Skip to main content

Try Qualtrics for free

Free Account

Asking about Emotion in Customer Research

5 min read
A large part of a customer’s experience is emotional. But emotions are different from motivations, attitudes, or sentiment. Emotions are a state of mind, derived from interactions with others, the world (including product or brands), or a prevailing external mood.

Emotion does not necessarily drive an individual’s next action, but often has greater influence than rational thought.

Thus, emotion with customer experiences, products, and brands often impacts future experiences, coloring and contextualising past experiences. Emotions bring together disparate life experiences, and drive future aspirations, irrational or rational fears, loyalties, and trust.

Customer Interactions

Customer experience expert Bruce Temkin believes that every time a customer interacts with your brand they feel one of the following emotions— anger, agitation, ambivalence, appreciation, and adoration.

After analysing the loyalty of 10,000 U.S. customers and 100,000 interactions with brands, Temkin found that those who are indifferent, agitated, or angry with the brand will purchase again less than 30 percent of the time, while those that are adoring will purchase again with 93 percent confidence.

Discovering Customer’s Emotions

It’s important to discover your customers’ attitudes and emotions toward your brand to truly determine brand loyalty. The difficulty with doing this is that emotions are often unconsciously felt and not fully understood, creating a logic gap. When asking for descriptive responses, the respondent may attempt to give you a conscious description without describing the unconscious emotional response they may not fully understand themselves.

There are a few indirect methods to overcome this logical gap. We will cover several direct methods which allow respondents to describe the emotions they fully understand, but will also discuss methods to discover the very real but unconscious emotional responses.

Other variations of self-reported emotion questions include:

“How much does (brand or product) bring to mind the following emotions, when you think about (brand or product)?” (select all that apply)

Thinking back to your overall customer experience with (brand or product), which of the following emotions do you feel when reflecting about (brand or product)? (select all that apply)

Mapping Conscious and Unconscious Customer Emotions

There are three main techniques when mapping emotions after data collection:

  • direct reporting
  • metaphor elicitation
  • passive evaluation through facial coding or speech analysis

Direct Reporting:

The first is to map self-reported emotional attributes to a matrix or a framework with overlapping emotional structures. These word map matrixes give you the ability to ask questions in more than one way, but attribute the response to an overall theme such as love, joy, anger, or fear.

For instance, pride, contentment and optimism are all closely associated with joy, while hope, triumph, pleasure, and eagerness are also associated with joy, but less closely.

Metaphor Elicitation

The second self-reported, directed approach is using simile or metaphoric prompts, such as images, stories, or laddering techniques that map to emotions without directly mentioning the emotion itself.

The respondent intuits the emotion response to a prompt based on the image or metaphor rather than specific descriptive words. The respondent is also asked to describe a reason for the choice which creates links between this method and the first method.

Passive Evaluation

The third technique does not ask a respondent directly but uses automated or manual facial or voice emotion coding. Facial coding, a more common technique over voice coding, codes more than 20 facial motion units mapped to emotions.

This technique was first defined by Carl-Herman Hjortsjö and developed further by Paul Ekman and Wallace Friesen and originally was performed by manual examination. Today, machine-based data processing does the examination, with the Ekman scale is used by automated facial coding that uses a webcam in online surveying.

One benefit to automated facial coding is not requiring self-reported emotion, which has its limitations in terms of respondent self-awareness and latency. That said, some negative consequences are lower response rate and self-selection bias in terms of those who choose to participate in automated facial coding.


The emotional experience a customer has with a brand or product is incredibly important in determining customer behavior. A negative or ambivalent emotional experience will decrease the likelihood that a customer will repurchase a product in the future. In order to understand consumer emotions, we need to be aware of conscious and unconscious emotional responses, and use some creative methods to collect and map the true emotional response of respondents.

Understand and improve the emotional response to your brand and products