Moments of Buying: Why Improving Satisfaction May Not Help Sales


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“If we could sell our experience for what they cost us, we’d all be millionaires”

—- Abigail Van Buren (1918- )

We have a common belief that if customers are more satisfied, they tend to buy more from us. It implies satisfaction and sales are positively correlated. I’d show you an uncommon perspective: satisfaction-centric may hurt sales.

More Satisfied, More Sales?
Based on the X-VOC experience surveys on Supermarket In-store*, Automotive Showroom, B2B Purchase** and Starbucks In-store***, the Moments of Buying (denoted in red dots)——the top five most important sub-processes for repeat purchases derived from regression analysis——half of them are not important to satisfaction. For example, ‘Goodbye at checkout‘ and ‘Shopping carts‘ are unimportant to satisfaction at supermarkets, but they are the moments of buying——the primary reasons why customers come back; ‘Easiness to search and contact the vendor‘ and ‘Integration and compatibility with current system(s)‘ are not vital to satisfaction for a B2B purchase (IT solution), but they are the key drivers for repeat purchases. In other words, if you focus your resources to improve satisfaction, you will miss 50% of the sales drivers. You become satisfaction-centric rather than results-driven.





More Sophisticated Purchases, More Cannibalization
The non-correlated contradiction is even more serious for sophisticated purchases such as automobiles and B2B than buying at supermarkets or having a cup of coffee at Starbucks, as only half of the sub-processes or attributes are positively correlated (those fall within the green zones). If you only focus your resources at attributes important to satisfaction but unimportant to purchases, you may achieve great satisfaction scores but making no impact in improving sales performance at all.

Pains May Enhance Sales
No one likes to queue up. But it doesn’t mean it should be your priority. As shown by the navy dots located at the supermarket and Starbucks in-store experiences, queuing is neither important to satisfaction nor purchases. Think about why you decided to go for a restaurant with a longer queue (of course the waiting time has to be reasonable), or if one day there is no more lines at IKEA cashier. Similar as expensive means good, queue up is a social proof and a shortcut version of betting the odds. IBM and China Merchants Bank (CMB) generate the deepest pains to their B2B customers and credit card users, but IBM is ranked as the most liked B2B purchase experience and CMB tops 15 competitors in propensity-to-use again, by maximizing the gaps between pleasure peaks and pain peaks****. According to our field experience, potential automotive buyers with the largest contrast between pleasures and pains during a showroom experience have the highest propensity-to-buy. Contrast helps optimizing resources and drives customers to push the BUY button.

To improve satisfaction should be the means but not the end. You are blind with one eye if you don’t derive the importance levels to purchases. After all, what’s the point to keep improving satisfaction if it doesn’t help——or even jeopardize——sales?

* Customer Experience X-VOC Research—Mainland China Supermarket In-store Experience, CustomerSat Inc. (U.S.) and G-CEM, May~June 2007.

** Customer Experience X-VOC Research—Mainland China B2B Purchase Experience (IT Solution), CustomerCentric Selling (U.S.) and G-CEM, July~August 2007.

*** The results are generated from the Global Starbucks In-store Experience Survey, co-organized by CustomerThink Corp. (U.S.) and G-CEM, September~October 2007.

**** Customer Experience X-VOC Research—Mainland China Credit Card Experience, G-CEM, May~June 2008.


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