Each year, Forrester surveys nearly 90 thousand US adults as part of our Customer Experience Index (CX Index™) annual benchmark study (see Figure 1). Perennially, we find that emotion has a bigger — sometimes far bigger — impact on customer loyalty than effectiveness or ease. The question naturally follows: Which emotions have the biggest positive or negative impact? Our 2021 survey revealed incredible consistency among US consumers around which emotions are most likely to inspire or discourage loyalty. Surprisingly, the emotions that one might expect to see as most influential (such as delight or disgust) are not actually the ones that are most likely to change customer behavior. (See Figure 2 for the top emotions that influence behavior and a sample of emotions that surprisingly were not the most impactful.)

Figure 1 — Forrester’s Customer Experience Index (CX Index™)

CX Index algorithm models impact of CX quality on customer loyalty


Figure 2 — US Consumers Are Influenced By A Surprising Selection Of Emotions

Don’t Bother Delighting Your Customers

Conventional wisdom (and mission statements from companies such as Amazon, HubSpot, and Nordstrom) emphasize the importance of delighting customers or at least making them happy. As it turns out, happiness isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Even delighting customers won’t keep them coming back and/or recommending a brand to their friends — at least, not much.

The three positive emotions that do have the most influence on US customers’ loyalty as a whole are feeling valued, feeling appreciated, and feeling respected. When we analyze the impact of specific emotions on loyalty in the industries we assess, we find that at least two of these emotions are among the top three most impactful in every industry.

Companies can show that they value, appreciate, and respect customers by treating their customers as humans who have lives outside of their purchases. This can manifest in myriad ways, including respecting customers’ time by not making them jump through endless, repetitive hoops; closing the loop and taking appropriate action on feedback received; and rewarding loyalty.

Set Reasonable Expectations, Then Meet Them

The top three emotions that drive US customers away from brands are frustration, annoyance, and disappointment. These three are by far the most dominant negative emotions for US industries, comprising the three most influential in all but one industry we measure. All of these emotions have one thing in common: thwarted expectations. When customers expect to be able to complete a task and are unable to do so, the fallout is far worse than if the customer had known what to expect going into the situation (both for the customers emotionally and for the business in terms of churn).

Consider, for example, a customer who sees a retail product listed as “available in store” on the brand’s site but then goes to the location and finds that it’s actually out of stock, or a customer who wants to make a last-minute financial transfer or payment, only to discover after clicking “submit” that it won’t be processed for 24 hours. In both these situations, the brand created an expectation that it could not deliver on; had the brand been able to set reasonable expectations and then meet them, it would have avoided disappointing its customers. The customer might still be sad that the product is out of stock at the shop closest to them, or angry that they cannot submit their payment in time, but these negative emotions wouldn’t be compounded by their dashed hopes or the feeling that they wasted their time and energy.

Learn Which Specific Emotions Affect Your Brand Or Industry

Forrester collects CX Index data from almost 200,000 consumers on nearly 500 brands in 14 industries across 11 markets: Australia, Canada, France, Germany, India, Italy, Malaysia, Singapore, Spain, the UK, and the US. Underlying data behind the CX Index can help brands identify the key drivers of great CX for their customers as well as the key emotions for creating or increasing customer loyalty within an industry and market. This allows you to focus on improving the aspects of experiences that matter most for driving revenue and avoid wasting time and money on those that don’t move the needle.