As a business owner or service provider, one would assume the answer would be an automatic and resounding 'yes'. After all, the consumer/customer is king, and any business that doesn't care about serving its customers with excellence is surely doomed for failure.
Yet, when businesses become too preoccupied with the concept of customer satisfaction, and the various tools and methodologies that they use to 'measure' it, it can become a hindrance to development as opposed to a help. First off, however, what is customer satisfaction? In simple terms, it's “the degree to which a product or service meets a customer's expectations”.
As a baseline, customer satisfaction should be the primary aim of any business. When customers are satisfied, it translates that a product or service has met their expectations and that they were not dissatisfied by it. It is the precondition for repeat purchases, and it prevents the customer from telling others about his/her disappointing experiences. Conventional wisdom holds that increasing customer satisfaction leads to economic benefits – causing companies to adopt customer satisfaction as a key service metric.
Aptly, customer satisfaction can be a precursor for gaining competitive advantage through increased service focus, and one of the most common reasons for doing market research is to investigate satisfaction (of customers, employees, or other stakeholders). Often, satisfaction ratings are good predictors of outcomes, but sometimes they're not. For example, when satisfaction is measured in isolation, it may lead to incorrect conclusions.
In his research, Kolsky (2007) maintains that many “organisations set out to discover how well they are serving their customers and erroneously choose customer satisfaction as the one metric that will determine exactly how customers feel about them”. Furthermore, they continuously measure customer satisfaction in order to monitor any changes in customer attitudes and perceptions of the organisation and its product and service offerings. They prepare questionnaires and discover that customers rate their satisfaction at around 75% to 80%. Many organisations seem to be content with that metric and expect minor improvements over time.
One of the problems with this approach is that customer satisfaction scoring is not easy to quantify or benchmark. A major issue in customer satisfaction measurement is the tendency towards high or skewed measures of satisfaction.
Schmitt (2003) says “non-loyal customers who perceive low risk in the offerings of the organisation may be lenient in their satisfaction scores”. Kolsky (2007) makes a noteworthy point that customer satisfaction scoring “reflects the nature of human variation and cannot be trusted as a metric”. High satisfaction scores do not necessarily lead to loyalty; many satisfied customers still leave for an alternative offer or service.
Consequently, many organisations are realising their errors in measuring customer satisfaction and are looking for more accurate metrics.
Satisfaction versus experience
Satisfaction as a measurement index is not by any means incorrect. An organisation should satisfy their customers' needs. However, as these needs and expectations have evolved, so too should the measurement index used to collate customer feedback. Measuring only customer satisfaction is like judging a gift purely on the wrapping. Companies should no longer aim to just meet customers' expectations and ask customers how they fared on that basis, but rather aim to delight customers through memorable interactions. Hence, customer experience as a measurement index is the next step in the evolution of customer feedback.
Many methodologies exist to measure the customer experience: from mystery shopping, to self-completion surveys to telephonic interviews. Each methodology has its pros and cons in terms of capturing the perception of the customer's experience. Some methodologies advocate a very rational approach, opting to only engage the customer once the emotions associated with the experience has subsided. Others, as in the case of mystery shopping, attempts for the mystery shopper to experience the product and/or services that a company offers, including all the emotions associated, and then rationally reflect on the experience and give a rational response. Many Voice of Customer (VOC) programmes aim to create a direct connection with customers, eliciting feedback, whilst also being used to measure a company's responsiveness towards customer feedback, often resulting in a quantifiable score.
Ultimately, the best strategy appears to be a combination of metrics that reflect the operational performance of a business, eg, first call resolution, customer feedback gathered during, or close to, the time of interaction, and customer behaviour analytics, such as customer's repurchase rate, or social network interactions. With this combination, you will keep a finger on the pulse of your business, without being sidetracked by reams of unimportant numbers.
1. Kolsky, E. 2007, 'Replace Customer Satisfaction Scores With Experience-Effectiveness Metrics Online and Off', Gartner RAS Core Research, Note: G00146797, March
2. Schmitt, B; Customer Experience Management, A Revolutionary Approach to Connecting with Your Customers; John Wiley & Sons ©; 2003
By Kobus Meyburgh – Grace Consulting, firstname.lastname@example.org