Say it with a smile—what emojis can tell you about customer sentiment

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SMG thrives on data. And our Data Science team is responsible for narrowing down the massive datasets we collect into granular patterns in consumer preferences and behavior. We use advanced algorithms and rigorously test new concepts to get down to the insights that deliver real value to our clients. Those insights are what helps them make the better business decisions that drive loyalty and growth.

Lately the team has been focused on advancing our text analytics capabilities. We’re working to enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of our natural language processing algorithms to keep our insights impactful and accurate. And in our efforts to improve, we’ve noticed that as technology is changing, so is the meaning of natural language. We’ve grown increasingly interested in how these new ways of speaking factor into the customer experience measurement context.

Speedy sentiments

Texting, tweeting, status updates, and instant messaging are just a few of the ways we express ourselves and keep in touch. And as mediums for communication have changed, so have the methods. Hashtags, LOLs, and emojis have all emerged as popular methods for saying what we need to say. With so much of our communication happening through a screen, these new lexicons let us add an extra layer of meaning that text alone often lacks. Emojis especially help us translate our emotions—even when the recipient can’t hear or see us.

And with more people using emojis every day, it’s only natural that we’re seeing use increase in the CX world, too. SMG’s location-based mobile research app—SurveyMini®—has seen a huge spike in emoji use in the responses it collects in recent years. And it turns out that they’re a significant indicator of customer sentiment. Here’s a little about what we found when we measured emoji use in customer comments for one of our quick service restaurant (QSR) clients.

Emojis have a strong correlation to customer satisfaction in surveyed customer experiences. We compared emoji use and Overall Satisfaction (OSAT) scores for our QSR client and 6 of their competitors—and as you can see in the chart below, high OSAT scores and low OSAT scores showed very consistent and very different use of emojis. Comments that included a heart with an arrow, clapping hands, and the multi-heart emojis appeared in the highest top box scores—while thumbs down and an angry face appeared most often in the lowest top box scores. Not only do these emojis show clear sentiment, but they’re a quick and clear indicator of how customers feel about their brand experience.


The QSR client we studied is a regional burger chain with an extremely fervent customer base—even for customers outside their locality. We measured which emojis occurred most frequently in the comments collected from January 2016 to March 2017, and the top 16 emojis used all showed positive sentiments. The most commonly used was the yellow thumbs-up, followed by the heart and a smiling face. That’s another clear indicator that this client is doing something right when it comes to serving customers. Emojis can’t necessarily tell you what that thing is, but they offer a quick way to understand general customer sentiments toward your brand. 


Emojis can let you see how your brand stacks up to your competition, too. We computed an average frequency of emojis across all comments and created an index to see which ones occur more or less often for the brand. As you can see in the chart below, survey respondents use burger and fry emojis with relatively high frequency (and also high-sentiment emojis like hearts and smiles) when leaving feedback for our client. Even better news—relative to their competitors, they see fewer negative-sentiment emojis like thumbs down and the side-eye. That tells us pretty quickly that customers love them and rank them high among the competition.

We can also compare those values to competitors. One QSR brand we looked at specializes in chicken, so it’s not surprising that their survey responses include very few burger emojis. That tells us customers enjoy talking about menu items with emojis—not just sentiment. Another fast food competitor in this space under-indexed on the positive-sentiment emojis shown and over-indexed on the negative emojis. This tells us very quickly that they have plenty of room for improvements among customers and the quick service industry as a whole.


Bottom line

Emojis don’t lie—and customers are using them more and more when giving brands their feedback. While they can’t tell you many specifics about your customer experience strategy, they can definitely give you a quick read on overall customer sentiment and brand perception. Measuring their use in your brand’s feedback is a great way to easily see how your customers feel about you—and if you need to dig deeper to make improvements.

Data collected through SurveyMini can tell you what your customers—and your competitor’s customers—are thinking, doing, and why they’re doing it. To learn more about how SurveyMini can help you learn more about your brand—through emojis or otherwise—check out the video.

Lou Bellaire, SVP of Mobile Technology
Dan Finkel, Principal Engineer

Customer Experience Update