Measuring customer satisfaction is useful — in moderation


Your feedback is important. When you are finished reading this blog, would you mind devoting a few more minutes to answer some questions on how I have met your expectations?”

Does that sound familiar? It seems I cannot conduct the simplest of business transactions without being asked to complete a questionnaire or survey or “just answer a few questions.”

But before I rant about the explosion of customer feedback surveys, let me say they surely come from a good place. It is important, I should say essential, that businesses understand their customers and how they are serving those customers.

I think it is fair to say newsmedia organisations have done a less than robust job in this area. And they have suffered because they have neglected the needs and desires of their audiences.

As INMA CEO Earl Wilkinson points out in his Aug. 12 blog post (“Why is relevance to audience such a sin for journalism?”), relevance has not been a top priority for many publications.

Many businesses are not only making customer satisfaction an integral part of their performance dashboard, they are using it as a metric for top management compensation. This has the beneficial effect of keeping management focused on the customer and not just on spreadsheets.

So the fact that so many businesses have “found religion” and started asking their customers about their experience is a good thing . . . to a point.

And that point comes when we fail to see the customer beyond the transaction or the relationship they have with us. To paraphrase a nearly famous quote, “We would be less concerned about what our customers think of us if we realised how seldom they do.”

A few weeks ago, I called my bank to resolve an issue (a deposit was not showing in my account). After I was told the posting of the information was delayed because of a software upgrade, the call centre operator politely asked if she had answered my question.

“Yes,” I said. “Is there anything else I can do for you today?” she asked. “No,” I answered. Then a recorded voice asked me to rate my satisfaction with the service I received.

I hung up.

Not because the service was bad — my question had been answered — but because I would rather have not had to call in the first place. That call — the time on hold, the time answering security questions, the time explaining the problem, the time being passed to a different department, the time re-explaining the problem, the time hearing the excuse or explanation — was an interruption to my busy day.

The “observer effect” in physics refers to changes that the act of observation will make on the phenomenon being observed. I felt that effect in this situation. In attempting to observe and record my satisfaction, the bank actually changed my satisfaction (lowered it).

A recent article in the Harvard Business Review implored businesses to “stop trying to delight your customers.” Why? Because concentrating on those rare delighted moments does not increase loyalty. But doing what you promise, day in and day out, maintains loyalty.

In other words, spend less time and money trying to “delight” me and put that same effort into doing what you promise.

I think the nearly omnipresent customer feedback survey may be a symptom of businesses chasing a metric rather than building excellence into their everyday service delivery.

For those of us in media, the first step is probably to acknowledge we have customers. Then to serve them relevant information. Then to measure how we are doing in that regard — without allowing that measurement process to tarnish our good work.

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