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14.3: Customer Satisfaction

  • Page ID
  • Learning Objectives

    1. Understand satisfaction and satisfaction strategies.
    2. Design a customer satisfaction measurement system.
    3. Describe complaint management strategies.

    Customer Satisfaction Defined

    What comes to mind when you hear someone say, “A satisfied customer”? Perhaps it is an image of someone smiling with the pride of knowing he got a good deal. Or perhaps it is the childlike look of happiness someone exhibits after purchasing a new pair of shoes that are just the right color. Whatever your picture of a satisfied customer is, customer satisfaction is typically defined as the feeling that a person experiences when an offering meets his or her expectations. When an offering meets the customer’s expectations, the customer is satisfied.

    Improving customer satisfaction is a goal sought by many businesses. In fact, some companies evaluate their salespeople based on how well they satisfy their customers; in other words, not only must the salespeople hit their sales targets, they have to do so in ways that satisfy customers. Teradata is one company that pays its salespeople bonuses if they meet their customer satisfaction goals.

    Customer satisfaction scores have been relatively stable for the past few years as illustrated in Table 14.2 “Industry-Average Customer Satisfaction Scores, 2000–2010”. You might think that if increasing the satisfaction of customers were, indeed, the goal of businesses, the scores should show a steady increase. Why don’t they? Maybe it’s because just satisfying your customers is a minimal level of performance. Clearly customer satisfaction is important. However, it isn’t a good predictor of a customer’s future purchases or brand loyalty. For example, one study of customer satisfaction examined car buyers. Although the buyers rated their satisfaction levels with their purchases 90 percent or higher, only 40 percent of them purchased the same brand of car the next time around (Lambert-Pandraud, et. al., 2005).


    Table 14.2 Industry-Average Customer Satisfaction Scores, 2000–2010

      2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010
    Appliances 85 82 82 81 82 80 81 82 80 82 81
    Computers 72 74 71 71 72 74 77 75 74 78 78
    Electronics 83 81 81 84 82 81 80 83 83 85 85
    Cars 80 80 80 80 79 80 81 82 82 82 83

    Source: American Customer Satisfaction Index, (accessed October 10, 2011).

    Keep in mind, though, that satisfaction scores are a function of what the customer expected as well as what the company delivered. So the flat scores in Table 14.2 “Industry-Average Customer Satisfaction Scores, 2000–2010” reflect rising customer expectations as well as improved products. In other words, the better products get, the more it takes to satisfy consumers.

    There is also a downside to continuously spending more to satisfy your customers. Recent research shows that firms that do so can experience higher sales revenues. However, after the additional spending costs are factored in, the net profits that result are sometimes marginal or even negative. Nonetheless, satisfaction is not unimportant. A company’s performance on key factors is critical both in terms of the loyalty and satisfaction it generates among its customers (Souki & Filho, 2008).

    Customer Satisfaction Strategies

    So what or how much should you do to improve the satisfaction of your customer? If customer satisfaction can be defined as the feeling a person experiences when an offering meets his or her expectations, then there are two critical ways to improve customer satisfaction. The first is to establish appropriate expectations in the minds of customers. The second is to deliver on those expectations.

    We know that dissatisfied customers are likely to tell many more friends about their negative experiences than satisfied customers are about good experiences. Why? Because there’s more drama in unmet expectations. A story about met expectations—telling a friend about a night out that was average, for example—is boring. Jan Carlson, a former Scandinavian Airlines executive, was famous for promoting the concept of “delighted” customers. Carlson’s idea was that delighting customers by overexceeding their expectations should result in both repeat business and positive word of mouth for a firm. The fact that stories about plain old satisfaction are boring is also why influencer communities, such as JCPenney’s Ambrielle community, are so important. Influencers have new offerings to talk about, which are interesting topics, and other buyers want to know their opinions.

    Establishing appropriate expectations in the minds customers is a function of the prepurchase communications the seller has with them. If you set the expectations too low, people won’t buy your offering. But if you set the expectations too high, you run the risk that your buyers will be dissatisfied. A common saying in business is “underpromise and overdeliver.” In other words, set consumers’ expectations a bit low, and then exceed those expectations in order to create delighted customers who are enthusiastic about your product. A seller hopes that enthusiastic customers will tell their friends about the seller’s offering, spreading lots of positive word of mouth about it.


    Figure 14.8

    An old picture of the staff of the Hotel Avery

    Ritz-Carlton’s employees are empowered and even given a budget to provide services that delight customers—not just meet their expectations.

    Boston Public Library – Hotel Avery – CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.


    One customer satisfaction strategy that grew out of Carlson’s idea of delighting customers is to empower customer-facing personnel. Customer-facing personnel are employees that meet and interact with customers. In a hotel, this might include desk clerks, housekeepers, bellman, and other staff. Empowering these employees to drop what they’re doing in order to do something special for a customer, for example, can certainly delight customers. In some organizations, employees are even given a budget for such activities.

    Ritz-Carlton employees each have an annual budget that can be spent on customer service activities, such as paying for dry cleaning if a customer spilled red wine on a dress in the hotel’s restaurant. Sewell Cadillac is famous for how its employees serve its customers. An employee will even pick up a customer up on a Sunday if a Sewell-purchased car breaks down. Other dealers might delegate such a service to another company, but at Sewell, the same salesperson who sold the car might be the person who handles such a task. To Sewell, customer service is too important to trust to another company—a company that perhaps won’t feel the same sense of urgency to keep car buyers as satisfied as Sewell does.

    Companies like Ritz-Carlton also monitor Twitter and other social media so that any problems can be identified in real time. For example, one newlywed tweeted that the view outside her window of another wall was no way to spend a honeymoon. A Ritz-Carlton employee caught the tweet and employees at the hotel responded with a room upgrade.

    Empowerment is more than simply a budget and a job description—frontline employees also need customer skills. Companies like Ritz-Carlton and Sewell spend a great deal of time and effort to ensure that employees with customer contact responsibilities are trained and prepared to handle small and large challenges with equal aplomb.

    Another customer satisfaction strategy involves offering customers warranties and guarantees. Warranties serve as an agreement that the product will perform as promised or some form of restitution will be made to the customer. Customers who are risk-averse find warranties reassuring.

    One form of dissatisfaction is postpurchase dissonance, which we described in Chapter 3 “Consumer Behavior: How People Make Buying Decisions”. Recall that it is also called buyer’s remorse. Postpurchase dissonance is more likely to occur when an expensive product is purchased, the buyer purchases it infrequently and has little experience with it, and there is a perception that it is a high-risk purchase. Many marketers address postpurchase dissonance by providing their customers with reassuring communications. For example, a boat dealer might send a buyer a letter that expresses the dealer’s commitment to service the boat and that also reminds the buyer of all the terrific reasons he or she purchased it. Alternatively, the dealer could have the salesperson who sold the boat telephone the buyer to answer any questions he or she might have after owning and operating the boat for a couple of weeks.


    Figure 14.9

    Two women sitting in a Lund boat in a big lake

    Buy a new boat, and the dealer is likely to engage in reassurance communications designed to reduce any postpurchase dissonance and enhance your satisfaction with the offering. The communications might include phone calls from the salesperson who sold you the boat or letters from the dealer’s service department.

    brewbooks – Pat and Mary Ellen in Lund skiff – CC BY-SA 2.0.