Saturday, March 14, 2009

Customer satisfaction: Is that what we should measure? Really?

While discussing with some of my MBA students the issue of customer satisfaction measurement (especially customer satisfaction surveys) cropped up. Over these years, when talking to managers about market research the issue of satisfaction measurement, customer satisfaction survey and employee satisfaction survey are among the top five issues. However, I always ask the question as to is that what we should measure? Is satisfaction really a reliable indicator of (a) future customer purchase intentions and (b) loyalty among other things?

Last week I was talking to a senior executive from a credit card company about one of the research study we have just conducted focusing on role of satisfaction in financial services industry. Instead of revealing the results to the executive I asked him about what was his view on the role of satisfaction of existing customers on generating positive word of mouth which in turn may convert in higher number of credit card applications online as well as offline. The executive suggested that satisfied customers would be highly inclined to suggest others. This led me to ask another question as to what was the role of product related characteristics (APR, Speed of transaction, Acceptability etc.) and information related characteristics (Availability of information from the market, consistency of information etc.). The executive suggested that there would be balanced impact of both the factors.

The idea was not to test the person but to see if the managers' understanding of market factors matched with customers when looked through the satisfaction perspective. In one of the earlier posts about customers, I mentioned there was hardly any difference between the behaviour of satisfied and dissatisfied customers. A recent study carried out by us which had a sample of 340 customers revealed that there was hardly any difference between the satisfied and dissatisfied customers with regard to influencing future customer purchase intentions. Furthermore, we observed stronger influence of information related characteristics rather than product characteristics. This I believe is because of the nearly me-too nature of the product related characteristics in this market.

There have been two camps in literature with regard to the impact of satisfaction on purchase intentions and loyalty. While many researchers have observed the significant positive impact of satisfaction on purchase intentions and loyalty, others have argued against it. In two of my studies I have found two different results. This leads me to suggest that consequences of satisfaction (i.e. purchase intentions and loyalty) are highly situation and industry specific. A rich area of research indeed!