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Introduction

If we agree that a key organisational driver is to deliver customer service in a way that satisfies our customers, so it’ important to know how satisfied our customers are. This sheet examines some of the techniques involved. It looks at:

-how the first customer satisfaction measurement system evolved

-why it’ important to measure things from the customer’ viewpoint

-how to make sure you ask the right questions

-the difference between stated and derived importance

-the cases for and against different rating scales

-the types of headline satisfaction measure.

Origins of customer satisfaction measurement

The origins of customer satisfaction measurement stem from the work of Parasuraman, Zeithaml and Berry in the mid-1980s. Their SERVQUAL approach established a number of key measurement principles such as:

-measuring subjective perceptions as the basis of user-defined quality

-using exploratory research to identify the criteria used by customers to make service quality judgements before a main survey to gather statistically reliable data

-the multi-dimensionality of customers’ judgements

-the relative importance of the dimensions and the fact that the most important will have the greatest effect on customers’ overall judgement of an organisation

-the use of a weighted index to reliably represent customers’ overall judgements

-the use of gap analysis to identify areas for improvement.

SERVQUAL’ main premise is that customers’ judgement of service quality can be measured across five standard dimensions (sometimes labelled the Rater scale):

-reliability

-assurance

-tangibles

-empathy

-responsiveness

Aspects of the model have been questioned in more recent times, and there has been much debate concerning the value of service quality measures compared with the much broader measure of customer satisfaction.

The lens of the customer

In their book Improving Customer Satisfaction, Loyalty and Profit, Michael Johnson and Anders Gustafsson took the SERVQUAL findings one step further. They introduced the concept of ‘the lens of the customer’ which they contrasted with ‘the lens of the organisation’.

Suppliers and customers often don’t see things in the same way. Suppliers typically think in terms of the products/services they supply, the people they employ to provide them and the processes used to deliver the product or service. Customers look at things from their own perspective, basing their evaluation on whether they’ve received the results, outcomes or benefits that they were looking for.

Customers’ satisfaction judgements are based on the extent to which their requirements have been met. So, an accurate measure of satisfaction requires a survey based on the same criteria customers use to make their satisfaction judgements. This means that to ask the right questions, customers’ requirements have to be identified. The survey questionnaire can then be based on ‘the lens of the customer’.

Requirements (or priorities) are generated by qualitative research, a process in which focus groups or in-depth interviews allow customers to talk about their relationship with a supplier. They can define, in their own words, the most important aspects of that relationship to them. The relative importance of these items can also be assessed.

If any measure of customers’ attitudes is to be a reliable lead indicator of their future behaviour, the survey instrument must be based on the correct requirements.

As already explained, much of the early debate around the SERVQUAL methodology focused on the extent to which the five Rater dimensions were the correct ones. Several academic studies suggest alternative or more appropriate ones.

There have been studies demonstrating the organisational value of improving service quality in terms of increased market share, margins, recommendation and profitability. However, most commentators prefer the much broader concept of customer satisfaction rather than the more restrictive measures of service quality or the prescriptive SERVQUAL framework.

Clearly, customers judge organisations on a wider range of factors than service quality alone – product quality and price being two obvious examples. Customers’ feelings about an organisation depend on the total customer experience. So measures of service quality alone capture only a small number of the factors that impact on customer satisfaction and loyalty.
Satisfaction has been defined as ‘the extent to which an organisation meets its customers’ requirements’. It’ essential that a customer satisfaction measure is based on the same criteria as customers use to make that judgement; in other words, ‘the lens of the customer’.

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