The New Metric for Engagement: Customer Emotion

Sentiment analysis and haptic touch technologies are helping brands measure how their customers feel — and that in turn could drive better experiences

When you see a product on television, visit a hotel, or travel on a cruise line, chances are you have a very visceral reaction. But until very recently, brands couldn’t turn these feelings into a data point to improve the customer experience.

Brands need to know how customers feel about their products and services, of course, and in this digital age they commonly use page views and return visits to measure engagement. But these digital habits tell part of the story — there’s a whole new world of analysis out there. Innovative technologies like sentiment analysis and haptic touch are capturing higher-quality data about customers, both online and off, and identifying what may be one of the best metrics of all for customer engagement — human emotion.

“It’s very clear that ‘click metrics,’ which were the cutting edge 20 years ago, are becoming a secondary metric,” says Rana June, CEO of Lightwave, a company that specializes in bioanalytics and emotion technology. “When you think about the technologies that are starting to come to light today, from virtual and augmented reality to autonomous driving vehicles to how we’re interacting with voice technologies, it’s very apparent we need something that’s a little more related to those technologies we’re building and using now. Emotions are inevitably the metric that will be used.”

Gauging customer emotion and understanding what it means

Disney is one of several companies investing in and using new technology to better gauge customer emotion. The brand uses its proprietary neural network in sentiment analysis cameras to track how test audiences react to its movies, generating 16 million data points in the process. Sentiment analysis is a way of monitoring customers’ reactions to a product or service by evaluating language, text, voice inflections, and biometrics to measure opinions, attitudes, and emotions, and then scoring them. Experts say we may start seeing sentiment-analysis cameras in Disney’s theme parks and restaurants, too.

The brand has also incorporated haptic feedback — which adds vibration, force, and motion to virtual objects — into its Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire VR-driven attraction. Users experience touch, smell, and motion while wearing a haptic vest that lets them feel when “the enemy’s” laser bolt hits them. Disney’s use of haptic feedback and sentiment analysis cameras are ways to determine not just what customers say but how they feel, and they provide a more emotionally connected customer experience.

Expedia is using sentiment analysis technology that lets hotels do more with click data and better respond to guest reviews, whether positive or negative. The tool treats words in a review as data, breaking them out, tabulating them, and integrating them with millions of words from other reviews. It lets brands analyze guest reviews and see patterns — say, an increase in complaints about the coffee — that may not be noticeable when reading reviews one at a time over a long period.

Sentiment analysis is not a new concept for online travel agencies (OTAs) — some version of it is available from ReviewPro, Czar Metrics, Brandify, Fishbowl Analytics, Hoxell, Review Trackers, and others. But the fact that Expedia, one of the largest travel booking sites in the world, now offers it means a large number of hotels has access to a huge amount of data that is much more actionable than what they had before.

Rana believes incorporating emotion technology into the OTA, hotel, airline, cruise line, and casino industries will create a more immersive and better overall customer experience.

“And that hopefully drives revenue, repeat customers, and positive experiences that then gets shared through social or word of mouth, and increases a lot of positive feeling with the brand in general,” she says.

For brands, knowledge is power

Some airlines, Rana says, are already experimenting with this new technology and learning they can improve an experience that causes negative physiological responses with simple adjustments.

“We’ve worked with a luxury brand in the Middle East to improve the customer experience,” she says. “From airport security to getting your bag, there can be many frustrating moments when traveling. But we learned that within business class, passing out aromatherapy hand towels to passengers actually changed their heart rate, their skin conductance, and a lot of physiological markers, which transformed that negative experience into a calm experience.”

“Being able to measure on that granular, second-by-second level is pretty promising,” she says. “You start to understand that in the future this could be something that is not just for business class or first-class passengers, but you may actually want to use it throughout the entire flight experience.”

By addressing stressful points within a flight experience, she says, an airline can transform how their customers feel about them. “And I think these customers’ loyalties will be measured by which airlines respond to these real-time emotion data points.”

Paving the way for less guesswork, more personalization

As more travel and hospitality brands measure their customers’ emotions with tools such as sentiment analysis and increase user engagement through haptic touch, they will rely less on guesswork. Whether through gesture, facial recognition, projected and interactive surfaces, or other haptic touch technologies, improved technology — now and yet to come — provides more data that helps a brand deliver better experiences and turns customers into loyal users. These technologies also usher in new types of interactivity that impact the market’s need for diversity of experience and personalization, such as digital signage and navigational techniques that go beyond physical signs, maps, and other directional aids to personalize and improve the user experience.

Beyond how such technologies impact the customer experience, they also can affect how travel and hospitality brands market their products. Royal Caribbean, for example, is applying haptic touch to its ads, meaning that ads viewed on a smartphone or tablet transmit vibrations that customers can feel. One study showed that such TouchSense ads led to a 50-percent increase in brand favorability, and increased customers’ connection and emotional response to the brand.

Investing in this kind of experimentation may soon be necessary for travel and hospitality brands to stand out in a competitive marketplace and successfully market their products.

“What’s exciting about this current generation of emotion and sentiment technologies is that we can start reducing the time it takes to figure out the emotional response someone has to a product and brand, and address it in real-time,” Rana says. “Using emotion as a data point enables brands to get more valuable information on their customers that they can then use to give them a memorable experience. And that ultimately could help them gain a more loyal following.”

Read more in our blog series on creating Destination Experiences or learn about Adobe’s solutions for Travel and Hospitality here.