How Emotions are Evoked in a Customer Experience


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How do we redesign our Customers Experience to ensure we are evoking positive emotions? This is a question we are being increasingly asked as people realize emotions form a large part of a Customers Experience. To understand and answer this, we need to look at the process by which emotions are evoked. We are fortunate to have debated this with some of the leading authorities on emotions in the academia and psychological world.

What has always surprised me is despite the advances in medical science there are no agreed upon, defined way people feel emotions. The most accepted view is that of Damasio, Lange and James, who describe what they call their “Dual State Theory”.

This states the way that an emotion is generated. Below you will find the details of this theory.

Dual State Theory

Theory Explanation
1. We detect sensory stimuli We smell, see, hear, touch, or taste something
2. This stimulus subconsciously activates our body and lower level brain states which, in turn, induces emotional brain and body states The heart beats faster, the hands sweat and so on
3. These body/brain states generate a feeling A feeling is generated
4. At about the same time, we become consciously aware of the feeling I am feeling cared for, valued, disappointed, scared
5. We then work out why we are feeling this way I am feeling scared because this is a dark alley and it is late at night
6. We make associations between events/objects in the current situation and what we are feeling On TV last night I saw that someone was attacked in a similar circumstance
7. We actively organize our memory and learn from what is happening I should not go down that alley and must not do this again

In this case I guess the next step is the action I take given this feeling of being scared to go down the alley. My actions will also be weighed up against other priorities…. For example, I can hear my child crying at the end of the alley. Despite being scared other emotions of love and caring drive me forward.

Therefore where can we create a deliberate Customer Experience?

Well surprise surprise it starts at the beginning.

In step 1 “We detect sensory stimuli”. We can help determine the sensory input. What do our brochures feel like? What smells can we generate? What sounds can we build into our experience? Senses have very strong associations and memories. My association of summer is the smell of freshly cut grass, the sounds of Seagulls and the songs like “Summer Breeze” by the Isley Brothers. Our brains have very strong associations with smells and sounds. We all know of a particular song that reminds us of a holiday or a particular moment in our lives. Therefore my challenge is, do you know what senses would enhance your Customer Experience and have these been deliberately built into your Customer Experience?

In step 2, “This stimulus subconsciously activates our body and lower level brain states which, in turn, induces emotional brain and body states” is it possible to see how your Customer is reacting to your experience? Can you look at their bodies and see the responses in they have?

In step 3 “We then work out why we are feeling this way”. Can you “read” what emotion they are feeling? Have you employed emotional intelligent people who can do this?

In step 6 “We make associations between events/objects in the current situation and what we are feeling”. What associations are your customers making? Are they the ones that you would like? What can you do to change that?

Finally in step 7 “We actively organize our memory and learn from what is happening”. What is the memory you would like to leave with your customer? Our advice would be that you actually need to start with this. This should dictate how your experience is constructed.

In our experience of designing experience this is the level of detail you need to look at to design a really memorable Customer Experience.

Colin Shaw
Colin is an original pioneer of Customer Experience. LinkedIn has recognized Colin as one of the ‘World's Top 150 Business Influencers’ Colin is an official LinkedIn "Top Voice", with over 280,000 followers & 80,000 subscribed to his newsletter 'Why Customers Buy'. Colin's consulting company Beyond Philosophy, was recognized by the Financial Times as ‘one of the leading consultancies’. Colin is the co-host of the highly successful Intuitive Customer podcast, which is rated in the top 2% of podcasts.


  1. Hi Colin

    There is a lot written about CEX and the role of ’emotions’. But most authors don’t know of Damasio et al’s groundbreaking work and regularly confuse emotions with feelings and vice versa. It is great to see it explained so simply and clearly.

    What is interesting about Damasio’s model is how few subconscious emotions ever result in conscious feelings. Most of the research I have seen suggests that approx. 95% of subconscious emotions never make it to conscious feelings. Which is just as well otherwise we would never get anything done!

    The implications of this are that we need to create experiences that produce the appropriate suconscious emotions in people, irrespective of whether they trigger a conscious feeling or not. Just like the sub-audible sounds designed to trigger fear in people visiting the London Dungeon.

    Graham Hill
    Customer-centric Innovator
    Follow me on Twitter

    Interested in Customer Driven Innovation? Join the Customer Driven Innovation groups on LinkedIn or Facebook to learn more.

  2. Graham

    Some good points, thanks. The whole area of the subconscious experience is one that most organisations do not recognise. In our experience the subconscious experience, if ignored, is at the heart of a poor experience.

    Colin Shaw
    International Author. Lastest book “The DNA of Customer Experience”



  3. Colin, Coming from a different background of working with customers, the emotion I came to understand that customers take on is stress until they find:

    * what they are looking for can be found,

    * that, once found, there are enough choices to make a decision,

    * the information related to sizes, materials, costs, for products; formats, contents, fees for services do not require fumbling around or being embarrassed to ask about,

    * that if it does not fit or do what was expected, wanted, needed, there is a way to have it replaced or done in a different manner,

    All of which comes down to overcoming their three fears – fear of their lack of knowledge, fear of the person they are in contact with knowledge, fear of being criticized for doing/not doing it. If any two of these three fears are eased, stress decreases considerably. The end result is that they can be confident that by doing, not doing/buying/not buying, they will be seen in their own and others’ eyes as being smarter and/or better than they were previously.

    Many, many years ago I was told/taught that there are three signals that indicate the customer (anyone being asked to do something) is ready to say “yes.” The signals are:

    1.. Their eyes will dilate slightly,

    2. Their shoulders will sag slightly

    Both, I was told are signals that stress has eased.

    3. Their words will change from “you/your” to “me/I/us.’

    The last is a sign of taking ownership.

    In my work I use the points in the article “What Customers Need to Know” on my web site. When those faced with selling or putting across a point, policy, procedure, etc. it is also stressful. By knowing what customers need to know and what thoughts are going through their heads lessens, also their stress. Empathy? Maybe. Confidence? Most surely.

    Alan J. Zell, Ambassador of Selling, Attitudes for Selling
    Recipient of the Murray Award for Marketing Excellence
    Attitudes for Selling offers consulting, workshops and speaking on all business topics that affect sales.
    He can be reached at [email protected] or through his web site,


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