customers being interviewed about their experience

Drive Business Growth at the Intersection of Positive Customer Sentiment & Ethical Website Design

As a brand, it’s important to understand your customers' sentiment. Once you uncover their thoughts, you can make ethical optimizations to your website experience that improve growth.

For better or worse, we often make purchases – or decline to purchase – based on our feelings and emotions. If we don’t like a brand, we won’t buy from them, even if their products and services check off all of our other boxes.

As a brand, it’s important to understand customer sentiment: how your customers feel about you. Once you uncover their thoughts, you can make ethical optimizations to your business and website experience that create more positive sentiment.

In this guide, we explain customer sentiment and how to analyze it. We also explain how ethics are intertwined with sentiment and how our proprietary model helps you identify ethical activities that have the best chance of moving the needle.

What is Customer Sentiment?

Customer sentiment refers to the emotions customers feel toward your brand, products, or services. It helps you understand whether your customers’ feelings are positive, negative, or neutral, as well as why they feel that way.

Generally speaking, if your customers have positive sentiment, they are more likely to buy and become repeat loyal customers. Customers who think of your brand negatively are less likely to buy.

What affects sentiment? Your products are the biggest factor. If people love your products, they’ll probably think well of your brand. But your service quality, personal interactions, charity work, company values, website experience, and other factors can influence sentiment.

Sadly, there is a discrepancy between companies’ opinions on customer sentiment and how customers actually feel. A NICE CXone report discovered that 50% of businesses believe their customers have a positive sentiment toward their brand, but only 15% of customers agree.

What’s interesting about sentiment is that it’s infectious. It can spread from one customer to others. For instance, suppose a customer has a delightful experience with your brand. They will undoubtedly share their experience with others, which will improve those people’s sentiment.

If you gather enough feedback from customers about their feelings, you can take steps to address any issues and build a better brand experience. But to get this feedback, you have to ask the right questions.

Direct vs. indirect feedback

Customer sentiment relies on direct and indirect feedback. Both are valuable. Their differences lay in how you get them.

Direct feedback refers to statements your customers make to you directly. This includes emails, phone calls, customer support tickets, live chat, or in-person conversations. Generally, these only happen when customers aren’t happy, though direct praise isn’t uncommon.

Indirect feedback refers to statements your customers make publicly, but aren’t intended for you. This includes conversations with friends and social media conversations. With the right tools, you can find and listen to these statements.

Some communications straddle the line between direct and indirect. A Twitter complaint, for example, is directed at the brand, but the tweeter relies on the pressure of a public conversation to make their point or get a response.

Measuring customer sentiment

We have lots of ecommerce metrics to measure how people feel, such as customer satisfaction (CSAT), customer effort score (CES), ease of doing business (EODB), or Net Promoter Score (NPS®).

While those metrics are valuable, they don’t attempt to understand why customers feel the way they do. To learn why, we have to approach it qualitatively.

More than 90% of communication is nonverbal, but that presents a challenge when you’re dealing with written communication, which lacks visual and acoustic aid. The words people use are only a fraction of their feelings.

This is referred to as the Iceberg Principle. Like an iceberg’s mass, which sits mostly under the water, your audience’s sentiment is similarly obscured. It’s your job to decipher the true meaning.

image showing the iceberg principal
Image of Iceberg Theory.
Source.

Customer sentiment is based on words, so we have to either a) have to have conversations with our customers, or b) peer into their conversations with their friends, family, and followers. A star rating will tell you whether a customer had a good or bad experience, but it doesn’t give you any information in regards to fixing the bad and leaning into the good.

Sentiment analysis, therefore, will put you on the path toward improving the experiences of all of your future customers. According to the Customer Service Trends for 2022 report, 64% of consumers stop doing business with a brand after only two or three bad experiences, so it’s important to make sentiment-improving changes quickly.

Sentiment analysis is the process of trying to understand your customers’ and potential customers’ feelings about your brand, products, and overall experience. Furthermore, it helps you look beyond their words at the tone of their comments. You can do this manually or with a customer sentiment analysis tool.

Let’s use a basic example. Suppose a customer leaves a product review that simply says, “It’s fine.” At face value, that’s a good review. “Fine” certainly isn’t negative, but even through the text we can see that the customer isn’t really happy with their purchase. Maybe the product isn’t what they wanted, but not worth initiating a return.

They said “Fine,” but in actuality, they had a negative experience. Even the most basic customer feedback can help you discover potential optimizations.

The Intersection of Ethical Website Design and Customer Sentiment

Now that you understand customer sentiment, you’re probably wondering how to improve it.

There is a general correlation between higher sentiment and more conversions. It’s not a linear relationship, however. While customers who like your brand are more likely to buy, increasing sentiment doesn’t always improve conversions and boost sales.

There are definitely some things you can do to improve customer sentiment and will make people more likely to purchase. Social proof, for example, makes customers feel better about their purchase and improves conversions.

However, some sentiment-improving activities won’t impact your conversion rate. Having a blog or offering a freemium model of pricing makes people feel good, but doesn’t necessarily move users down the conversion funnel.

As you would expect, activities that produce negative sentiment, such as poor imagery, hidden prices, and slow-loading pages, can hurt your conversion rate.

However, we have to consider the ethical ramifications of any initiative, even if they lead to more sales. Some sentiment-reducers can actually boost sales, like popups, false claims, and blatantly copying your competitors. These initiatives work in the short term, but they often have long-term, irrecoverable effects on your brand.

If you’re confused, don’t worry. Here’s a model we put together that shows common site elements and how users interpret them based on our research and testing.

model showing the relationship between customer sentiment and ethics, with common site elements
Model on Customer Sentiment.
© The Good Group, Inc.

The top left quadrant represents activities that will improve customer sentiment, but won’t boost your conversion rate. These are not a priority.

The bottom left quadrant represents activities that will reduce customer sentiment and reduce your conversion rate. They frustrate users and detract them from making a purchase. Avoid them at all costs. If you have any of these issues, don’t bother testing. Just fix them.

The bottom right quadrant represents activities that might improve your conversion rate, but are still unethical. They work, but that could affect your brand image over time. They also might have non-customer-related consequences. False claims, for example, could cause legal trouble.

We know that no one intends to create dark patterns or act unethically toward their site visitors, but it does happen. For instance, there is a fine line between “urgent language” and misleading users. These are elements to stay away from and potentially test to determine if it improves sentiment and purchases.

The top right quadrant is the intersection of ethics and good design: activities that improve sentiment and conversions. These represent opportunities that deserve your attention.

What we do at The Good focuses on this top right quadrant. We approach optimization with an understanding of what drives positive sentiment. This helps us develop better outcomes for our clients. A client may have a lot of ideas but we may not test all of them for data-backed reasons or because we know it won’t move the needle towards purchase.

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How to Find Ethical Initiatives That Increase Customer Sentiment and Conversions

In order to find initiatives for testing, we first focus on that top right quadrant. This is the sweet spot where optimizations have a reasonable chance of improving conversions and increasing customer sentiment.

  • Post-purchase incentives
  • Shipping incentives
  • Imagery with product in-situ
  • Brand value alignment
  • Social proof
  • Search improvements
  • Quality tiles
  • Priming
  • Buy-now-pay-later
  • Urgent language

Does this mean that those initiatives will definitely improve sales and sentiment? No. Nothing is guaranteed because all brands, products, and audiences are different. But these are great topics to inspire your experiments.

Furthermore, there are probably some ethical activities that improve sentiment and conversions that are unique to your business. Maybe your customers want a product builder on your site. Maybe they want you to get involved with a related charity. Or maybe they want special, nonstandard product filtering.

If you aren’t sure what your customers want, you’ll have to go out and get that information. Here are some actionable ways to determine customer sentiment and learn how to improve it.

As you hunt for your own optimization, plot them in our sentiment-ethics model, then focus on the ones that fall into the top right quadrant.

1. Collect reviews and survey responses

If you aren’t already, someone on your team should be reading every customer review that comes in. This includes reviews on individual products and general brand reviews on Google, Yelp, Facebook, and Trustpilot. If you don’t have reviews coming in naturally, start requesting them as part of your post-purchase experience.

Don’t focus on the bad reviews from unhappy customers. Positive customer experiences can validate what you know works in your website experience and marketing campaigns.  

Additionally, use online surveys to collect your customers’ opinions. These are typically longer than a simple product review request, so your response rate will be lower, but they give you the opportunity to ask probing questions. Plus, surveys aren’t public, so only you see the answer. You can encourage your customers to be brutally honest.

Who should take your customer satisfaction survey? It depends on what you want to know. If you want to know what you’re doing right, talk to your most active customers. If you want to know what you’ve done wrong, ask customers who only purchased once.

Most importantly, make your customer surveys easy for customers to complete. Send a link to a simple form. Include multiple choice questions they can complete quickly, but also add comment boxes so they can provide unique feedback in their own words.

2. Conduct customer interviews

User interviews are one-on-one conversations with existing users or potential users in your target audience. The purpose is to get direct feedback on how they feel and what you can do better in your brand experience, including your ecommerce site.

Admittedly, user interviews are expensive and time-consuming. Someone on your team has to conduct each one. And sometimes you don’t come away with any valuable feedback. If you need feedback at scale, opt for social listening or satisfaction surveys.

But customer interviews have the potential to provide a surprising amount of information, especially if the interviewer has experience pulling information out of your customers. A skilled interviewer can probe deeply to extract powerful insights.

Analyzing your feedback from interviews is challenging because the information is qualitative and unstructured. You (or someone on your team) will need to go through them one by one and divide customer comments into categories that help optimize the website. In some cases, you might look for answers to specific questions, such as “Why don’t our users take the quiz?”

3. Monitor customer service calls and live chat

When customers contact you directly, it’s important to measure their sentiment. Since 96% of customers don’t complain when there’s a problem, you have to take the ones that do complain seriously.

Suppose a customer calls to complain about missing shipment tracking information. Perhaps they didn’t receive the shipping confirmation email. Or maybe there’s something wrong with the tracking field in the email itself.

In this case, the customer support representative should summarize the encounter in a shared document or CRM. Then, review these notes regularly to look for repeat complaints. If you see sentiment patterns, have someone fix the issues so future customers don’t suffer the same problems.

4. Conduct customer sentiment analysis with AI

Sentiment analysis (sometimes called opinion mining) is a process that uses conversational artificial intelligence, natural language processing, and machine learning to determine the sentiment behind text. It attempts to extract those intangible bits of communication and identify customer issues.

These kinds of tools can analyze any type of text: social media posts, review sites, news articles, blogs, support tickets, live chat transcripts, and more.

After reviewing the comments, the AI will unpack the text to understand its structure and classify the words as positive, neutral, or negative, thereby turning qualitative information into quantitative data that can be analyzed at scale.  

example of AI analyzing text to categorize it for customer sentiment
AI Sentiment Analysis.
Source.

How does it work? The algorithms turn words into vectors, then use the distance between those points to understand their relationship. For instance, a sentiment analysis AI would group “Honda” and “Ford” together because they are related. (This TEDx talk explains everything.)

Sentiment analysis AI word relationships

Sentiment analysis can detect emotions, like anger, happiness, frustration, or disappointment at different stages of the customer journey. It can even deduce what customers think of your product. Suppose customers complain that a product “breaks right away” or “isn’t very durable” or “fell apart in my hands.” In this case, the AI would classify all of those comments as “low quality” to give you a comprehensive picture.

Fortunately, you don’t need to build this yourself. There are plenty of pre-built sentiment analysis SaaS tools your data team can use, such as Talkwalker, Reputation, Repustate, Brand24, or SentiSum.

5. Interact with your audience on social media

A proper social media presence is more than just blasting out content into the void. Smart brands engage with their audience to create genuine relationships and extract valuable social media feedback.

In a 2020 Bain & Company study, 54% of companies reported using technologies for analyzing customer sentiment from social media platforms. This is expected to exceed 80% in 2023.

customer sentiment analysis
Sentiment analysis from social media interaction.
Source.

The benefit to these interactions is that you can hear from all customers, not just recent ones. You can even learn what non-customers think of your brand and website experience.

When a social media user mentions your brand, document their comments. Try to determine why they made those comments and how you can fix the problem for that customer and future customers.

If your brand gets a lot of social media activity, consider using a social listening platform to monitor conversations at scale, such as Sprout Social, Falcon.io, or Hootsuite. These tools let you track brand mentions, hashtags, and any keywords you like.

The Best Results Come From Tailored Insights

Best practices only take you so far. At a certain point, you have to run methodical experiments to determine what moves the needle for your brand and ecommerce site.

At The Good, our experts can help you develop accurate insights tailored to your specific site and user goals. We’ll find ways to increase conversions and customer sentiment without violating ethics, mistreating your users and customers, or causing long term damage to your brand.

Our years of experience let you focus on the initiatives that will have the greatest impact. You may have a lot of ideas, so we work collaboratively with you to test ideas that move the needle towards purchase while surfacing improvement opportunities that your team can implement. 

Learn more about our Conversion Growth Program™. Let’s accelerate your business growth with our done-with-you optimization program that has proven results and no long-term commitments.

FAQs About Customer Sentiment and Ethical Design

What is customer sentiment?

Customer sentiment refers to the overall attitude, opinion, and emotions of customers towards a product, brand, or service. It can be positive, negative, or neutral and can have a significant impact on a company’s success or failure.

What is a sentiment example?

An example of negative customer sentiment in ecommerce is when customers leave negative reviews about a product they purchased online, citing issues such as poor quality, incorrect sizing, or slow shipping times. This negative sentiment can discourage potential customers from making a purchase, leading to a decrease in sales and revenue for the ecommerce business.

How do you measure customer sentiment?

Customer sentiment can be measured through various methods such as surveys, feedback forms, social media monitoring, online reviews, and sentiment analysis tools. These methods allow businesses to gather data and valuable insights about customer opinions, emotions, and attitudes towards their products or services.

What is ethical website design?

Ethical website design involves creating websites that prioritize the privacy, security, and well-being of users. It includes transparent data collection practices, accessibility for all users, and user-centered design that prioritizes usability and functionality. Ethical website design also avoids the use of manipulative tactics to exploit or deceive users.

What is customer sentiment analytics?

Customer sentiment analytics in ecommerce involves analyzing customer feedback, reviews, and social media mentions to understand customers’ emotions, attitudes, and opinions about a company’s products or services. This helps ecommerce businesses identify areas for improvement and make data-driven decisions to enhance the customer experience and ultimately drive sales.

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About the Author

Sumita Mukund

Sumita is a UX Designer and CRO Strategist at The Good with a decade of experience as a front-end developer. She works to create meaningful digital experiences and solve the everyday problems that make up our interactions with technology.