Why We Shouldn’t Be Satisfied with Satisfaction Questions


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On a scale of 1 to 10 with 1 being completely dissatisfied and 10 being completely satisfied, how would you rate how well your  CXM program captures your customers’ true feelings?

If you are on the south side of 10, you are in good company. Satisfaction measures are useful in determining whether we met expectations, but tell us little if we exceed them. If a waiter performs as expected we would likely rate our evaluative state as “completely satisfied.” He did his job well. What if that same waiter performed an unexpected magic show for your 6 year old and comped your family a dessert? What would you check then? Likely “completely satisfied,” but that doesn’t seem to capture the sentiment.

Customers’ emotional states vary in the service encounter—angry, delighted, sad, calm, excited, dull, elated, tense, scared, happy, and so forth. Imagine the last time you bought a vehicle. If you are like most people, you go through a roller coaster of emotions—excitement, suspicion, anger, fear, relief, delight, guilt, and more come into play during the hours-long buying experience.

The more important the experience (high involvement), the stronger the emotional response is likely to be. The stronger the emotional response, the more likely we are to engage in behaviors (e.g., complaint, recommendation, etc) as a result. We know from our research that emotional aspects of an experience are much stronger in driving consumer behavior than more rational ones, yet we typically rate customer experience using measures that don’t tell the full emotional experience.

The three favorite measures are satisfaction scales, evaluative rating scale (e.g., excellent, fair, poor, etc), and behavioral intentions (e.g., the ubiquitous NPS, aka “would recommend”). Of these three, only one (satisfaction) attempts to determine an emotional state with others eliciting only a good-bad judgment, which is arguably an antecedent to the emotional. Clearly, we are missing the big picture and leaving a lot of good emotional information on the table.

Why should we care?

First, we are getting a censored view of the customer experience by limiting measurement to satisfaction, intent, and evaluation. Second, using satisfaction measures essentially advocates that meeting expectations is good enough. Finally, different emotional states are likely to be predictive of different behaviors. For example, if I’m satisfied with my cable provider—they deliver service consistently—I’ll likely stay with them, but not buy more. However, if I’m delighted with my cable provider, I might subscribe to more channels or sign up for their broadband.

There is more than the affect dimension of bad-to-good or unpleasant-to-pleasant. While there are many models of emotions out there, almost all contain a dimension of arousal or activation as well. For example, highly aroused with negative affect is angry, while low arousal with negative affect is sad or depressed. What a customer does based on anger vs. sadness could manifest in very different behaviors, which companies need to react to differently. A defeated customer may do nothing about bad service; an angry customer may be out for blood.


Considering even the simplest two-dimensional model of affect and arousal we are measuring a very narrow slice (less than 25%) of the customer’s emotional state. That is, we are primarily measuring the satisfaction dimension, which is associated with not screwing things up for customers, but not necessarily making them happy, let alone delighted.

On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being completely dissatisfied and 10 being completely satisfied, how does that make you feel? You will find my state of mind somewhere on the lower left with ambitions of the chart above, to take us to the upper right in the future. How about you?

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Dave Fish, Ph.D.

Dave is the founder of CuriosityCX, an insights and advisory consultancy for Customer Experience. Formerly he was CMO for MaritzCX, now an InMoment company. He has 25+ years of applied experience in understanding consumer behavior consulting with Global 50 companies. Dave has held several executive positions at the Mars Agency, Engine Group, J.D. Power and Associates, Toyota Motor North America, and American Savings Bank. He teaches at the Sam Walton School of Business at the University of Arkansas. He is the author of "The Customer Experience Field Guide" available on Amazon and BookLogix.com.


  1. Principally, the chief challenge associated with satisfaction measurements is that, irrespective of vertical, they correlate poorly to intended and actual downstream customer behavior. There are more causative measures, such as advocacy/bonding, which is also highly actionable on a granular level: http://customerthink.com/is-there-a-single-most-actionable-contemporary-and-real-world-metric-for-managing-optimizing-and-leveraging-customer-experience-and-behavior/


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