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Vol. 3 issue #249 Dec 3, 2007                    


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Satisfaction Surveys Mask Customers' Reasons for Defecting
Copyright 2007 by Peter George

I see it all the time -- companies using the terms "customer experience" and "customer satisfaction" as if they are synonymous. They're not. The former is based on emotion that is derived from a process. The latter is based on an outcome at a particular moment in time.

Study after study has shown that more than three-quarters of customers consider themselves as being satisfied with their vendors just before they defect to others. Shaun Smith and Joe Wheeler suggest in their book "Managing the Customer Experience" that the number is as high as 80%. Yet marketers continue to use satisfaction ratings when gauging how well their companies are interacting with their customers.

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What baffles me is the lack of recognition for the obvious. Even if high satisfaction ratings did equate to meaningful and memorable customers experiences (when viewed from the customers' points of view), they do little to predict the probability of satisfied customers initiating positive word-of-mouth.

Look at it this way. If you were to be surveyed after going to an average restaurant and having a decent dinner, you very well may say that you were satisfied. But how likely would you be to go home, call a few friends and suggest to them that they should also go to the average restaurant and have a decent meal? Not very. However, if you had a great time and exceptional food, you would be much more likely to tell others about your experience and suggest that they visit that restaurant.

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The other drawback with satisfaction surveys is that each individual survey is based on the customer's particular expectations. Let's refer back to that restaurant. If you had heard great things about it and the food turned out to be mediocre, your satisfaction rating might be rather low. However, let's say you heard uninspired things but then found that your time there was better than you had anticipated. Odds are that your satisfaction rating might be higher. All this indicates, however, is that the restaurant jumped higher than the low bar that you had set for it. That is one of the major flaws with satisfaction ratings, you just don't know how high (or how low) individuals set their bars.

This brings us to customer experience and how it effectively differs from customer satisfaction. The customer experience considers the customers' emotions that are the direct results of their interactions with companies. The goal of questions in such surveys include whether or not the customer believes that the company has the customer's interest in mind or if the customers feel that they are just a means for the company to make money. The ironic aspect of this is that, because companies so readily resort to satisfaction surveys, they do not realize how their customers actually feel about them. The results of a recent survey by Bain & Company backs this theory. It indicates that eighty percent of companies believe they deliver a superior customer experience, but only eight percent of their customers agree with that sentiment. Eye-opening, isn't it?


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If you are conducting satisfaction surveys, I strongly suggest that you ask your customers about their experiences instead. Your overall ratings may not be as high as they were when you were asking about satisfaction, but the results more accurately reflect where you are and how far you have to go to reach your goals.


Peter George, The Customer Experience Guy, is the president of TouchPoints, the Rhode Island-based customer experience management firm. As a consultant, speaker, trainer, and coach known for his engaging speaking style and his notable approach to customer experience management. For more information about TouchPoints and Peter, visit http://www.ThinkTouchPoints.com or call 1-800-959-1614.

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