Can customer emotion intensity be linked to business metrics?
By viewing customers or employees on a spectrum of emotional intensity, you can pinpoint specific issues that trigger high or low-intensity emotions. And new research into the connection between emotional intensity and stock price demonstrates why this is important.
Did you know that there have been over 90 definitions of emotions proposed in the last 20th Century? With all this confusion over the best way to conceptualise emotion, we can all agree there is an emerging need to measure emotion if we are to improve the human experiences that drive it.
A framework for measuring emotional intensity
Writing in the American Scientist, Professor Robert Plutchik set out not only a way to define emotions but a way to put forward a functional framework for understanding and measuring human emotion. His view was that emotion is a complex chain of “loosely connected events that begin with a stimulus and includes feelings, psychological changes, impulses to action and specific goal-oriented behaviour.”
What’s now popularised as Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotion, based on four decades of evidence, suggests that emotion is not static. In fact, it is the intensity of the emotion that determines whether someone is merely annoyed, angered or in a state of rage. And that these feeling states are followed by impulses to action. Plutchik suggests emotions can move from low, medium and high-intensity emotions if left unchecked. For example, a feeling of boredom can intensify to loathing.
So an important takeaway is that Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotion (fig. 1) provides a framework for pinpointing specific emotions and qualifying the importance of these emotions based on intensity.
Figure 1: Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotion. Each strand charts how emotions can evolve based on the intensity of the feeling.
So why is this important?
By viewing customers or employees on a spectrum of emotional intensity, you can pinpoint specific issues that trigger high or low-intensity emotions. These can act as important ‘feedback loops’ for action and also provide a new lens that enables us to see how what we do for people impacts how they feel. By focusing on emotion we change the language from customer and employee experience to understanding human experience.
To test this framework, data scientists at my own company Adoreboard examined United Airlines infamous ‘involuntary deboarding’ incident. If you haven’t seen the video by now the incident shows a passenger being forcibly dragged off an overbooked United flight. Its business impact, a cool $1.4 billion wiped off the share value of United Airlines as the stock dropped by 4%.
But can different emotion intensity be linked to business metrics like stock price?
To explore the link between customer emotion and stock value, the research looked at over 25,000 social media posts to the United Airline customer care social media handle between February 2017 to June 2017 (fig. 2). We used Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotion as the basis upon which to evaluate the emotional properties of the content shared by people contacting customer service.
Notably, the results show a negative correlation between disgust and sadness both medium intensity emotions with the stock price of United Airlines. This means that as the stock prices decreased we could find a link to higher levels of customers expressing disgust towards the brand. Also, customer joy, again a medium intensity emotion, was highly correlated with the stock increasing in value. This shows the importance of understanding that if low intensity emotions like boredom, annoyance or serenity tip into medium intensity emotions it can have a huge negative or positive impact on stock price.
Figure 2: Medium intensity emotions drive stock price. United Airlines stock price vs levels of disgust expressed on Twitter from February 2017 to June 2017.
In the study, we tracked United’s performance over the course of 12 months. Using the same model we identified the presence of medium activation emotion disgust in two other incidents.
Firstly, a ‘leggings incident’, when United gate agent barred two girls from boarding a flight because the girls were wearing leggings. Secondly a ‘shoving incident’ whereby a video surfaced of United employee shoving a 71-year-old man.
In both cases when disgust spiked there was a drop in the stock price.
But is there a link between how customers and employees feel? And could this provide a new insight into how brands create an overall human experience?
To answer this question, the research analysed comments left by United Airlines employees on Glass Door in the same time period. Interestingly, a similar pattern emerged. When employees felt disgust stock price dropped. A similar pattern emerges when comparing ebbs and flow of both United customers and employees emotions.
Figure 3: The level of disgust in United Airline's employee reviews alongside stock price
Spotting passives before they detract
It’s important to understand that for any individual brand or experience we can feel strengths of emotion about different aspects of an experience. My own experience of Apple, for example, is that I can really admire the highly skilled team at the Genius Bar helping fix a problem with my laptop but at the same time I regularly get flashes of rage when my iPhone battery prematurely dies just at the precise moment the ticket inspector asks to inspect the train ticket stored on my phone. Both admiration and rage are high-intensity emotions.
The ability for a brand to measure and prioritise both tackling the root cause like battery life or accentuating the positives can make the difference between my decision to switch to another brand with the hope of a new and better experience or stick with Apple.
Human experience: Focus on people not numbers
Dr Alex Genov, head of customer research at Zappos spends his time travelling the world evangelising the virtues of the Zappos culture. I spoke to him during a recent visit to the UK. His central message? There is one thing that stands in the way of most companies achieving excellent human experience is that they don’t understand their customers as people.
He suggests that when customers become just numbers, dangerous things can happen just like the United Airlines example. So don’t simply count your passives, understand the nuances of emotion using an accessible framework like the one proposed by Plutchik and in doing so you not only enrich the experience of your customers and employees you just might improve your company’s stock value in the process.