In psychological terms, context is almost everything. Much as we like to think that we know how we will act and react in a given situation, without the richness of...
That a customer’s answer to a satisfaction survey depends upon the context in which the questions were framed, as well as other possible factors, does seem to make sense. However, if a business did a survey that just asked the question, “are you satisfied overall with the service this business provides you”, it seems that they would get a decent gauge on the general customer sentiment about the business. What do you think?
It’s a great question, and I’m happy to tell you what I think as it gets right to the heart of one of my favourite subjects, consumer research.
The first thing to say is that, if you were going to ask this question, Daryl’s implicit suggestion that you JUST ask this one question (so as to remove the risk of inadvertent framing) would definitely be the best option.
However, in all my years of consumer research and marketing I’ve never seen a one question questionnaire (although I do use this approach myself sometimes in a slightly different context). Instead people want to break down an issue into its logical constituent parts or, at the very least, ask people why they think what they do.
In both cases, the fact that you’ve asked other questions or asked ‘why?’ changes the way the brain works, what the person thinks and what they go on to say in reply.
But there are other problems with asking even the single question on satisfaction:
- Asking a question creates a context and influences the respondent’s mindset; different ways of asking produce different results. How do you know if what you’re getting is a legitimate appraisal of that customer’s satisfaction and not one that is shaped by the dynamic of questioning? You don’t.
- Asking people to explain what they like and don’t like has been shown to change the overall rating that they give.
- Where you ask and who is asking will change the response. As will whatever the person was doing immediately prior to your having asked them. Understanding what is ‘in play’ in terms of response influence is extremely difficult.
- Asking about satisfaction presupposes that satisfaction is a salient issue for the consumer. If you ask you will get an answer, but customers may very well not be processing the experience in a way that reflects our conscious notion of satisfying or dissatisfying experiences.
Supposing you go ahead and ask and learn that 80% of people are satisfied; how do you interpret that data. OK, you could look at how that number has changed, but does a drop of 20% mean you have a problem, or are people just becoming accustomed to something that was previously perceived as satisfying? Over time you have created your own context and people have unconsciously moved the satisfaction goal posts because of what you’ve done for them!
What if satisfaction scores increase but sales decline? Does that mean you shouldn’t look at your product or service because it’s satisfying people?
I’ve conducted research where people were satisfied with a customer service help desk. But I knew that they weren’t satisfied at all.
I’d watched them have their customer experience. It was unpleasant. They were unhappy and uncomfortable throughout the interaction that was taking place.
I told my client the good news, “Everyone’s satisfied with your customer help desk.” And then the bad news, “They’re only satisfied because their expectations of you are so low that, provided they get a positive outcome in the end, they’ll accept it.”
So, I think the whole concept of measuring customer satisfaction is misjudged. Yes you get a number and companies love numbers, but it’s a meaningless one and it doesn’t, or more to the point shouldn’t, make any difference to how a company appraises what it’s offering to customers.
There are better ways of gauging satisfaction.