Customer Satisfaction is Not a Good Indicator of Customer Behavior

3 minute read
Gerry McGovern avatar

For years we’ve noticed a huge disparity between customer satisfaction figures and task completion rates.

We gave a participant 10 tasks to complete on a particular website. The website had awful usability and she failed miserably at practically every task. We asked her how she felt at the end of the test. Her reply was: “Very satisfied.” She was not an exception. We constantly come across brands that have relatively high customer satisfaction figures and very poor task completion rates.

I’ve always felt uncomfortable about concepts such as ‘satisfaction,’ ‘loyalty’ and ‘experience’ because these are emotions and emotions are largely irrational. For example, a lot of the brands that people are most satisfied with and loyal to are aspirational or ego brands. People like to be associated with brands such as Apple. It makes them look cool.

On the other hand, you don’t see many people walking down the street in a: “I LOVE RYANAIR” or “I LOVE 99p Stores” t-shirts. I often buy from TK Maxx, a discount retailer, though I do feel a little uncomfortable walking around with their bags advertising the fact that I’ve just bought from them.

UK Which Magazine is a consumer champion, and regularly creates a league table of the brands that customers love and hate the most. Cheap flights airline Ryanair is typically the most hated, as is cheap phone company Talk Talk, and 99p Stores, who sell cheap stuff.

The most loved brands include Lush, a handmade cosmetics company, Lakeland, who describe themselves as “the home of creative kitchenware,” and John Lewis, a chain of upmarket department stores. A retailer once told me that luxury toilet paper always sells well at Christmas, because, of course, the guests and friends will be visiting.

Learning Opportunities

Do you notice a trend? Loyalty, experience and satisfaction with a brand often says more about how the person sees themselves — or more particularly, how the person aspires to be seen by others — than it says about the brand.

People won’t tell you that they search for “cheap flights” or “cheap hotels.” If they’ll admit to the behavior at all, they’ll talk about “low fares.” It sounds better, you know. But when they search they never search for “low fares.” They always search for “cheap flights,” because at heart — when nobody is watching — everyone is cheap. Ryanair — the airline everyone loves to hate — has had phenomenal passenger growth over the years. In 2015, it is estimated it will carry 90 million passengers. People are far more loyal to Ryanair than they are to the brands they claim they are most loyal to.

We need to measure and predict what people actually do rather than what they say they do. Humans are often emotional, irrational, egotistical and vain. They can have an image of themselves that is far from the reality of how they actually live. The web and big data is a giant window into human behavior. We can look in now and see what is actually happening.

What if the reality is that customers are having a very poor experience as they interact with your brand, but they have deluded themselves into thinking they’re very satisfied? Wouldn’t it be worth knowing that just in case the delusion wears off?

About the author

Gerry McGovern

Gerry McGovern is the founder and CEO of Customer Carewords. He is widely regarded as the worldwide authority on increasing web satisfaction by managing customer tasks.