Measuring Customer Satisfaction: Are You Asking the Right Question?

Measuring Customer Satisfaction and #CX: Are You Asking the Right Question?

Measuring Customer Satisfaction and #CX: Are You Asking the Right Question?

Are your customers satisfied? That’s a pretty easy question; they either are, or they aren’t. But what do we mean by satisfied? Is satisfaction really what we want to measure? Let’s consider some options:

  1. Transaction or Relationship? This is the first consideration for measuring customer satisfaction. Do we need to know how customers felt about the last transaction they made with us? Or would it be better to understand how customers feel about their overall relationship with us? Obviously, the answers to this question lead you to different types of satisfaction improvement initiatives. If you are talking about improving transactional satisfaction, you might be looking at answering the phone faster, training your customer representatives more, or reducing hold times. Improving your relationship with your customers may lead you to more strategic or longer-term initiatives. So you need to start (as all good research should start) with “What do we want to do with the information we get back?”
  2. Or Both? Of course, you can ask about customer satisfaction with your relationship as well as their most recent experience with your company in the same survey. But you will need to evaluate your sample size the frequency of interactions to make sure that you will be getting reliable numbers. If your customers contact you once a year on average, and you want to speak to them within one month of their interaction, you will want to design the survey methodology primarily as a transaction survey. One the other hand, if you have very frequent interactions, you can count on most of your respondents having had a recent experience, and you can comfortably take both aspects into account.
  3. Satisfaction or Sales? The overall satisfaction measurement is most often expressed in a question similar to “How satisfied are you with _______________?” It is probably the most common measurement of satisfaction. However, it is also important to question “What does satisfaction mean?” If truly satisfaction that you seek or is purchasing from your company more important? Should you ask both? Depending on how frequently your customers purchase, questions measuring loyalty that you should consider, include:
    • How likely is it that you will purchase this product from us again?
    • How likely is it that you will purchase other products from us in the future?
    • If you were making this purchase decision for the first time, would you still choose this company?
  4. What about Recommendations? Research has shown that your most loyal and valuable customers are those who are willing to recommend you to others. In fact, Fred Reichheld, a Fellow at Bain & Company, proposes in his book The Ultimate Question, that this is the only question you need to ask to evaluate the health of your company. Especially in a business-to-business setting, a customer who recommends you to a colleague is vouching for your quality and credibility. How many of your customers will go out on a limb for you and recommend that other people purchase your products and services?

Reichheld calculates the Net Promoter Score (NPS) by asking a single question: How likely is it that you would recommend our company/product/service to a friend or colleague? Responses fall on a 0 to 10 scale, with respondents rating 9 or 10 being Promoters, those rating 8 and 7 being Passives, and anyone rating 6 or lower being Detractors. The NPS is calculated by subtracting the Detractors from the Promoters.

In most cases, businesses use a combination of these questions, depending on their industry, their strategic priorities, and characteristics of their typical customer and purchase decision making. Regardless of the question, another consideration is the response scale. Usually, marketing researchers will use a five-, seven-, or ten-point scale, with all the points labeled, or with only the end-points labeled. The mid-point in all of these scales is the neutral response position. Including a “don’t know” response varies – some researchers prefer to allow it, and others let respondents select the mid-point if they truly “don’t know” the answer.

However, there is some momentum gathering around simplifying the response scales on these questions. Consider this option:


Are you satisfied with your most recent purchase of ABC roofing materials?




Some researchers are even substituting smiley/frowny-faced emoticons or thumbs-up/thumbs-down symbols in place of “Yes” and “No”! (Don’t laugh! With today’s low literacy levels, it is not as far-fetched as it might seem. And social media has made these images very familiar to individuals.) The type of scale you choose should be as simple as possible for the respondent to answer while meeting your goals for using the resulting information. Don’t automatically select a more complicated scale just because you have seen it used in other surveys!

And finally, the most important question: Why? For customer satisfaction research to inform improvements, you need to understand what is creating dissatisfaction and inhibiting loyalty and recommendations. What do you need to do better? Most customer satisfaction surveys include performance ratings on individual factors (such as quality of products, customer service, on-time delivery, etc.) that will help you diagnose and address your challenges. Understanding the “why” behind the metrics puts you firmly on the path to continuous improvement.

For more information, check out Clear Seas Research’s Customer Experience Research solution. Don’t assume that your customers love you, find out for sure!

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