer who has had a bad experience and documents all of their interactions to produce a timeline.  However, to bring the story to life you must be able to include call recordings and copies of written correspondence.  Whilst this only gives the story of one customer it does:

A real customer story in the making
    • show how small problems escalate and how this makes customers feel
    • begs the question ‘if things went so badly wrong for this customer how many others experience something similar?’
    • allows you to explore what you could do differently to avoid this happening to others.

3.     Review complaints

Complaints provide a gold-mine of information and companies who consistently deliver the best customer service invest a huge amount of effort understanding the root causes of complaints and using this to drive change.

Of-course most customers won’t complain, those that do generally feel a line has been crossed; that their realistic expectations, and trust, has been broken.

A good complaints process allows you to link complaints to specific journeys and by listening to recordings of complaints or interviewing the customers reveals the root cause of their anger and frustration.

4.     Quantify how many customers feel that way

Qualitative techniques will provide evidence about what triggers good and bad experiences and how different customers feel as they go through a journey.  It will also help you identify the Moments of Truth – those instances that can colour perceptions of the entire journey and undo all the great work you have done elsewhere.

Use the findings from qualitative research to help you define what questions you should ask in your quantitative surveys.  Both periodic and event driven surveys will provide robust and reliable evidence of how often these things happen – are any negative emotions an occasional blip or a regular occurrence?

How good is good enough, or how often it’s acceptable to get things wrong is matter of much debate.  The truth however depends very much on each type of experience; is it a moment of truth or a basic requirement (a hygiene factor) for example?

5.     Bring it all together – add emotions to Customer Journey maps

Customer journey maps provide a fantastic tool to pull together diverse information into a concise, action-oriented narrative.

There is no single ‘correct’ customer journey map. Your journey maps should be designed to meet your organisation’s exact requirements.  However, as a rule of thumb we will normally include at least two or three swim lanes that record different aspects of customer emotions at each stage of their journey. These can include:

  • Identifying which touchpoints are moments of truth
  • Verbatim quotes from customers that illustrate positive and negative emotional responses to different interactions
  • A measure of the emotional state at key touchpoints. This can be a score generated through quant research such as NPS (net promoter score) or an internally generated mark out of 10, or RAG (red, amber, green).
  • Scores of how often the underlying emotional need is not met, e.g. x% did not feel confident they got the correct answer to their query.
  • Number of complaints per 1,000 interactions and so forth

Interpreting customer emotions to drive change

Understanding customer’s emotions better gives an organisation many benefits:

  • It is the key that helps unlock staff empathy; vital to gain the discretionary effort needed to make change happen.
  • It provides a more accurate picture of the reputational benefit or damage experiences create.
  • It informs service and product design so you can give customers more of what they truly value.
  • And finally, it helps organisations prioritise resources to change or improve the parts of its offering that will have the greatest impact.

Analysing the customer emotions in your journey map allows you to define, for each key touchpoint; how good customers feel that experience is and if it is a:

  • Moment of truth: an interaction that has a disproportionate impact on customer perceptions.  This is generally customers’ first interaction with a brand and the moment the expected service/product benefit is delivered, or not.
  • Hygiene factor: interactions customers simply expect to work seamlessly every time and are intolerant of any failure.  A high downside risk.
  • A core interaction or functionality: customer satisfaction is directly related to how well you deliver this touchpoint (good and poor performance are weighted evenly). Even risk/reward.
  • Delightful innovation: something customers do not expect to happen and are delighted when it does. High opportunity for upside.

Given the reality of finite resources organisations can use this analysis to prioritise efforts as follows:

1.     First tackle Moments of truth and hygiene factors that are not performing well

2.     Then ensure core interactions are adequate (matching competitors for example)

3.     And then, if you still have capacity for further change, to improvement, attempt to develop delightful innovations

In other words, don’t divert resource into delightful innovation if your MOTs and hygiene factors are not performing well, consistently.


People tend to assume that customers make rational choices based on quantifiable characteristics of quality such as price, speed, convenience etc

However emotional responses are at least as influential and so important to understand. Organisations who examine customer emotions reap many benefits:

  • Their staff can more readily empathise with customers; a vital pre-requisite to the discretionary benefit effort needed to make change happen.
  • They gain a more accurate measure of the reputational benefit or damage experiences create.
  • They can use it to inform service and product design to give customers more of what they truly value.
  • And finally, it helps organisations prioritise resources, to focus on those aspects of its offering that have the greatest emotional impact.

Talking to staff, conducting qualitative research and qualitative research and analysing complaints are the critical techniques to understand how customers feel about each interaction they have with your organisation or your products as they try to fulfil their needs.

This diverse data set is best combined into a customer journey map, a wonderful way to pull together insight into a concise, action-oriented narrative.

With this insight you can see how good each touchpoint is and your understanding of how that makes customers feel will allow you to evaluate how important each interaction is, and so how you should prioritise your resources.

1Daniel Kahneman: Thinking, Fast and Slow. Jonathan Haidt: The Happiness Hypothesis and The Righteous Mind

This article written by Customer Journey Consultancy was reproduced in full on the website