I Can’t Be Satisfied

I’ve been engaged in some really fascinating dialog this week with several colleagues whom I hold in high regard on the subject of the customer experience.

My mind first started stirring after reading Eric Jacques’ latest blog post “Definition of Customer Satisfaction”, where Eric proposed an interpretive application of the expression derived from the words Customer and Satisfaction. 

Now, I’ve never been a huge Rolling Stones fan.  But music being my life-long passion (see, you read this little diddy long enough, you’ll find out all sorts of tidbits), I respect their accomplishments and have followed the band enough to know they sang more than once about satisfaction.  And, the distinction Mick and the boys made between not getting any satisfaction and never being satisfied now seems oddly applicable to Eric’s post and the ensuing logic string it kicked off in my head.

Upon reading Eric’s post, my first thought was “ok, so now what?”.  A similar banter has been occurring for probably too long in social CRM circles around its definition as well.  The most important aspect of defining customer satisfaction is how it manifests in our dealings as customers with providers of goods and services.  How does your perception of whether your expectations of satisfaction were simply met or exceeded translate into action?  If you are merely satisfied, do you continue to give that company your business?  Do you walk?  Do you recommend?  Those are also the questions companies need you to answer too.  Here’s where I went off the rails; when Eric concluded his post with the question, as a company, “should customer satisfaction be your objective?”.  Here’s why.

From a philosophical, intellectual point of view, sure, it’s ok to claim that a company that simply meets your expectations, that satisfies you, is not good enough.  But, after reading Matt Jury’s comment:

“There’s nothing satisfying about someone just meeting you’re expectations.  Unless you’re always used to settling for less.” 

I’m left to wonder if maybe we customers have some culpability in creating the chasm with brands.

Actually, this discussion relates to two other recent posts from Tim Sanchez and Chris Reaburn, who linked the notion of predefined expectations with the perception of the service experience from Apple and Zappos.

The crux of the conundrum?

What purpose is served in any relationship of not being transparent and clearly articulating your expectations?  However high they may be.  In practice, I think this is actually destructive behavior.  Think about how this approach would impact your other relationships?  What if the folks that worked for you never knew what was expected?   What if your kids felt that whatever they did was never good enough?  Pretty corrosive, right? 

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m all about lagniappe.  And, I’m a huge fan of @9inchmarketing and The Purple Goldfish Project.  But, when the unexpected becomes the expectation, to the point where good is never good enough, I think we start down a slippery slope of destruction.  Destruction of trust.  Destruction of value. 

If expectations are always a moving target and ever-increasing, if we force companies to play this continuous game of cat and mouse, how do companies and customers ever get to a higher place where co-creation of real value is possible?  Transparency is not one of those one-way police interrogation mirrors.  Customers have a responsibility too.


  1. Another thought-provoking post Barry.

    I believe that customers have a HUGE (notice the caps?) responsibility in the relationship. It's like any other relationship, it takes two entities with a mutual respect for one another.

    The key for companies is to create enough trust with customers to be able to hold them to that responsibility without fear of reprisal.

  2. Where I'll start is with an axiom that borders on truism:

    Satisfied customers leave.

    Take my post from today. I wasn't dissatisfied with my current provider. Someone just came along and built a better service mousetrap, and so I left.

    Of course the objective clearly has to start with satisfaction. If a business isn't delivering to that baseline, it isn't likely long for this world, nor should it be.

    But, as you mention, today's pleasant surprise is tomorrow's expectation. Today's satisfactory encounter is tomorrow's table stakes. Given a service well delivered, the customer will continuously expect more, and so the imperative for business is to, while we are spending time serving in the current encounter, we also need to be learning & developing to be able to deliver even more on the next.

    If it sounds tiring and resource draining to get caught up in an endless loop of "doing one better", it can be, if not approached with understanding of the customer and forethought of what you want to mean to them. Those things allow you to, over time, change the promise to be more meaningful to them, rather than iteratively providing the same thing you have for years.

    Start looking at it that way, and the metrics that show businesses have legions of satisfied customers start to feel more like a warning sign – that they are vulnerable to someone willing to offer more – than the comfort of a well-protected base.

    As always, a thought provoking post Barry. I could go on forever about this particular topic, and I appreciate the time the group spent this week talking it over in a few fora.

  3. Hi Barry!

    Great post and a thought-provoking question. I don't know how I missed it before.

    I agree that customers have some responsibility in the process. But, and it's a big BUT, they are human and understanding.

    They don't expect companies to deliver perfection, they simply want to be respected and understood.

    It IS a relationship and it has to be built on respect and trust. Unfortunately, most companies see it as getting as much money out of their customers as possible for the lowest possible cost.

    For a long time now, I've been thinking of posting on what business/commerce really is… It has become about profit but that wasn't the original intent. It's really about people helping people.

    People started trading (commerce) because it was easier to specialise in producing something that they did well than trying to do everything for themselves. So, they traded for something that they needed and weren't good at doing.

    Obviously, we've come a long way since. But the basic tenet still should be about being a productive member of society and fulfilling a need that has value to others (customers).

    Seen this way, business is all about helping each other and having respect for each person's respective capabilities.

    So what does it mean? Simply that if we reintegrate respect and trust into business, customers would be more forgiving and willing to help companies deliver value. Because that's what they want in return.

    Hmmm, I've gone on for a while… Maybe this really does deserve it's own post.

    Thanks for the great post!


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