Just how far do we need to go in our effort to satisfy customers?

We want to be loved: by our friends, by our family and by our customers. When considering satisfied customers, we believe them to be not only more pleasant to work with, but also more loyal to our brand and keener to buy more of our products. We believe this, because we are told so by the industry that has formed around the concept of customer satisfaction. Time for an easy profit?


Alas, reality seems to be a bit more complex. For starters we must consider the declining marginal profit of every effort to keep clients exceptionally happy (to ‘delight’ them, as it is called in the customer service lingo).

In other words: the effort it takes to get a customer satisfaction score from an eight out of ten to a nine out of ten, is many times bigger than the effort to go from a seven to an eight. One could wonder, when trying to raise customer satisfaction, whether the juice is worth the squeeze.

Many companies have gone through great lengths to increase customer satisfaction. Even those that succeeded in considerably raising their customer satisfaction rating, were more often than not dissapointed by the return in customer loyalty.

Harvard professors Thomas Jones and Earl Sasser explain this phenomenon in an article they wrote nearly two decades ago, named: ‘Why satisfied customers defect’. If customers have but to pick between a great many suppliers, loyalty effects will only kick in at extremely high customer satisfaction ratings. These so called ‘top box scores’ refer only to the highest praise possible on the customer satisfaction survey.

If many companies are dissatisfied with the results of their efforts to create satisfied customers, it is only because they didn’t take it far enough. They didn’t aim for top box scores. Investing in customer satisfaction is only worthwhile if you are prepared to go the extra mile.

Also make sure that your efforts are aimed at the most profitable customers, for these might not be those that complain the loudest.

So customers need to be extremely satisfied if you want to reap the rewards and this is not something that can be achieved with some easy fixes and quick wins. If you’re not going to take it seriously, don’t even bother trying anyway.

Horst Remes