Definition of Customer Satisfaction


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Everyone talks about customer satisfaction and some see it as the “holy grail” of a customer-centric business. But what is it really? Is there a simple basic definition?

On Wikipedia, customer satisfaction is defined as “Customer satisfaction, a business term, is a measure of how products and services supplied by a company meet or surpass customer expectation.” But that seems off when you look at the separate definitions of the two words that comprise the term.

So let’s take a look at


[kuhs-tuh-mer]  Show IPA


1. a person who purchases goods or services from another;buyer; patron.

2. Informal . a person one has to deal with: a tough customer;a cool customer.

1400–50;  late ME; see custom-er1 ;  cf. ME customer  collectorof customs < AF; OF costumier,  c. ML custum?rius; see customary

customer. (n.d.). Unabridged. Retrieved July 14, 2010, from website:


[sat-is-fak-shuhn]  Show IPA


1. an act of satisfying; fulfillment; gratification.

2. the state of being satisfied; contentment.

3. the cause or means of being satisfied.

4. confident acceptance of something as satisfactory,dependable, true, etc.

5. reparation or compensation, as for a wrong or injury.

6. the opportunity to redress or right a wrong, as by a duel.

7. payment or discharge, as of a debt or obligation.

8. Ecclesiastical .

1250–1300;  < L satisfacti?n-  (s. of satisfacti? ) a doing enough,equiv. to satisfact ( us ) (ptp. of satisfacere,  equiv. to satis enough + facere  to make, do1 ) + -i?n- -ion;  r. ME satisfaccioun < AF < L, as above

satisfaction. (n.d.). Unabridged. Retrieved July 14, 2010, from website:

Well, I don’t think we’ll have any issues with the definition of “customer” but “satisfaction” doesn’t seem to include “surpassing the customer’s expectation.”

How Do I Define Customer Satisfaction?

Based on these accepted definitions ( gets there definitions from the Random House dictionary and other accepted references), I propose a definition that is much closer to what the words “customer satisfaction” actually mean.

Customer satisfaction is the act of just doing enough to be acceptable to a customer. It is simply meeting basic expectations.

Ouch! That’s very different from Wikipedia’s definition and worlds away from how many companies view customer satisfaction.

Should Customer Satisfaction Be Your Objective?

So, based on this definition, do you really want to do “just enough” for your customers? You may decide that this is your business model…

But if you want to build loyalty and generate word of mouth marketing, you should really consider going further. Define the customer experience that you want to deliver and aim for customer excellence.

So, what do you think? Am I wrong in defining the term based on accepted real-word definitions? Or should we continue using the definition that the corporate world thinks it should be?



Creative Commons License photo credit: roland

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Eric Jacques
Customer Excellence Blog
Customer Service Excellence Advocate -- working as a Client Satisfaction Manager


  1. Good insights, Eric. My definition of customer satisfaction seems to match yours, and I agree that customer experience management is much broader and deeper, and certainly essential for organizations that want to excel in every sense of the word. I highly recommend organizations to adopt a holistic customer experience strategy.

    Lynn Hunsaker helps companies improve customer data ROI, customer-centricity and customer experience innovation. She is author of 3 handbooks. See,,

  2. Thanks for reading and commenting Lynn.

    I’m in the process of replying to a comment by Barry Dalton on my blog. He has some very interesting points.

    If you’re interested, click through and participate.


  3. I wonder if there is a simpler way to look at customer satisfaction – let the customer define what satisfied is.

    Too many measurements are driven by an organisation’s processes, or to justify or meet its own cultural or business values. Whereas in reality it’s the customers who decide if they are satisfied or not and they decide what it is that satisfies them. It is a personal decision not a group one.

    So we should try not to think of customers as an anonymous grouping, “87%” of whom may be satisfied. The focus has to be on each and every experience and understanding what drives a customer to say “yes I’m satisfied with that” or not. But that is a whole lot more difficult to measure so most organisations don’t bother.

  4. Hi Eric

    Customer Satisfaction has been subjected to extensive definition, clarification and research. Why go to all the trouble to create your own subjective definition when there is a perfectly good one at the American Customer Satisfaction Index.

    And if that isn’t to your liking, there are plenty of other customer satisfaction models to choose from.

    Graham Hill
    Customer-centric Innovator
    Follow me on Twitter

    Interested in Customer Driven Innovation? Join the Customer Driven Innovation groups on LinkedIn or Facebook to learn more.

  5. First, thank you Mark and Graham for reading and commenting.

    Mark: Yes, we should focus on the experiences and understanding each one. This post was more like a rant against how many (mis)use the term customer satisfaction.

    Graham: As mentioned above, this is more of a rant. That being said it’s still a useful exercise since many don’t bother to think about the implications when they use a term.

    I went through the ACSI site and didn’t find a definition of “customer satisfaction” anywhere. They define a methodology for measuring satisfaction which is well thought out, documented and useful. However, what’s the point when you haven’t defined what you’re measuring? (I assume they have but it isn’t clearly on their site)

    The PDF in your 2nd link does have a definition which reads: “Satisfaction is the consumer’s fulfillment response. It is a judgment that a product or service feature, or the product of service itself, provided (or is providing) a pleasurable level of consumption-related fulfillment, including levels of under- or over-fulfillment…” (Oliver, 1997).

    They also go on to detail its different components and is a worthwhile read. I admit that I had never read it before (thanks for linking to it.)

    Finally, the primary reason for the post was to get people in the industry and in management to think about how the customer perceives “customer satisfaction”.

    We use the term often but we rarely think of how the components of the term are used by those that we’re trying to measure.

    The customers whose satisfaction we’re measuring don’t necessarily have the background that leads us to define the term in a specific way. So, I wanted to look at it from the point of view of someone who’s external to our practice.

    As an example, many people will say they are satisfied as a way of saying they are neutral or in response to pressure perceived by having a relationship with someone in the organization. So satisfied, does not mean delighted and shouldn’t, in and of itself, be used as an indicator of willingness to do business with us again.

    ACSI’s (and other) methodology is still useful because it actually measures the level of satisfaction and includes multiple data points to ascertain it.

    P.S.: In the discussion on my blog, Barry and I also discuss the influence of customer expectations on their satisfaction level.


  6. Hi Eric

    Satisfaction is a difficult construct; it is difficult to define and it is difficult to measure. Just try asking somene what they think satisfaction is and if they are satisfied. Many psychological scales do not include ‘satisfaction’ because of the this lack of clarity. Fortunately, it is made up of a number of other constructs which are easier to define and easier to measure. Satisfaction is derived from these other constructs.

    There is still not a universally accepted definition of satisfaction. That was the point of the second link which described a number of different definitions. Not everybody accepts the ACSI definition (there is one on the website and in accompanying papers) as a result.

    And if you think defining and measuring satisfaction is difficult just try doing the same for customer loyalty, customer experience and customer value.

    Graham Hill
    Customer-centric Innovator
    Follow me on Twitter

    Interested in Customer Driven Innovation? Join the Customer Driven Innovation groups on LinkedIn or Facebook to learn more.

  7. Hi Graham,

    I absolutely agree that it’s difficult to define and measure. There never will be a universal definition.

    I think in the industry we all know this but I’ve seen many try to oversimplify to get execs on-board. I really appreciate this discussion, you’ve made me realise that I’m doing the same thing in trying to criticise it.

    The important thing is getting stakeholders to clearly define their objective and then agree to measures that can be used to evaluate if we’re attaining it.

    Having said that, I still think that “satisfaction” is a horrible term for doing this since there is so much variability in it’s definition.


  8. Thank you so much for sharing such an interesting piece which is definitely worth sharing. Having good customer service may help your business..Good customer service affects important brand and business objectives like customer satisfaction. Anyways, thanks for the post!
    Small Business Answering service

  9. 1.When I am having about an empty pocket and visited a chicken and chips shop to order a less quantity and less price item from their displayed menu, unfortunately if they say that not available, I am not satisfied with that shop and service.(customer need not meet)
    2.When I am in a restaurant table and need some additional items and I call by hand the waiter- if he ask me “tell me sir what requirement” – I am shy to tell loudly what ever the item it is and I need the waiter near the table and personally i want to inform him.( so there I am not satisfied and my mental state, shyness, mental requirement not meet)
    3. Some branded underwear put their sticker inside the elastic and it disturb my skin like small pins ( I am not satisfied with that product- not satisfied with quality)
    4.When childhood due to cultural backgrounds, go to hotels and restaurants make a bad feeling, shyness and feel like guilty – when if I don’t get support and privacy- I am not satisfied)
    5. To go liquor shop and bar hotels – feel to hide from people- if not (not satisfied) cultural back ground, psychological fact, personal prejudice – not satisfied. ( connect with cultural difference)
    6. Modern hair styles and mustache arranged by latest hair cutters may decided by themselves and apply in my head – this will not make me satisfied – because I am not prepared to accept that change mentally – the impact is to stop to visit that shop again
    7. When I see the world beauty and other second and third place winners – ( or out of 1 to 5) my taste, my knowledge, my concept of beauty, my ideal model of beauty concept – select first place may be not the world judges selected as first – so I am not satisfied with beauty selection- so my ignorance, my concept, my strong beliefs, my back ground, cultural background affected( it may differ person to person- so the selection made by the frame work of rules and regulations)

    To conclude, the satisfaction of a customer with service or product depends – mental, cultural, psychological, geographical aspects.

    Note – Discussions are for, to know and let to know. More over to improve or add new knowledge to the subject.


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