For most people, the word “sentiment” usually conjures the image of a gift card. Maybe you picture ‘Thoughts and Well Wishes!’ written above a picture of a sad puppy with some balloons, for example. But sentiment is actually one of the most important things that you can gauge about a customer—it’s more important than how many tickets they’ve written into your helpdesk, or what feature requests they’ve made. It’s even more important than how much they are paying you. That’s because sentiment allows you to understand how a customer feels, not just how they say they feel, about your support interactions and products in general.

Customer sentiment is slightly different from NPS or CSAT, two other common metrics that people use when gauging how their customers feel about their product. NPS is used to better understand how likely customers are to recommend your brand, and CSAT is used to understand customer satisfaction after an interaction with your support team. While both of these metrics are useful in their own ways, neither can give you the specific insights that something like customer sentiment can. For example, suppose you see CSAT dipping. How do you know what is causing the change? Normally you will have to look to the comments or unstructured text in your CSAT survey responses manually. Imagine if you could tag every single support case, survey response, or app review with a positive, negative, or neutral sentiment. Layering in sentiment would allow you to identify which issues most highly correspond to the negative sentiment and therefore highlight which issues are actually driving the dip in scores.

Here are some specific use cases putting sentiment to work. to give you unique perspectives that allow you to better know and serve your customers.

Prioritizing high-pain feature requests

Feature requests can be a contentious point among product and support teams: what’s the best way to prioritize issues? Should a company focus on building the things that the highest paying customers ask for? What about if the issue affects a ton of customers? What if it doesn’t affect a ton of customers, but is very painful when it does? Honestly, it usually differs depending on the company.

But, imagine that you were able to know every single customer’s sentiment about the product, the feature request, and your team. Having that knowledge would enable you to prioritize the issues that truly affect how the customer feels, rather than just guessing at it. So, instead of just basing issues on volume alone, you are able to have an actual gauge of how making the shift (or just leaving it) in your product will help guide your customer sentiment up or down. When you lift sentiment, you boost loyalty, when you drop sentiment, you lose it. Prioritize the high-pain issues with your product, rather than the high-volume ones. Or, better yet, prioritize the cross product of pain and volume.

Similarly, combining sentiment with tickets tagged by product is a great way to know where your product may be causing your customers the most trouble, especially when it comes to losing their trust.

Understand the churn-worthy issues

Any person that works in success or support knows the few types of questions at their company that come through from customers consistently. To the person that works helping the customer, these probably just signify a saved-reply and a close to the conversation—easy. But to the customer, they can be incredibly frustrating. The customer might even be left wondering why they couldn’t have just gotten the answer themselves, or done whatever you did for them themselves, or just not even needed to reach out to support.

Up until this point, your only insight into this was NPS or CSAT, and that was only if the customer decided to respond. You were able to monitor the score, read the comments, and see what promoters liked and detractors didn’t like. When you start to use customer sentiment and combine it with NPS or CSAT, you understand what kind of questions your customers are asking that frustrate them or hurt your relationship with them the most. For example, the things they perceive as simple, straightforward and that they probably should be able to do themselves.

But it also helps give you useful nuggets of info that otherwise you might not have had. Sentiment will surface, for example, complaints from promoters that would have otherwise just been ignored in the sea of 10s. Just because promoters are already enjoying and happy with your product does not mean that they don’t have useful complaints. Sentiment helps give them the attention that they also deserve.

Provide exemplary experiences

When you start to gather information around customer sentiment, it gives your company another piece of information to start to target and segment on. Whereas some companies will send emails to people that pay them a certain amount of money in recurring subscription, or will try to engage individuals that haven’t visited or purchased in a long time, with customer sentiment, you can specifically reach out to people who are losing or have already lost interest and faith in your brand.

People who have low customer sentiment are more likely to churn, lower their subscription, or just stop returning to your site or in-person location. None of those things are good for business, and probably are the opposite of what you want to encourage. Create segments around the people who are extremely high in customer sentiment towards your company, the ones who are in the middle and finally the ones who are the lowest range that they can be, prior to leaving.

Analyze the things that raise sentiment, like perhaps offering white glove treatment when the customer reaches out for support, and start to offer those to the people with the lowest sentiment. For people who have middling sentiment, perhaps offer small treats or “surprise-and-delight”-style easter eggs within your product. For the highest segment or people who have high sentiment towards your company, maybe offer specialty webinars to even better use your product, as that segment is going to be the one most likely to be filled with “super-users” that are hungry for more information around best-practices.

Use customer sentiment to better understand customer needs

Some companies offer support solely via email. Others offer phone support, chat, and social media support, or even support over video chat. Depending on your industry, and how your company handles each of those different avenues, one may provide a better experience for your customers than others. As you work through cases and conversations with your support and success teams, track how customer sentiment ranges across your different options for support. For example, if your product is geared towards a younger age demographic, chat and social support may create higher customer sentiment, whereas a company that sells accounting software may have customers that prefer and feel better around email or phone support for security reasons.

Listening to customer sentiment is like listening to your customer’s heartbeat.

As you notice shifts in what your customers do or don’t prefer, first take the opportunity to analyze if there might be something in your strategy that you could shift to make it better. For example, if customer sentiment around your email communication with customers is low, take a deep-dive into your team’s emails and see if there are stylistic or other changes that could be made to make it a better experience. Once you’ve analyzed if the things that your team is doing with the tool are good, then it’s time to shift strategy in which method of communication you push forward as your primary. If our customers feel extremely positive about using chat for support, but you are still trying to push email as your main means of offering help, experiment with changing over to chat for some percentages of your customer base and see how that impacts overall customer sentiment. You’ll find that, with these small adjustments, it starts to rise.

Sentiment is your customer’s heartbeat

Listening to customer sentiment is like listening to your customer’s heartbeat. When it starts to accelerate and get higher, you should keep doing what you’re doing; when it starts to slow down and get lower and sluggish, you need to get it going again. Listen carefully to it, and you’ll have a full handle on anything you need to do to make your customers happy and keep them loyal to your company and brand. Not only that, but you’ll have better insight into what works and doesn’t work, and thus will be able to make better-informed product decisions that result in much more impact and a great reception on release day.