A customer experience leader’s foremost responsibility is to make all customer interactions meaningful, enjoyable and memorable. To do this, we must systematically understand the complex nature of CX and identify bottlenecks along the customer's journey.

What we usually have in our Voice of the Customer (VoC) toolbox are different types of self-report questionnaires; sometimes we seek responses to a popup message question, other times we use structured surveys delivered via a text, email or automated call. No matter the medium, the tools we use to gather customer feedback influence the hypotheses we form — as well as how we interpret our overall CX success — to a larger extent than we often realize.

The Point: Why This Matters

  • Delight is not satisfaction. Customer satisfaction and delight are not the same thing, which we must take into account when considering overall CSAT. The nuance between these two outcomes can lead to inaccurate customer data. We must understand the difference between satisfaction and a positive customer experience to make CX metrics more accurate and help us optimize our service as providers.
  • CX acronyms aren't be-all, end-all. Customer satisfaction (CSAT), Net Promoter Score (NPS), and Customer Effort Score (CES) are commonly used Voice of Customer (VoC) based CX metrics to track overall customer experience, but they may overestimate positive experiences as they only measure self-reported satisfaction and do not guarantee positive feelings or memorable experiences.

VoC-Based CX Metrics May Overestimate Positive Experiences

Customer satisfaction (CSAT) or other satisfaction-related concepts like Net Promoter Score (NPS) or Customer Effort Score (CES) are the most commonly used VoC-based CX metrics to track overall CX success, identifying and localizing problems in the customer's journey. Customers scoring high on satisfactory metrics are labeled delighted or loyal, but ranking high in satisfaction does not guarantee the customer left with a positive feeling or a memorable experience. There is a subtle but very important difference here.

Do we really feel happy when we send money to a friend via a financial services app? Do we feel joy or pleasure when we pick up our weekly groceries? The answer is often no, because when the task is goal oriented, we look forward to getting it done.

Plus, our daily product and service experiences are mostly utilitarian in nature. We don’t reflect on our feelings until we are stopped and asked about it, and when this happens, we are forced to declare a level of satisfaction on a scale ranging from very satisfied to not satisfied at all.

At this moment, we pick our own brains for noteworthy problems to lower a possible perfect score. If we recall a rude frontline employee or how long we waited in line, we declare ourselves unsatisfied.

However, if we cannot recall such a problem, we select a higher number on the scale. Thanks to the meanings assigned to these CX metrics, a customer selecting a high enough number is classified as a delighted customer or promoter. Are we really delighted, though? Are we inclined to promote this service provider? Are we loyal? Did the feeling of happiness or joy really arise during the experience, or have we retrospectively decided that we were satisfied because we had to come up with a score to answer a not-so-relevant question?

In short, positive scores on self-report satisfaction scales don’t always mean positive feelings occurred during the customer's experience. Thus, they have very little face value in indicating delight or loyalty — unless the customer's journey involved something hedonic like fine-dining or going to a spa. On the other hand, negative scores are unquestionably worthy of our attention. A persistent negative score about a touchpoint along the customer journey's indicates problems, and these pain points must be remedied.

Related Article: What Is Customer Satisfaction Score (CSAT)?

How to Better Interpret VoC-Based CX Metrics

Complexity theory has an insightful principle that can be instrumental in understanding how to tackle CX metrics: the causal asymmetry principle.

Learning Opportunities

In the context of CX, the causal asymmetry principle translates into a service instance in which a set of events resulting in dissatisfaction is unique and not the mirror opposite of the set of events resulting in satisfaction.

For instance, waiting for a long time at the bank just to ask a question can lead to dissatisfaction. However, waiting for an acceptable amount of time doesn't give rise to joy or delight — it is just standard service. Using a single metric to capture both dissatisfaction and positive experiences fails to capture this reality.

In this particular instance, failing to separate what can be considered "recipes" for dissatisfaction and a positive experience can have us mistakenly believe that wait time is an important predictor of a satisfaction. In reality, a short wait might be a necessary but not sufficient condition for a positive experience. Since the cause of dissatisfaction would no longer exist in the servicescape if we prioritize lower wait times, the CSAT or NPS score would probably go up. However, it doesn’t mean that we provided a meaningful, enjoyable, or memorable experience to our customers.

This is why removing a pain point from a customer journey that makes them dissatisfied will not inherently lead to a positive experience — it just means they will not be dissatisfied. Therefore, the ability to design experiences that are worthy of talking to others seldom arise from understanding what makes people dissatisfied.

Related Article: Align Your Voice of the Customer Initiative With Your Customers

Conclusion: Don't Be Overconfident With One Satisfaction Score

When we believe our customers are delighted (even though they are merely satisfied), we can find ourselves having an unjustified overconfidence in our service designs and/or the overall quality of our CX management. Overestimation of positive experience can lead to fatigue in innovation in service design, which is a poison pill for a company operating in a highly competitive environment.

Methodological issues in gathering data for the VoC-based CX metrics can also cause overestimation — and sometimes underestimation — of positive experience, but this will be the topic for another article.

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