Person in a cafe working from a smartphone
Chris Little (SingleStone) Posted by Chris Little (SingleStone) July 27, 2015

The Role of Emotion in Customer Experience

Attending the Forrester Customer Experience Forum in NYC in June, I was especially pleased by an apparent convergence between customer experience and human experience. That is, among customer experience researchers and analysts, there’s a growing appreciation and understanding of the customer as a holistic person, a real human being with emotions that drive action and choice.

For many years, we at SingleStone have emphasized the emotional qualities and experiences of customers (and employees) as central to their relationship with a brand, and consequently the brand’s success. While emotions don’t fully define the customer relationship, because rationale and logic play a big role too, to underrate the significance of customer emotion is a perilous strategy for business.

Forrester analysts presented ample research to support this viewpoint during the Customer Experience Forum. They began by offering a clarification worth noting: customer experience doesn’t directly drive behaviors that expand the relationship with a brand; customer loyalty does. And to quantify, loyal customers are 2x less likely to switch, 5x more likely to enrich, and 2x more likely to refer.

So what drives customer loyalty?

According to Forrester, of the three factors - non-CX factors, Rational CX, and Emotional CX - Emotional CX is the primary influencer, stronger than the other two combined. So for those designing experiences that appeal primarily to logic and rationale, it's time to reevaluate and revamp your approach.

Yet for those already enlightened to the significance of emotion, it's still no cakewalk. Emotions are complex and difficult to discern, even for those who are experiencing them, and it's hard to predict how emotion will translate to action. Here are a few helpful tips from Forrester:

  • We're more sensitive to negative experiences than positive ones, so invest in eliminating negative experiences before you invest in creating delightful ones. If your bank's online bill pay function is flaky, invest in fixing this and hold off on the "Happy Birthday!" feature.
  • We aren't aware of everything we feel, so seek to understand emotional context and unmask emotions that can't be put into words. Know that a person buying life insurance is in a different emotional state from one buying a smartphone. Anticipate emotional moments in the customer journey, and relate to them in your communications and interactions.
  • We don't remember past experiences with much accuracy, so invest more in the moments that will make lasting impressions and always end on a high note. As long as it functions, a customer's use of a credit card won't leave a lasting impression. However, a call concerning suspected fraud can be fraught with emotion and will leave a lasting impression, negative or positive. Design this interaction accordingly, perhaps including an unexpected gesture after the matter is settled, such as a 1,000 bonus point gift of apology or appreciation.


Maya Angelou, American poet and performer, learned that "people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."

Maya Angelou quote on emotion


It's time for everyday brands to learn this too, and to design their businesses - across strategy, culture, processes and technology - to deliver positive emotional experiences for their customers.

Source: Burns, Megan. The Role of Emotion in CX. 2015. Presentation.


Chris Little is the Founding Principal & CEO at SingleStone, a consultancy specializing in the creation of end-to-end, people-focused customer experiences. His impetus for founding SingleStone was fueled by a passion for solving business problems combined with a passion for creating an exceptional place to work, one that genuinely puts the human before the resource.