Customer Satisfaction is a slippery and potentially dangerously misleading concept!  I was reminded of this when reading an article entitled “Satisfaction vs. Loyalty” by William J. Cusick in the excellent publication, The Conference Board Review.  Cusick argues that customers who complete satisfaction surveys typically respond “satisfied” or “mostly satisfied” regardless of how they really feel.  He goes on to cite a study of people who had recently changed their banks.  In this study, 80% said they had been “satisfied” with their former institution, and yet they still chose to leave!

Why Do We Provide Misleading Customer Feedback?

According to Cusick, “because it’s easier!” How many times, in a restaurant, for example, when the server asks, “Was everything alright?” we respond in the affirmative when, in reality it was not ok, and we intend to never return?  Of course, there is a threshold of service below which we will complain – for some this threshold is lower than for others – but the reality is that we often don’t have the energy or motivation to provide honest feedback.

Poor Instrument Design

How many times have you chosen to fill in a customer feedback form only to abandon it in mid-flight because it’s design does not permit you to give the feedback you’d like to give?  I know that happens to me from time to time – the instrument design is totally inadequate and sometimes actually exacerbates my negative feelings towards the organization.

Lack of Follow-up

I think it is a well-worn and proven fact that a proper response to a customer complaint can help not only recover from a service or product problem, but can actually help build loyalty.  And yet so many companies and organizations fail to acknowledge, let alone respond to customer feedback.  (I will post in a couple of days on my experience with Get Satisfaction and a complaint I made about Bose Quiet Comfort headphones a couple of years ago – a very sad but fascinating story!)

Our Options – Exit, Voice and Loyalty

Providing feedback is subject to an interesting set of dynamics.  Many years ago I read a fascinating book on this called Exit, Voice and Loyalty, by Albert O. Hirschman.  In this book, Hirschman argues that members of an organization have two possible responses when they perceive that the organization is not performing – they can exit (withdraw from the relationship); or, they can voice (attempt to improve the relationship through communication, grievance or proposal for change).  Exit is associated with Adam Smith‘s invisible hand of the market. Voice, on the other hand, is political and can be confrontational.  Hirschman explores the dynamics and characteristics of “exit” and “voice,” and the interplay of these choices with “loyalty.”

The book has helped me recognize my responsibility in “voicing” any concerns I have with an organization.  It also reminds me when and why to “exit” a relationship, taking into account my concern for loyalty to that organization.  In the case of flawed customer feedback, the loyalty factor is so low that people can’t be bothered to provide real and useful feedback.  They may, in fact, deliberately withhold feedback feeling that the organization doesn’t even deserve it!

Customer Satisfaction vs. Customer Experience?

Another problem with Customer Satisfaction is that even if feedback is provided, it may not tell you what you really need to know.   A couple of years back I had to make a service call to a software provider.  They used remote access to figure out what was wrong and correct it.  I was asked to complete a follow-up survey that wanted to know if the call had resolved the problem.  It had, but my “Customer Experience” was far less than positive, but they could not have known that from my response to their survey.  The reasons were:

  1. I never should have had the problem with their software in the first place.
  2. In finding and fixing the problem, they made no attempt to help me become self-sufficient in fixing the problem in the future.  I knew this was likely to be a recurring problem (as it subsequently proved to be!) and did not relish the pain and wait times associated with reaching their customer support desk!

I’m sure they recorded me as a satisfied customer, and rewarded their support desk for a job well done.  But in reality, I had a poor customer experience, and would never do business with them again, nor recommend them to my friends.

What Experience Are Your Customer Receiving?

How well are you really surfacing your customer’s satisfaction with your product or service?  How do they feel about their customer experience?

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