By Bill Fonvielle and Rowan Jackson
The late Robert Plutchik was perhaps the leading expert on emotions. He theorised that each basic emotion has a counterpart. Thus, surprise is the opposite of anticipation and fear the opposite of anger. Moreover, emotions vary in intensity, from very weak to very intense. Thus, anger goes from annoyance to fury. Joy goes from serenity to ecstasy. Human behaviour, in spite of logic, is almost always linked to an emotional response.
Consider Stéphane Breitwieser. With nearly 200 heists on his record, Breitwieser has been called the most prolific art thief in history. Stealing only to admire the works at home, he has said that “the pleasure of having is stronger than the fear of stealing.”
Of course, emotion is what companies are trying to tap into when they pursue customer loyalty. Amongst the vast panoply of human emotions, “customer satisfaction” arose as a sort of shorthand for capturing this emotional dynamic.
We hypothesise that satisfaction goes from indifference to delight with dissatisfaction as its opposite emotion. However, the measurement of customer satisfaction falls far short of adequately accounting for the customer experience.
When we conduct workshops, we often ask participants to describe experiences in which they were treated exceptionally well and compare that with experiences where they were treated poorly. Invariably, the energy in the room is directed toward the negative experience and dissatisfaction. Descriptions of terrible experiences are more vivid and delivered with greater passion. The conclusion? Customer satisfaction is a weaker emotion than customer dissatisfaction.
Customer loyalty is, indeed, a proven driver of profitability. However, various studies have not found customer satisfaction in general to be a driver of loyalty. We believe that when customers on a survey say they were satisfied, typically they meant the experience had been merely O.K. They are in the zone of indifference. The corresponding feeling is weak and lacking in energy.
For example, in a survey of 4,000 banking customers we conducted, 40% of those who said service quality was poor also claimed to be satisfied. The potential for these customers to defect to a competitor would go undetected with a reliance on Customer Satisfaction scores.
Quite ironically, since the 1980’s many marketers and researchers have become increasingly dissatisfied with customer satisfaction as a measurement. They noticed improvement goals often tended to be arbitrary and disassociated from the realities of the business, and when improvements did occur, they were often not sustainable and did not translate to improved business results.
But what about customer delight? After all, how strong does a positive or negative emotion need to be in order to influence loyalty, if Customer Satisfaction seems relatively low in emotional intensity?
Researchers at Xerox and others noted that respondents who gave a ‘top box’ score, for example a five on a five-point scale, were more likely to repurchase and recommend to others. In fact, they were more likely to have been delighted. Some companies began to only look at the percentage of top box scorers as their measure of success. This movement strongly influenced the developers of the Net Promoter Score (NPS) which is a top 2 box methodology focusing on respondents who select nine or ten from an eleven-point (0 – 10) scale.
The presumption is that delighted customers would select a top box in responding to an NPS or top box survey. But what lies behind that selection?
Customers feel delight when their perception of the customer experience exceeds their expectation. The extent to which perceptions of the actual experience meets, does not meet or exceeds expectations determines the customer’s emotional state and the strength of that emotion. This is the underlying dynamic at work in all customer-provider transactions.
Although NPS promoters rely on an index as the key metric and don’t talk the language of satisfaction, the underlying issue of weak emotion persists. Those respondents we label as indifferent are called passives in NPS lingo. In computing its index, NPS ignores these customers who just happen to compose the largest group of respondents. In fact, all top box approaches are rightly criticised for ignoring potentially critical data.
A further issue with top box surveys is the problem of context and meaning. Suppose you see that 42% of respondents selected 4 or 5 on a 5-point scale. Is this good, bad or mediocre? Without an external benchmark you can’t tell.
So, how can you avoid these thorny issues? In stark contrast to conventional approaches, we cut straight to the chase.
We begin by discovering customer expectations with a high degree of precision. We display these in an Expectations Map, something we have been doing for our clients for more than a quarter century. Armed with this knowledge we measure client performance against each expectation, and often, competitor and even sales force performance as well. We measure the gap between expectations and performance, and gap scores are absolute and meaningful.
This highly diagnostic process shows exactly what, and how much to improve, thus becoming the roadmap to increased brand loyalty and profitability. In our system, customer satisfaction may be a weak emotion, but that fact is irrelevant.
If you wish to discover how Promising Outcomes can help you achieve great results, contact us for more information.