Why Smart Businesses Do Not Care About Customer Satisfaction

“We are already doing customer satisfaction studies, so why do we need a customer experience study?”

This is a common refrain I hear from a number of customers we engage with. I can see where they are coming from.  After all lot of organisational time, money and effort is expended on these studies.

Well, if you are struggling with the same question, here’s a quick exercise.

Close your eyes for a minute. Transport yourself back to the last time you visited the automobile repair garage for routine maintenance or repairs. Now fast-forward to when your car has been attended to and you have gone to pick it up.

As you drive out, you are asked, “Are you satisfied with our service?” I would like you to answer this question now and remember your answer.

Suppose as you drove out you were instead asked, “What was your experience like on this visit?”

Compare you answer with the earlier one. Notice the difference?

Which of your two answers gives you a better insight into what the garage needs to work on to retain your business?

In response to the satisfaction question I might think, ‘Well the knocking sound in the car HAS disappeared and delivery is more or less on time, the car is looking clean so ..’.. and I say, “ Er.. I am fairly satisfied with it”

When asked how my experience was I remember rushing to get there early enough to be attended to quickly, wishing they had `valet’ parking as I scouted for space, feeling inadequate and anxious as I tried to understand the `estimate’, my irritation at discovering the accidental grease stain on my clothes and the relief that I would not have to do this for some time now.

Am I satisfied? Yes, I am – fairly. Because my experience with other garages has been similar, friends have shared more-or-less similar stories about their experiences – so this is what I `expected’.

Does knowing this help the garage? Sure it does. It helps him to know where he stands vis- a- vis expectations of the customer. But where do you go from there?

Does it give him a handle on `why’ he has been rated so?

No. Asking the customer why would give you reasons but many a time these are rationalisations and the real causality is neither apparent nor objective.

E.g. I may say `dis-satisfied’ with a sales encounter but not say so, or maybe even realise myself, that it was because the salesperson had smelly socks and that really put me off. I would much rather say `product over-priced’ and leave you to work on that!

Does it help him know what to do to convert a satisfied customer into one who is ‘extremely satisfied’ and would go talk glowingly about him? No.

Taking it a step further, if you get a `satisfied’ or even a `delighted’ rating, is it enough?

Simply put, satisfaction is a customer’s assessment of the gap between what he expected and what he perceives he has received. It is something he has `already paid for’. Bridging the gap is necessary but not sufficient. It does NOT automatically lead to loyalty and repeat business.

Setting the bar at `satisfaction’ is a sure-shot way to lose customers to the next the next brand that comes along that satisfies him more or who re-defines his expectations.

So what IS a worthy goal then?

Customers are increasingly looking beyond `satisfaction’ to co-creating meaningful, memorable, desirable outcomes in their brand interactions. Engaging the customer makes her come back for more. Customer Engagement – now that’s a more useful goal to aim for.

To begin to do this one needs to understand the customer’s journey beyond mere `ratings’. Studying the customer experience brings in a rich set of inputs, in terms of the goals he set from the encounter and his thoughts, actions and feelings, as he moved towards that goal. It helps us understand the `why’ of the customer action and hence gives a better handle on `what’ we need to focus on.

By de-constructing the experience by way of a customer journey map one can plot the `emotional journey’ of the customer – the first step to engineering a meaningful, memorable interaction next time round.

In summary, customer experience study goes beyond the narrow confines of a satisfaction study. It helps unearth what can be used to drive customer engagement with your brand. 

In the customer’s words, “Satisfaction rating is a number you asked me to construct. It is a limited approximation of my experience. When you study my experience you understand me better – you set a better foundation to build our relationship on”

So do you need to do a customer experience survey despite having a customer satisfaction survey program?

A `satisfied’ customer is not one who is all charged up about coming back to you. It is great experiences that make one say “More, More”. Still want to settle for mere satisfaction?

Making passion scalable – The `Not’ Questions to ask your business

In a previous post I wrote about the restaurant El Bulli and how touching the soul of the patron is, in many ways, the pinnacle of great sensory design.

As a natural progression, it led to the rejoinder from a reader that went – That is all very fine but the moot question is, “Can one touch souls and be profitable too?”

In other words, ‘Is soul enough?’

It is one thing to inject passion into a business while in start-up phase and even whip up the same in customers. Can one sustain it? Or does passion get diluted by business considerations?

When I hear business-plans from young, eager entrepreneurs the passion is palpable. Energising. The thought that runs in my head is “How will you hold on to this vision, this passion when you scale up?”

The answer lies in designing your vision into the service / product concept from day zero.

In building a business model around that vision that enables it to be scalable and self-sustaining.  Breaking your head on the drawing board answering questions like:

•    Who am I for?
•    Who am I NOT for? (so that I constantly remember not to care too much whether they like me or patronise me)
•    What will I do? What will I NOT do?
•    What are the needs of my target audience as different from my non-target, how can I deliver superlatively on these?
•    In order to deliver superlatively on these, what can I afford to delivery poorly or not at all on?

(read as: who will pay for superlative performance on these chosen parameters?). As an example, the corner-store grocer makes up on personalisation what he loses on category depth – by design. Or a QSR outlet is engineered for speed and will not indulge the epicure in you with a 30 page menu that has explanatory notes!
•    How can I play with price and tweak my product/offering across customer-segments such that each pays in accordance with the value they see?

(e.g. Narayana Hrudalaya – a hospital in India that makes profits and provides a significantly high percentage of patients quality medical care at `below market rate’ prices)

Basic questions, yes.

To my mind, particularly useful to stay on course are the NOT questions above – who am I not for, what will I not do, what will I not perform well on. That kind.

Not so easy to figure out the answers. But if you do, and build the answers into your business model, you have a better chance of not sacrificing passion at the altar of growth.

Customer in tears? This could be good news!

A recent episode of No Reservations that I caught playing on television had the host Anthony Bourdain visiting the iconic restaurant, El Bulli, up in the Catalan mountains.

In conversation with him a patron says with tears in his eyes (These were not his exact words but I have captured the essence of it!)

“El Bulli is for people who come with spirit and they leave with soul

The next few seconds of the program are a blur for me….. Could there BE a higher compliment a customer can give a business!?

To connect so completely, so viscerally with customers. To get such total alignment between your vision, your purpose as a business and the customer’s experience. THAT, in my opinion, is to reach the holy grail.

For its creator, Ferran Adrià, I am filled with awe.

Ferran says, “I don’t expect people to remember the sequence of the dishes” (difficult anyways considering there used to be 50 plus courses at each meal served) “but what I aim for is that they remember the emotions they experienced as they made the journey.”

That is what the experience; ANY experience is all about isn’t it?

What you recollect of any past event is not so much the details of what happened or the sequence of events but you remember what song was playing, the scent that filled the air, you remember how you felt. You remember the sensory cues and the emotions they created within you.  In the future, the same mix of sensory inputs immediately transports you to that emotional state. Possibly, the aroma of fresh-baked bread calms you; the sound of surf makes you happy and so on.

The key is to figure out what emotions you want to evoke in the customer that is in sync with your brand positioning.

Then, crafting the sensory design that short-circuits the intellectualisation of the experience. Then we are on the way to making some soul!!

Being Patient With Healthcare

As I sank into the plush, comfortable couch I surveyed the scene with a sense of unrealism. Potted plants, huge plasma screen televisions playing the latest movie, the aroma of coffee and fresh baked bread, a choice of newspapers within hands reach, muted conversations. I was waiting for an appointment at the swank Kokilaben Ambani Hospital in suburban Mumbai.

I closed my eyes and reflected back to my days with another leading hospital in town – the hustle and bustle, sharing elevators with patients on stretchers holding aloft their own IV bottles, the clatter of people always running, lost in the labyrinthine corridors and above it all, the ever-present overpowering antiseptic smell.

How things have changed. India is being globally recognised as a destination of choice for quality health care at affordable rates. The emergence of private players like Fortis Health Care, Apollo Hospitals and big-time corporates like the Ambanis and Birlas in healthcare has changed the picture of healthcare – at least for those who can afford the private hospitals. 

The Government is stepping up its act too. It is working to bring in quality, accountability and uniformity of standards through the NABH. While it is still to attract smaller private players into its fold, a number of the bigger hospitals in India are accredited and there is a long waiting list of those in the process of doing so.

The neatly labelled markings on the floor led me to the doctor I needed to see. I floated along in a dream. “He is in the OT. Please wait.” I was told. So I waited. And waited. And waited. A few minutes turned into an hour, then two hours, three, and finally, I was told the doctor had arrived. By then there were so many patients waiting that each got what we did I am sure – a cursory examination, a standard list of diagnostics to get done, and it was NEXT…

No, I did not take my business to another doctor – because this hospital was the closest for the patient. This time. But with another hospital planned in the same area,

  • Will I be back soon?
  • Will I recommend this hospital?
  • Do the physically comfortable surroundings make up for the indifferent treatment by the doctor and his staff?
  • The parameters on which audits are done are most often limited to medical care & safety, related patient care procedures and efficient administration. Are the patients expectations from the health-care giver limited to `outcome’ success?
  • Can health-care providers afford to be blind to the `process’ of treatment and the effect of the entire experience on the speed and level of recovery of the patient?

Some, very few, hospitals go beyond Emergency service procedures, infection control processes, mortality rates RCA and other medical & administrative aspects of treatment in their NABH or internal audits and look at the interactions between medical and administrative areas to ensure process optimisation. All useful and important. 

But do ALL of these contribute equally to patient experience perception? Which ones should be prioritised?

The totality of the customer experience, in this case that of the patient and his care-giver, becomes even more important to other actors in the health care system – the diagnostic labs, the eye care centres, dental treatment clinics, wellness centres – where  `technical quality’ of the treatment / procedure has been reduced to table stakes and can no longer be the differentiator. 

Here understanding what the customer journey is and which parts affect them the most becomes important for maximising the value from the money and efforts aimed at improving ones competitive edge. 

The complete sensory experience, the value-added services you provide – be it a report e-mailed or a reminder for a regular test or a home-visit – play a role in the decision making. Looking at the patient experience holistically and building differentiation based on the patient profile is the key to repeat business!

As a health care player looking at

  • What is the customers level of risk perception for the type of service you provide & how is it impacting the decision to patronise you or not
  • What is her ENTIRE engagement with you and what are her expectations from the various interactions – from admission procedure to pharmacy to nursing to bill settlement and discharge
  • Which processes and touch-points have greatest impact on overall experience perception & are key to satisfaction
  • Where will it be most useful to focus improvements / innovations that will delight her
  • How to use this customer delight to improve financial performance

are key first steps to framing a cost-effective customer experience strategy

The icing on the cake in my hospital visit? I was incorrectly charged an additional Rs 500/- . The counter staff did not know how to reverse the transaction made on the credit card. Neither could he refund it in cash since he did not know if he was authorised to do so! It would hopefully get adjusted in my next visit. Ah.. Now that’s a novel way to be assured of repeat business!!!!

A Patient Is Not A Customer

I can’t quite recollect where I heard it, but the anecdote goes that in the years when there was still a USSR, a bunch of Soviet scientists went to the US for a conference. They had heard much about the economy of abundance and looked forward to their shopping trip to the nearby supermarket.

They had come with huge bags to haul it all away in.

Guess how much they splurged? Zero. Zilch. Nada.

Why? They were so overwhelmed by the rows and rows and rows of brands in each category that they just could not make up their minds. They went back empty handed that first trip.

But in the consumerist society of today we want variety. We want alternatives. And we want to make our own choices. We don’t want to be told what to do. Even as children we rebel when parents `decide’ for us.

That is human nature. Then why was I feeling helpless and inadequate as the doctor looked at me expectantly? Waiting for my answer on whether to schedule the surgery for my father or put him on medication and wait. There were patients who managed on medication for years. But then there were also those that had to be rushed in for emergency surgery despite being on the medication, he said.

And I had to make that choice. Now. Go ahead with a surgery that, ultimately, may be totally un-necessary or take the risk of waiting. Put a person who was mortally afraid of doctors and hospitals through an operation or on medication that had possible side effects? My mind swimming I wondered how I should even begin assessing my choices here.

As a customer actively seeking to buy a product you appreciate information availability, variety & the right to exercise your freedom of choice. Right? And the hospital was doing just that. Giving me the alternatives and leaving the choice to me. Then why am I not enamoured?

Because a patient is not a customer. When it comes to designing patient experience it helps to NOT apply the standard Customer Experience norms blindly.

The nature of the product, curative healthcare, is not something the patient is actively seeking to enhance his life. It is a disruption in his life that he wants to quickly and painlessly overcome and RETURN to his normal life.

The last thing a patient wants is more stress and responsibility, especially in an emergency type of situation. He wants to surrender to the specialist. At this point giving him information and choice paralyses him.

•    Is not in a state of mind to absorb the information

•    Even if absorbed, it is difficult for him to process it 

•    Even if he processes it he is unable to make an `informed’ choice because he does not have the specialised knowledge required to assess the alternatives competently.

So is all information giving a bad idea? No!

Information in the nature of admission procedures, hospital navigation, support services provided are useful, important and desired by the patient/care-giver. In fact they help the patient retain a feeling of control over the situation.  Information sharing is good where the patient shows an inclination for it – because their background or resources they have make it possible for them to use it effectively.

In non-emergency situations: Here information sharing interactions need to be designed to help patient comprehend the choices, their outcomes and hand-hold him through the decision making process from all facets – medical and non-medical.

Irrespective of the nature of the situation, emergency or non-emergency, the doctor is the specialist. The patient wants to be able to trust him to make the right decision – on his behalf. Not to abdicate choice and responsibility to the patient.


Desirable patient experience is not the same as a desirable customer experience in other situations. One needs to craft how much information, what type of information, when and how to impart it to the patient and care-giver so that they are not overwhelmed and yet retain a feeling of control.

As a healthcare provider have you put in place a different experience for emergency and non-emergency situations? Do you overwhelm your patients? Do you treat patients as `customers’?

Cede Control to the Customer

‘Cede control to the customer’ said the tweet I sent out recently when I pointed to a post  `Stress and Customer Response’) by a colleague… and, boy, did it get some incredulous `you must be off your rockers’ reactions.

Cede control … a phrase that evokes instant defence in most people. We like to be `in control’ of stuff. We spend a large amount of energy attempting to understand the world we live in – why does the apple fall to the ground? Why do cyclones happen? Why do people say `yes’ when they want to say `no’? Why do we buy stuff we don’t really need? Why are women so much better than men (ok, so I am pushing it there but.. you get the point!)

We seek answers all the time in order to better understand what to expect in a situation and through this understanding to have a better handle on how to influence (aka control) the course of things the way we desire.

So being in control is almost wired into (most of) our brains. So HOW can one advocate ceding control? And even more counterintuitive – cede control to a CUSTOMER?  The typical response is “Give the customer what he wants and he will take me to the cleaners”. The customer and the business game – zero sum, opposing sides of the table – is the feeling. Despite all the co-creation, collaboration types of words doing the rounds.

( Want to figure out whether you are a Novice, Pro or a Game Changer? Read the rest of this post here on the  Terragni Consulting blogsite.)

Customer Satisfaction Studies – More important than actual service?

I picked up the phone couple of weeks ago to get an internet access issue addressed. I had planned this call for a time when I had a good 15 minutes at hand .. based on my previous experience of the speed of response at this company. Ha! I was a master at this game now!

But, they did it again. Surprised me. Outfoxed me, One minute into the call I was left staring stunned at the receiver. I had navigated through umpteen IVR options attempting to get through to a human voice …and on the pretext of routing me to one I was led to a recorded voice saying (and I repeat from what my stunned mind recalls)

“Thank you for giving us the opportunity to serve you. Are you satisfied with the help you received. Please let us know.. after the beep”

No matter what menu options I tried this is where I ended up.

I am no fan of Customer Satisfaction exercises undertaken by companies. This post Playing the Customer Service Rating Game by Jay Goltz has me shaking my head vigorously in agreement. But this was hilarious. Seeking feedback even BEFORE providing the service!!!!

Sure there may be companies that conduct these exercises the way they are meant to be and don’t get stuck in the number-game. But these are more the exception than the norm.

Even with these companies, in fact, especially these companies who are serious about the undertaking should consider studying the customer experience rather than restrict themselves to mere satisfaction.

Another post, Why Smart Businesses don’t care about Customer Satisfaction, details how experience studies give you a much better handle on what to focus your resources on to garner greater share of the customers business.

So the next time, pause before you include Customer Satisfaction rating targets in your team’s performance parameters! Is it really an actionable number?

Why smart businesses don’t care about Customer Satisfaction

“We are already doing customer satisfaction studies, so why do we need a customer experience study?”

This is a common refrain I hear from a number of customers we engage with. I can see where they are coming from.  After all lot of organisational time, money and effort is expended on these studies.

Well, if you are struggling with the same question, here’s a quick exercise.

(This post is published here .. so click to read more!)

Usership sans Ownership – the new mantra

I keep reading in the newspapers that this is the best time to buy a new car. They are doing all the usual stuff like lowering prices, lowered loan rates, free fuel but the most interesting thing I see is the individual lease option that has made its appearance. So now i can drive around for three years in a Maybach and pay only 50% of the ticket price as lease rental. Makes me almost wish I WANTED to drive around in a Maybach. But my desires are far more complicated. Sigh.

This is like an extension of the great Indian philosophic wisdom expressed as `Aam khao, gutli kyun ginte ho’ (well at least that is my version of it). Which means, twisting to suit this case, enjoy the pleasures of the Maybach, why do you care (or want) to worry about the rest of the ownership induced hassles? Makes sense huh? The value of the Maybach is in the pleasure of driving it/riding in it; being seen in it; parking it in front of the neighbours gallery and if the papers hidden away in the file show it is on lease not ownership, well, the neighbour is never going to see that paper 😉

The concept of lease ownership  is not a new one in the business-to-business (B2B) world. Leasing of buildings,  capital equipment, vehicles even human resources is popular practice.  But now it is slowly but surely extending into the world of business to consumer transactions (B2C).

Thanks to this sort of evolved, value-oriented strategic thinking I can enjoy lovely green plants all around my office, my anything-but-green thumb notwithstanding. I can even see new ones each week as the vendor changes their locations and the plants themselves in an effort to add excitement to our office life.

In the consumer markets, one of the biggest hurdles to product replacement is our tendency for loss aversion – or more specifically the endowment theory, that causes us to value what we already have/own at higher than an identical replacement. One of the ways marketers trying to jog replacement sales try to overcome this is through rebates and trial periods.

A research paper I read documents that loss aversion does not kick in when goods are exchanged `as intended’. Ah ha ..! Which means …, yes, you got it, if I know before-hand that I am going to trade-in this car three years from now at a price of such and such I am pyschologically more at ease in going ahead with the trading-in at the pre-determined time and rate!

If  we extend this, let me term it `USERship without OWNERship‘ concept to just about anything from carpets to curtains to decorative pieces we have a very workable  way of reducing the loss aversion tendency that prevents people from replacing stuff that is still serviceable.

Furniture shops, recognising that for the mobile generation `a couch that will last a hundred years’ is a deterrent rather than a selling point, are providing guaranteed `buy back’ rates for their anything-but-longlasting wares. An enterprising lady in Delhi is equipping mere mortals to be like Ms. Hina Rabbani Khar with her business that rents out designer bags by the day. The list grows to include party wear (Dial-A-Dress), jewellery and even, hold your breath, baraatis on hire! Come to think of it, this is just borrowing a leaf from the age-old tradition of hiring rudaalis to mourn a death!

I subscribe to the maxim `Don’t invest in a farmhouse, invest in relationships (read friends) who own them’ (hat tip to my clear- thinking half!) 🙂 I  see this `USERship without OWNERship’ trend going a long way in all sorts of product categories – increasing quality of life in so many ways. Looking forward to a world where more products move in this direction!

Why Customers Hate Your Technology Solution

‘Redeemed 3832.56 units of (Mutual Fund Name) on 12-Aug-11 at an NAV of Rs xxxx. Your a/c has been credited with Rs. XXXXX’

Thus read the early-morning SMS I received from Citibank. A happy situation one might surmise. But instead it led to a flurry of totally unplanned, frenetic activity for me – racking my befuddled morning brain for a sale order I’d placed, impatiently logging into the banking system to trace the `Rs XXXX credited’. Fact-finding calls to my broker.  Finding no trace of anything anywhere. Just one SMS. And my morning was shot.

As it transpired, it was not a sale, but a very belated internal records updation of broker account code by Citibank that led to this message. Not only nine months removed from the actual activity date but completely incorrect in terms of content too!

Am I going to forget in a hurry this emotional turbulence the bank caused me? Fat chance!

Citibank is not an isolated case of well-intentioned technology losing its way in implementation. When you ask a business what they do around customer experience it is common to hear, “Oh we have invested in CRM systems from …”

In all the flurry around selecting the  `right’ technology, implementing, integrating, training one’s staff  it is easy to forget that the technology is intended to be not just for internal efficiency but to finally drive top-line and bottom-line. And that can come only if the technology-implementation does something positive for the Customer’s experience.

A CRM system, or any other technology solution – be it Voice of Customer solutions, Contact Management software, Social Media Monitoring tools or any other– they are just that – Tools. As useful or useless as those that use them. Unless we are clear about what to use it for, direct it in that manner and track those outcomes it remains a sub-optimal investment. It helps to remember that the technology started out being about improving our ability to improve the customer’s life. And not about making our own reports look snazzy.

When implementing a solution that claims to be for the customer it helps to ask:

  • — What does my customer do in the current scheme of things?
  • — What will change once I implement this?
  • — Will the change mean more effort for her?
  • — If yes, what is she getting in return for the additional effort?
  • — Is it commensurate value / worthwhile in her eyes?
  • — How can I make the transition easier for her?
  • — How do I communicate the change in a language that makes sense to her?
  • — Is this actually just making stuff more efficient for me and not helping her much? If yes, can I be upfront about it and REQUEST her help in the transition rather than throwing it at her without warning?

This goes for all changes ranging from the new website layout to a new way of aggregating accounts for the bill to changes in policies and procedures.


Think about the customer, think like the customer to make change less traumatic, more successful. Make a move towards customer centricity – one step at a time.

(Images are from the web. All copyrights rest with the original creator)