Satisfaction is Dead. NOT. It’s the Most Common Emotion in Great Customer Experiences [research]


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Don’t ignore satisfaction.

That’s one compelling conclusion from Inmoment‘s recent global study of 20,000 consumers. Brennan Wilkie, Senior Vice President, Customer Experience Strategy, shared key finding on a CustomerThink webinar on Dec. 8 (register to get the recording and slides here).

Here are a few nuggets from the webinar that I wanted to share — and hopefully stimulate some CX planning for 2017.

“Satisfied” Most Common Emotion in Great Customer Experiences

I think most everyone would agree that making a emotional connection with a customer is a good thing — assuming it’s a positive emotion of course.

According to Forrester, emotionally engaged customers are three times more likely to repurchase, less price sensitive, less likely to shop around. And Forrester finds that:

“Companies that aim for emotional connection beat their competitors by 26% in gross margin and 85% in sales growth, with customers feeling more engaged and appreciated.”

This is the so-called “loyalty effect” that has been researched by Reichheld and many others. The key question is: which emotions matter?

Merely being “satisfied” has been dissed in recent years. Yet the study found that it was the most common emotion selected by consumers when asked to describe how they felt after a “great customer experience.” Although there were some regional differences, nearly four of ten consumers selected this emotion.

The only other emotions to crack double digits were Safe/reassured, Important, and Relaxed/at ease.


You may be wondering how did InMoment arrive at these choices. According to Wilkie, InMoment used predictive loyalty models and InMoment’s text analytics to derive positive and negative emotions from open-end feedback in surveys.

The Four Horsemen of the CX Apocalypse

Unfortunately, negative emotions have a much higher impact on behavior and cognition than positive — sometimes called the “negativity bias.”

Howard Lax noted in a recent post how important it is to stamp out the sources of negative emotion. He sums up: “Negative experiences and emotional disappointments tend to be more enduring than positive, emotionally pleasing experiences.”

The top four negative emotions, represented in roughly equal proportions of around 20% each, were Frustrated, Disappointed, Disrespected, and Angry. There were some interesting regional differences, however. American and Canadian consumers were more likely to feel frustrated and disrespected, while Germans got angry more frequently.


The Brand Gap

InMoment also surveyed 10,000 brand representatives and found some perception gaps.

For positive emotions, brands rated “satisfied” the top emotion but at a significantly lower percentage — about 20 points lower than consumers. That gap was distributed over “part of something special,” “important,” and “safe/resassured.” Essentially, brands tend to underestimate the importance of just getting the basics right.

On the negative side, brands generally underestimated the percentage of the more intense emotions “angry” and “disrespected” by roughly 10 points vs. consumers. Wilkie found this the most surprising finding:

I was surprised to see that Brands significantly underestimate the deep, personal affect they have on the emotional well-being of consumers. This is particularly prevalent when a negative experience takes place. Brands took an almost dismissive position, suggesting they expect consumers to simply feel disappointed or unsure. In contrast, consumers were passionate in their response, selecting the deeply personal emotions of anger and disrespect in disproportionately high numbers versus Brand ratings.The gap in emotional alignment associated with negative experiences within the consumer/brand relationship is quite alarming.

So, Just Do the Basics?

In my view, all the above supports a CX strategy of 1) get the fundamentals right and 2) when you make mistakes, fix them quickly and minimize the negative effects. Initiatives towards reducing friction and defects all fit this strategy well.

However, I don’t think that only focusing on the basics and creating merely “satisfied” customers is a route to differentiation. My research has found that industry leaders do in fact focus more on “delight” (exceeding expectations) than laggard companies.

Also, keep in mind that while about four out of ten consumers say that “satisfied” is how they feel after a great customer experience, six out of ten chose other more intense emotions.

To me, it suggests that as you think about your CX plans for 2017, you should try to answer these questions:

  1. How do your customers feel after a good or bad experience?
  2. Are your leaders setting CX strategy in synch with customers?
  3. Do you have a plan to minimize the more common and powerful negative emotions?
  4. Which positive emotions are you trying to create (beyond “satisfied”)?

Disclosure: InMoment sponsored the webinar referenced in this post. However, this post is part of my independent industry coverage and is not part of any sponsorship agreement. No endorsement is to be implied towards InMoment or any other companies mentioned.


  1. Customer satisfaction isn’t dead, but it does have interpretation issues – and has had those issues for some time. Having a strong and positive emotional connection between customer and supplier is, indeed, a foundation of customer loyalty behavior; however, labeling ‘satisfaction’ as an emotion, or conflating satisfaction to be an emotional state, is a something of a challenge for me: Simply, our perspective is based on a different concept of the emotional hierarchy, developed over a decade ago in conjunction with two years of deep and broad research by the London Business School:

    Satisfaction is more a state of calmness or passive quietude which is the result of some relatively neutral emotions and, in and of itself, doesn’t apply very well as an emotion. Webster’s Dictionary, for instance, defines ‘satisfy’ as, “To make content or appease, to fulfill requirements.” It’s a result rather than a driver.

    Here are several pieces of content to support this point of view. To begin, an August 16, 2016 article in Harvard Business Review by Alan Zorfas and Daniel Leemon, titled ‘An Emotional Connection Matters More Than Customer Satisfaction”( They state: “Our research across hundreds of brands in dozens of categories shows that the most effective way to maximize customer value is to move beyond mere customer satisfaction and connect with customers at an emotional level – tapping into their fundamental motivations and fulfilling their deep, often unspoken emotional needs. That means appealing to any of dozens of ’emotional motivators’, such as a desire to feel a sense of belonging, to succeed in life, or to feel secure.” Satisfaction is not identified, either as an emotion or a summary emotional factor. Their conclusion: “On a lifetime value basis, emotionally connected customers are more than twice as valuable as highly satisfied customers.”.

    Let’s go a little further back in time.

    A paper by Nicole Koenig-Lewis and Adrian Palmer in the Journal of Marketing Management from about a decade ago, ‘Experienttial Value Over Time – A Comparison of Measures of Satisfaction and Emotion’ ( saw profound differences between emotions and a state of satisfaction. What they found is that, if the litmus test for satisfaction is how well it drives behavior, then it doesn’t hold up very well. “There is evidence that measures of satisfaction are poor predictors of repeat buying behavior, and this may be due to their failure to adequately incorporate an affective element”.

    Back still further.

    Fred Reichheld, in a 1993 Harvard Business Review article (“Loyalty-Based Management”, March-April, 1993, p. 71) said.”While it may seem intuitive that increasing customer satisfaction will increase retention and therefore profits, the facts are contrary. Between 65 percent and 85 percent of customers who defect say they were satisfied or very satisfied with their former supplier.”

    At about the same time, Christopher Fay, writing in the Winter, 1995 issue of the Juran News (“Can’t Get No Satisfaction? Perhaps You Should Stop Trying”) stated: “Why would it be that so many would continue to vigorously espouse and relentlessly pursue a metric – customer satisfaction – not at all clearly tied to profit improvement? It would seem that most managers assume satisfaction scores to be positively correlated with customer behavior, i.e. results…..In point of fact, this assumed correlation between what customers say and what they do has been disproved in the vast majority of businesses studied.”

    There’s much more, of course, but these examples recognize that satisfaction doesn’t qualify as, or equate to, an emotion which reliably drives decision-making and behavior.

    In sum, IMHO satisfaction is more about passive acceptance of a result (transaction or relationship) than an emotion which impacts or causes action, per se..

  2. C’mon, Bob. This is like saying that for people to enjoy a meal they must have enough to eat.

    Satisfaction always has been and always will be highly correlated with customer loyalty and CX. But it clearly is a necessary but not sufficient hurdle. Every company’s files of ex-customers are littered with customers who were merely “satisfied.”

    And not to get lost in a morass of definitional squabbles, but I’m not sure i even would consider “satisfaction” an emotional expression in the first place. That;s like calling bland a flavor.

    My feelings about this is a yawn, which some might translate into saying I’m satisifed.

  3. Being frustrated or angry all impact satisfaction, which is what an experience is all about (the composite of all feelings and experiences and emotions). That is why experience is a fancier name for satisfaction.
    In any event, satisfaction and experience do not lead to loyalty. They are a necessary condition for loyalty, but not sufficient. Satisfaction and experience increases Customer Value which leads to loyalty.
    As an example, I might love a flight I am upgraded to in business calss….great experience/satsfaction. Will I fly business class again if I have to pay the actual business class fare? Not if the value is not enough. In this case I will stick to economy

  4. What is of great interest to me – but largely unaddressed in discussions of customer experience – is how much ‘satisfaction’ is intrinsic to products (i.e. within a vendor’s control), and how much is extrinsic (i.e. largely outside a vendor’s control). It seems that much of a consumer’s reaction to a product depends on a constellation of circumstances that vendors cannot directly influence or control.

    I can buy a nifty combination of ski equipment and outdoor gear. But my ‘satisfaction’ with it partially depends on how well I liked the ski resort, how long I had to wait in lift lines, local conditions, whether I truly enjoy the company of the people I’m with, how good I’m feeling (no aches and pains), etc.

    It seems that satisfaction with almost every product or service is subject to external factors. Do you know if there are studies that have examined internal and external elements to help vendors understand what percentage of ‘satisfaction’ is within their control?

  5. Howard, I’ve seen countless posts and even some books claiming “satisfaction is worthless” or the like.

    I do understand the larger “necessary but not sufficient” point, but apparently consumers do think “satisfied” is an emotion.

    What I found interesting is the context of this study was customers who had a *great* customer experience.

    Here’s how the question was worded: “Which sentence best describes the emotion you most closely associate with great customer experiences?”

    And nearly 40% answered: “I feel satisfied.”

    It’s hard for me to reconcile “great” with “satisfied” yet that’s how 8K consumers responded.

    So what does this mean? One possibility is that there are enough companies that screw up the basics (just delivering what they promised) that meeting that low bar is viewed as “great” by many consumers.

    Left unanswered by this particular study is which emotions actually move the needle of loyalty behavior. For example, is a consumer who experiences a “great” experience but only feels “satisfied” less likely to stick around and buy more, vs. others who felt excited, safe, entertained, etc.

  6. Thanks, Bob.

    I think your closing question — what happens when the product or service quality provides a great experience but people don’t necessarily feel great about the experience — is exactly what my last two posts were about (see

    Both of these indicate that great quality performance without the commensurate feeling about the experience lead to significantly weaker relationships (AKA lowere levels of customer loyalty) than when the quality is matched by a commensurately strong feeling about the experience.

  7. Bob –

    There seems to be something of a lemming effect here, and it’s often found in the design of questionnaires. If, in a survey, the respondent is asked “Which sentence best describes the emotion…” and one of the choices is “I feel satisfied”, it’s not particularly surprising that 40% of respondents would choose that answer. ‘Satisfaction’ is an actively used word. Just because the research sponsor wrote “feel” in the sentence doesn’t translate into satisfaction being an emotion.

    Also, “I feel satisfied” is a statement given to those completing the survey. If, per the conclusion of your response to Howard, the bigger issue is what emotions actually drive behavior, (to which, by the way, you have my wholehearted agreement) would remind that there is a big, and subconscious, difference between what customers say (such as “I feel satisfied”), what they really mean, the decisions they make, and what they do:

    Hope this is helpful.


  8. The list of emotions was derived from open text comments by consumers. That seems to me a good way to create a pick list, which accounted for 90+% of the responses.

    I’ve run surveys in the past asking how consumers felt after a “memorable” experience. For positive experiences, the top emotions selected were:

    I didn’t give “satisfied” as a selection because when I researched potential emotions with psychologists, it didn’t come up as a major emotion.

    Perhaps the issue is that consumers are being asked an abstract question in this case. “Which sentence best describes the emotion you most closely associate with great customer experiences?”

    Notice it’s not about any one experience, but a general response. So “satisfied” could be a catchall when they can’t think of another one emotion that they consistently feel after great experiences (plural).

    This also suggests some problems in wording questions asking consumers to rate an experience as fair/good/great, when ‘great’ could mean feeling satisfied. If true, then delivering “great” experiences might not do much to stimulate real loyalty.

    I agree that “satisfied” seems like a weak emotion, but consulting the dictionary it is defined as “contented; pleased.” Still seems like a good foundation to start with.


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