How to Measure Customer Satisfaction

Jeff Sauro, PhD

By far the most common and fundamental measure of customer attitudes is customer satisfaction.

Customer satisfaction is a measure of how well a product or service experience meets customer expectations.

It’s a staple of customer analytic scorecards as a barometer of how well a product or company is performing.

You can measure satisfaction on everything from a brand, a product, a feature, a website, or a service experience.

While measuring customer satisfaction alone isn’t going to do much, it’s an essential metric to collect when you want to gauge your customers’ sentiment and prioritize around what’s working and not working.

We’ve helped our clients collect and analyze satisfaction data that have a range of needs, from just getting started, to using more advanced analysis.

Two pieces of data you can collect are attitudes and satisfaction. Although there is a slight difference between the two, they are both highly related and tend to both predict customer loyalty. Here’s how to remember the difference: Potential customers have an attitude toward a brand or product they’ve never used, and actual customers rate their satisfaction after having experienced a brand or product.

For example, customers can rate their opinion toward Apple before ever being a customer (attitude), their level of satisfaction with Apple after making a purchase (general satisfaction), their satisfaction with iTunes (product satisfaction) and with synching iTunes with their iPhone (attribute satisfaction).

Measuring Attitude

If you’re interested in the beliefs, ideas, and opinions of prospective customers, you have to measure attitudes. For example, prior to evaluating customers on two rental car websites, participants were asked about their attitudes toward the most common US rental car companies.

One benefit of asking customer attitudes at the beginning of a survey is that you can screen out participants who have a very strong negative attitude toward your brand. While you don’t want to ignore these customers — in fact, you’ll want to follow up with them in the future — in most cases, you want to hear from prospective customers who are at least willing to use your product or service in the near-term.

In most customer satisfaction surveys we conduct, we include measures of attitude and awareness prior to measuring satisfaction.

I encourage clients to use multi-point rating scales with satisfaction surveys, as opposed to simple binary options (satisfied/not satisfied) to capture more subtle differences in attitudes. Having more points allows us to better understand how small changes in satisfaction can result in changes in behavior (like defecting to another bank or dissuading others).

Don’t obsess over the number of points in your rating scales. If your company likes 11-point scales because they use the NPS, then use those. We generally use 5- and 7-point scales, but there isn’t much difference. The most important thing is to be consistent so you can make comparisons over time.

Measuring Satisfaction

There are a myriad of ways to collect satisfaction data using online survey software, phone interviews, or old-school paper and pencil forms. Usually some combination of these is the best, but it can be done with very little budget.

In general there are two levels of measuring customer satisfaction you should collect: General (or relational) satisfaction and a more specific attribute (or transactional) satisfaction.

General satisfaction

Asking customers their satisfaction toward a brand or organization is the broadest measure of customer satisfaction. It’s often referred to as a relational measure because it speaks to customers overall relationship with a brand. It encompasses repeated exposure, experiences, and often repeat purchases.

To measure general satisfaction, ask customers to rate how satisfied they are with your brand or company using a rating scale. The figure below shows a survey question where participants were asked to rate their level of satisfaction with their bank, US Bank.

Because customer satisfaction is such a fundamental measure for gauging your company’s performance with your customers, a number of firms offer a standardized set of satisfaction questionnaires and reports to allow you to compare your satisfaction scores with your competitors and industry.

One of the most common industry surveys of general satisfaction (at a company level) is the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ASCI). The ASCI uses a standard set of questions and surveys thousands of US customers each year on products and services they’ve used. They provide a series of benchmark reports across dozens of industries, including Computer Hardware, Hotels, Manufacturing, Pet Food, and Life Insurance to name a few.

The ASCI provides benchmark reports that allow you to see how satisfied US customers are with your company. In some cases, the satisfaction benchmarks are also provided at a more specific product level. In most cases you’ll want to collect your own data, but where possible, look for existing questions used by your industry. This increases the chances that they have been vetted for reliability and allow you to compare your results.

Attribute and product satisfaction

While customer satisfaction provides a broad view of a customer’s attitude, you’ll also want to find out whether your product or service is or is not exceeding expectations.

To generate more specific and diagnostic measures of customer attitudes, ask about the satisfaction with features, or more specific parts of an experience. This is often referred to as attribute or transaction satisfaction because customers are rating attributes (features, quality, ease of use, price) of a product or the most recent transaction. Examples of attribute satisfaction include

  • Check in experience
  • Registering
  • Download speed
  • Price
  • Product (for brands with multiple products)
  • The website
  • In-store experience
  • The online purchase process
  • Product usability

To measure attribute satisfaction, use the same type of scale and question as you used to measure general satisfaction, but direct respondents to reflect on the specific attribute you’re interested in (the check-in experience, the search results page, the download speed).

In addition to collecting closed-ended rating scale data from participants, offer a space for customers to add a comment about their attitude. You can use these comments to help understand what’s driving high or low ratings. You can even turn these comments into quantifiable data.

While it’s a good idea to collect your own customer satisfaction data, data from third parties provide a more objective view of your brand and provides insights into former and prospective customers as well. For example, if you’re interested in measuring the satisfaction your customers have with your website, the SUPR-Q is a good measure of the quality of the experience and provides a meaningful comparison to 200 other websites.

Do Something About It

Measuring customer satisfaction is merely the first step in understanding and improving a customer’s experience. Don’t stop there. You should drill down until you understand the key drivers of general satisfaction and attribute customer satisfaction. You should also understand how satisfaction differs by touchpoint and at key stages of the customer journey.

The journey can include everything from the product and its features, the buying process, customer service, and even how responsible you are to your employees, shareholders, and the environment. While measuring satisfaction can seem daunting, it’s actually the easy part; the hard part is actually doing something to improve satisfaction.

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