The Challenges of Measuring Customer Satisfaction

Written by: Phillip Nones

Customer satisfaction research is a little like Mozart’s piano music: easy to play but difficult to play well.

On one level, what could be easier than asking your customers to rate your product or service on various different attributes? It seems simple. But customer satisfaction is difficult to define. In Dr. Richard Oliver’s book Satisfaction: A Behavioral Perspective on the Consumer, he writes, “Everyone knows what [satisfaction] is until asked to give a definition. Then, it seems, nobody knows.”

In fact, the field of marketing hasn’t reached agreement on a consistent definition. So when you ask customers to rate your performance, how they do so relates back to their own concept of what “satisfaction” is. Some people may decide on a rating on affective (emotional) grounds whereas others
may respond as a cognitive process of acquiring knowledge and understanding through thought and experience as well as senses.

One way to address this issue is to ask more than simply scaler rating questions. Drill down further by posing additional questions such as these:

  • Is XXX a product/service brand you’d consider using in the future, or not?
  • Is XXX a product/service brand you’d recommend to a colleague, or not?
  • True or false: I consider myself loyal towards this brand or product. Why?

Incorporating questions in your customer satisfaction surveys will help you gather more insights into how your product or service is actually perceived by the people who have used it.

This sort of research can be very informative when asking questions about your competitors’ brands
as well. Just make sure that the research is done anonymously – without revealing your identity as the survey sponsor – to avoid biasing the responses.


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