How to Track Customer Sentiment and Become a Master of Emotion

Love, hate, excitement, anger. Emotions are complicated, but finding out how your customers feel about you shouldn't have to be.

Customer sentiment is an inherent aspect of every business. Your customers’ relationship with your company can elicit profound feelings and emotions depending on a range of things –your product or service quality, your interaction with them or your company’s values.

When customers are compelled to speak positively or negatively about you, it’s important to listen, track and learn from it. I’ll explain how to do all three.

First, let’s clarify what customer sentiment is.

What’s customer sentiment?

Customer sentiment is the emotion customers feel overall toward your brand, product or service and can vary from positive to negative to neutral. It shares similar aspects with customer satisfaction, but that deals more with a concrete reaction, like how satisfied someone was using a product, while sentiment is more based on an emotional response.

To show you the difference, here are two reviews about the new Samsung Galaxy Note left on Best Buy .

a screenshot of a review on Best Buy's website showing customer satisfaction
Customer satisfaction
a screenshot of a review on Best Buy's website showing customer sentiment
Customer sentiment

Both have the ability to influence potential customers around the world and are huge contributing factors to how people perceive your brand .

But humans are emotional creatures, and often times we rely on our feelings and senses when making a purchase. Not only that, but others’ emotional sentiments about a brand can affect how we feel and whether or not we want to purchase from them, too.

Direct vs. indirect sentiment

Each customer expresses her sentiment differently and in various places, whether it be by direct or indirect feedback. Both kinds are equally important to consider. If your customer feels strongly enough to take the time to email you, reach out to your customer support via chat , or fill out a customer survey, her response is valuable and should not be taken lightly.

On the other hand, the internet has become a beloved hub for customers around the world to share their experiences and unfiltered opinions. And their sentiments have the power to reach audiences in the millions, like this United Airlines scandal .

Find out what your customers think

Being curious about how your customers feel about you is good for business. Once you understand how customers perceive your brand, you’ll know what to improve or keep consistent. You should frequently ask yourself questions like, “What do our customers think of us?,” “Are we making our customers happy?,” and “How can we improve?”

And by tracking and understanding customer sentiment, you’ll get answers to all of these questions. Better yet, you can use this information to your advantage in various ways, like improving your customer service or tweaking your product based on customer recommendations.

Being open to customer concerns, praise and feedback will help you maintain an overall positive brand image.

First, learn to read between the lines

Tracking customer sentiment is largely dependent on understanding the tone and feeling of the message. Tone is more of an attitude, not what someone says outrightly.

Using the Iceberg Principle , words are the visible part of the iceberg and tone is the larger part of the iceberg unseen underwater. Learning to read tone will help you avoid the negativity bias and find the value in customer sentiments.

Since customers often express their opinions in writing (email, reviews, responses to surveys), it can be difficult to gather the context and meaning behind their words.

It’s easier to understand someone’s tone when they're speaking to you. You have the volume of their voice, their body language, and their facial expression supplementing the actual words they are saying.

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But online, it gets harder to decode the tone of someone’s words. There are a few tips and tricks that can help you determine the tone of someone’s message, like watching out for words with positive or negative connotations and which ideas or images the writer repeats.

Let’s practice a bit here with these examples and see how different words can change the tone of the entire message. We’ll use an imaginary trip to a hotel as our subject.

  • “The hotel was energetic with tons of friendly people around. Our room was cozy and decorated with antiques. It really felt like I had taken a step back in history!”
  • “The hotel was overwhelmingly busy and the people there wouldn't leave me alone. Our room was tiny and filled with old junk that we couldn't use. I felt like we were living in the 1950’s.”

We can determine the tone by paying attention to how the writer phrased her experience. For the first, we can see the guest had a positive experience because she used words like “energetic,” “friendly,” and “antique”– which has a positive connotation. As for the second, we can conclude a negative experience from “overwhelmingly busy,” “wouldn't leave me alone,” “tiny,” and “junk.”

Generally, you can categorize customer sentiment as happy (satisfied), neutral or unhappy (unsatisfied). You don’t have to be so specific , but you want to make sure that you aren’t misinterpreting what your customers mean .

3 ways to keep track of customer sentiment

Now that you hopefully have a clearer idea of what sentiment is and how to decipher it, here are the three areas where we suggest tracking customer sentiment and a few helpful tips on how to do it.

1
Reviews

Reviews are a great place to begin tracking customer sentiment. Star ratings or answers to “Would you recommend this product/service?” are a clear starting point for receiving sentiments, but written reviews require more analysis.

If you’re a small company, you can have someone in charge of going through customer reviews to collect customer sentiment, make a report and share with the team. However, if you’re anywhere from a medium- to large-sized company, going through reviews might not be a one-person job.

In that case, I recommend using a tool like MeaningCloud or RapidMiner . This kind of tool can read through text to determine the sentiment. Using different algorithms, these softwares can distinguish between fact and opinion, determine the polarity of the sentiment, as well as the object of the sentiment. It’ll even help you read through sarcasm, too.

cartoon of a broken heart

Reviews can also be a huge determinant for other potential customers to either buy your product or choose to take their money elsewhere. So regardless of the size of your company, it’s important to not only track, but interact with the people leaving reviews.

It’s nice to show your appreciation when people leave positive reviews with a short response like, “Thanks for your review! We’re happy you’re enjoying it.” Bad reviews, on the other hand, are a bit more tricky. But don’t fear – here are some of our tips for responding to negative reviews .

2
Social media

Facebook, Instagram and Twitter have become a megacenter for customers to share their experiences– the good, the bad and the ugly.

Customer sentiment from social media can often be categorized as a review if someone writes on your company’s Facebook page or messages you directly. Other times, social media sentiments exist to share an experience or talk about or recommend a product.

a screenshot from Ben and Jerry's instragram for their new vegan ice cream
People are loving Ben & Jerry’s new vegan ice cream ( Source )

With the growth of social media over the past few years, it can be overwhelming to track, albeit necessary. Thankfully tools exist now to help you out, like Sprout Social . With this software solution, you can define keywords as negative, positive or neutral to help you search through comments. You can also categorize comments (for example, “customer service”) so you know which ones to respond to.

If you’re a larger company and concerned more with overall sentiment, Quick Search by Talkwalker is a good option that will also show you sentiment over time and let you compare to your competitors.

3
Direct feedback

Generally, anything that your customers are saying about you can be classified as feedback. But it’s more personal (and likely more valuable) when customers choose to contact you directly to express their opinions privately via phone, email or live chat .

cartoon of a sad to happy emoji scale

Customer satisfaction metrics help you track customer sentiments from these direct lines of communication. Like in the case of reviews, the quantitative information (the number your customer gave you on a scale of 1-10, number of stars, etc.) should help you interpret the qualitative information (written), which is overall the more valuable feedback you’re searching for.

The Net Promoter Score , CSAT , and Would You Miss Us? are all metrics that you can easily add a follow-up question to, which will open up more opportunities to gather customer sentiment.

Track to stay on track

Customer sentiment is similar to the personal feedback we get from others. When someone gives you advice, you might either think, “They have a point and I’d really like to work on that part of myself” or “That’s really not who I want to be, even if this person thinks I should be.”

The same goes for customer sentiment. When you track it, you’ll likely come across some things that people love about your company and other things that they don't. When you find that the majority of people are unsatisfied with something, it’s worth considering if you should change what you’re doing. And vice versa: if a large amount of your customers are expressing their satisfaction, then it’s also a good indicator that they don't want you to change.

In every instance, whether it be from 2,000 customers or 2, you should carefully consider which feedback you’ll implement and which you’ll toss.

You can't make everyone happy. But you do want your customer sentiment to be generally positive and tracking it will help you get there.