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Remember Polaroid—the instant camera company? Two decades ago, they filed for bankruptcy. Consumers found the brand irrelevant in the face of digital innovation.

Today, Polaroid is a hot consumer products company that has partnered with the likes of Lady Gaga and Nike. Polaroid is more loved than ever—the #polaroid tag has been used nearly 10 million times on Instagram.

So how does a brand go from trending to bankrupt—and back to trending again?

Customer sentiment.

How customers feel about your products and brand is more important than ever. 65% of customers say a positive brand experience is more influential than great advertising, and 42% would pay more for a better experience, according to PwC.

Your first goal should be to never get caught off guard, as Polaroid was, by sweeping changes in consumer behavior. By tracking customer sentiment toward your products and brand, you’ll stay on top of rising and falling sentiment.

Fortunately, you’re not at the whim of fate here. You can positively impact customer sentiment by listening to customers and giving them what they need. Commit to shaping your company around what customers ask for, and you’ll naturally become a brand that customers love.

Ready for practical customer sentiment-boosting tips? Read on.

How To Improve Customer Sentiment

Let’s dial down the jargon for a minute:

“Improve customer sentiment” is another way to say “make customers happy.” And there are million-and-one ways to make customers happy.

But to affect customer happiness at scale, you need to consolidate a lot of data. Sentiment data helps you understand what you’re doing right, what you’re doing wrong, and how to improve.

Here’s how to stay ahead in the customer sentiment game:

1. Gather customer feedback

It all starts with listening to your customers.

You’ll need to gather data from multiple sources—customer ratings, social media, surveys, and focus groups—as well as 1:1 customer interviews.

To make sense of all this data, use APIs to connect each source to a sentiment analysis tool that tracks changes, analyzes feedback, and provides actionable insights.

Once your tool is set up, give it as much customer data as possible. You might have some untapped sources of customer feedback you hadn’t considered.

For example, the latest natural language processing (NLP) tools can process phone calls, understanding your customers’ moods and tones as they chat with support reps. Machine learning features help you uncover patterns in these conversations over time. The customer conversations within the live chat tools on your website are a similarly rich source of data.

Once you’ve got your feedback, prioritize it to understand what the most common customer issues and opportunities are. If your brand is like most, you’ll probably be focused on issues like product troubleshooting, customer service complaints, feature requests, and new product requests.

2. Make life easy for your customers

You might have the greatest product in the world—but if it’s complicated to buy and use, your customers won’t be happy. Customer effort score is a measure of the effort customers put in to get their desired outcome, and it covers the customer journey from checkout to onboarding to daily use.

Much of customer satisfaction management is about staying tuned in to customers’ experience with your product and service. By helping them get what they want quickly and easily, you’ll boost loyalty and satisfaction—and, by extension, sentiment.

A few ways to make life easy for your customers:

  • Easy signup
  • Fast time to value
  • Helpful onboarding
  • Painless customer service

If you haven’t gone through your own customer experience recently, consider doing it. It’ll give you greater empathy for your users.

Make a note of your own subjective experiences and frustrations. Then, dig into customer sentiment data to look for data-driven opportunities to make life easier for customers. Look for keywords like “complicated” and “slow,” or feelings like “frustrated.” Make a list of roadblocks you can smooth over.

Take a close look at your product’s time to value, too. This metric measures how long customers have to wait to reach their goal. Customers want to get value immediately after buying your product. The faster you can help them do that, the happier they’ll be.

For example, Ahrefs, an SEO tool, offers a suite of free tools that provide value before you’ve spent a penny with them—and don’t even require you to log in.

image of ahrefs
Image Source: Ahrefs

3. Get better at customer service

As you comb through customer feedback, you’ll likely find that a significant percentage of it is focused on customer service interactions. This makes sense: by the time customers reach out for help, they’ve already had an issue with your product. It doesn’t take much to push them over the edge into frustration.

And customers are pickier than ever about service—72% of them will jump to another brand after a single bad customer experience. That means stellar customer service is a major competitive advantage.

Your sentiment tools can analyze customer service interactions and tell you what customers love, what frustrates them, and what they wish was different. For example, you may find that customers are frustrated that no one follows up with them on their support tickets, which suggests that you need to make changes to your process. Or, you might find that long response times are the biggest issue, in which case hiring more agents or incorporating chatbots might be the solution.

Most companies have poor customer service, so you’ll stand out if you can find a way to go above and beyond. Zappos, the shoe company, encourages its customer support team to chat leisurely with customers rather than aiming for efficiency. And they take that mission seriously—a Zappos employee once logged a 10-hour, 43-minute customer service call.

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4. Refine your products and marketing

Product development and marketing strategies aren’t the products of misunderstood geniuses, despite what Mad Men would have us believe.

Instead, the best marketing campaigns and product ideas come from your customers—the people using your products daily.

Customer sentiment analysis gives you deeper insight into what your customers want. You can run sentiment analysis on surveys, review sites, and social media posts to get a better understanding of what your customers are saying about your brand. This information can help you fix issues that need attention and optimize your pricing, marketing, and product launches.

Below, Canva does a great job incorporating customer feedback from social media into their product development plan—although it seems they haven’t yet added the requested feature. (C’mon, Canva!)

image of canva
Image Source: Twitter

5. Don’t stop improving—and pivot when necessary

Setting up your customer sentiment software and rolling out your first batch of improvements is just the start. Since customer sentiment is always changing, you need to continuously adapt too.

If you listen closely, your customers are telling you exactly what to do. Let's say you're a B2B SaaS company, and you've received 50 negative customer reviews. Ten reviews deal with onboarding, 25 with customer support, and 15 with feature limitations.

By consolidating the feedback from those reviews with other sources of feedback, you can put together a product and service improvement plan that tackles the precise struggles customers have with your product.

You’ll also want to pay special attention to customer sentiment after making big changes, like updates to your pricing, product, or social media strategy. Customer sentiment serves as a crucial indicator of how your target audience is receiving your changes—positive sentiment tells you to stay the course, and negative sentiment tells you when to pivot.

Resolving The Root Causes Of Negative Sentiment

Jumping onto social media and handling individual customer complaints can feel like playing whack-a-mole—and if you never address the underlying problems, that’s exactly what it is.

To address negative customer sentiment in a meaningful way, you need to figure out the root cause so you can provide a better customer experience.

Here’s where zooming in on individual customers helps.

Use individual customers to tell the story

By using customer sentiment tools, you can analyze thousands of social media posts and customer reviews and learn how customers feel about your brand.

But to really drive home the message the data is telling you, it’s helpful to review representative feedback from individual customers.

For example, at the end of 2022, the software company Adobe raised their prices. Users communicated their frustration on social media—not only at the price increase but at the difficulty of canceling the product. Stories like this help humanize the data and clarify what needs to be changed to improve customer sentiment.

image of adobe
Image Source: Twitter

Watch for patterns

Once you’ve reviewed some representative cases from individual customers, it’s time to zoom out.

For example, if multiple customers are reporting long customer service wait times, you know that’s a problem you need to deal with. Or, if customers say they aren’t getting much value out of your product, you know you’ve got a “time to value” issue.

Use sentiment analysis data to verify that the anecdotal issues you reviewed are, in fact, large-scale problems.

If so, it’s time to put changes in place.

Scale your changes

So, you’ve got a few customer experience problems on your hands.

By identifying them, you’re already ahead of most companies.

Now it’s time to figure out how to address your root causes. This could involve updating your product or processes, re-training your support team, or making other improvements to your customer experience.

Stay flexible, keep monitoring sentiment after your changes, and make adjustments as needed to ensure that the issues don't crop up again.

Surprise And Delight Customers

Never forget that your customers’ relationship with your brand is emotional, not rational. 95% of decision-making for purchases takes place in the subconscious mind.

That means that little changes in your customer experience can go a long way. “Surprise and delight” may be a marketing cliche, but it can have a big impact on customer sentiment.

Just look at Pret A Manger, the coffee shop chain. They’ve become known for encouraging staff to give out free coffees randomly as a way to create positive customer experiences—and they have the social media buzz to prove it.

image of pret
Image Source: Twitter

If you want to adopt a surprise-and-delight strategy to improve customer sentiment, here are a few places to start:

Be available and stay empathetic

86% of people still prefer human interaction over chatbots, and 71% are less likely to use a brand if there are no human customer service reps available.

That means one of the best ways to supercharge your customer sentiment is to have real people available to attend to your customers’ needs—and to train them to listen empathetically.

Follow up on customer requests

When customers take the time to request product features, the least you can do is acknowledge their request and thank them. But if you’re taking customer loyalty seriously, consider going a step further: close the feedback loop by getting back to the customer once their request has been implemented.

Imagine how delighted you’d be if a company reached out personally to let you know that a feature or new product you asked for months ago is now live.

It happens rarely, so it’s notable when you do it.

Incorporate ‘surprise and delight’ into pivotal CX moments

In every customer relationship, there are a few pivotal moments:

Onboarding

Onboarding is how you start the relationship off on the right (or wrong) foot. It’s a powerful moment that can lead customers to churn, or lead them toward retention.

The best thing you can do here is shepherd customers as quickly as possible toward their “aha” moment—the instant in which they experience the value they hoped for.

If you’re a retailer, an above-and-beyond onboarding experience might mean training your delivery staff to assemble products in your customers’ homes. If you’re a SaaS company, maybe it means creating custom product walkthroughs for each customer. Do whatever it takes to give value to customers fast.

Upsells

It’s hard to imagine that upselling a customer could be a surprise-and-delight moment. But what if your upsell unlocks an incredible amount of value?

Just look at Costco, which ranks first in customer satisfaction among retailers despite requiring an annual membership for entry. Or Amazon’s Prime membership, which overwhelms customers with value, from free delivery to free movies to discounted groceries.

Get creative with your upsells and cross-sells, and make sure loyal customers know they’re getting special treatment.

Milestones

Take any opportunity you can to recognize customers and show them you appreciate them. Customer relationship milestones are a good start—find a way to celebrate your “first anniversary” of working together, for example.

This is even more impactful if you’re able to recognize personal milestones for your customers, like their birthdays. By doing something unexpected to show you care, you can keep customers happy and create fans for life.

Learn from competitors

One way to improve customer sentiment is to watch your competitors and learn from them—especially competitors who have higher sentiment scores than you.

Look for specific areas competitors are outperforming you. Then, dig in. What are they doing that you’re not?

For example, if I were one of Lego’s competitors, I’d reevaluate my customer service based on the rave review in the viral tweet below:

image of lego
Image Source: Twitter

Of course, the opposite is true, too—you can also learn from your competitors’ failures. And you could argue that learning from failures is even more important since unhappy customers tell 16 people about their experience on average, while happy customers only tell 9 people.

Keep a close eye on competitors, and notice when they drop the ball. What are customers complaining about? Often, negative experiences fit one of these patterns:

  • Broken promises
  • Slow resolution times
  • Repeated feedback without action
  • Lack of product knowledge
  • Rude customer service
  • Ineffective support

American Airlines, below, drops the ball on a viral support request by simply giving the customer a phone number to call—something the customer explained they had already done several times.

image of airlines
Image Source: Twitter

By keeping a close eye on how competitors fail and succeed with customers, you can improve your customer interactions in a way that makes you look good by comparison.

The Fate Of Customer Sentiment Is In Your Hands

Customer sentiment isn’t random. It’s the outcome of a huge number of customer touchpoints coming together for hundreds or thousands of customers.

When your customer experience is seamless, and customers are happily surprised by the value they get from your product, sentiment will be high. When your customer experience falls short, sentiment suffers.

This is good news—it means you have significant influence over customer sentiment. If sentiment is lower than you’d like, start by gathering customer feedback data. Then get to work listening to customers, adapting your products based on what they need, and delivering unforgettable service.

Interested in more ways to keep your customers happy? Don’t miss the chance to subscribe to our newsletter and get the latest CX tips.

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By Ryan Kane

Ryan Kane has been researching, writing about and improving customer experiences for much of his career and in a wide variety of B2B and B2C contexts, from tech startups and agencies to a manufacturer for Fortune 500 clients.