We all seek satisfaction every day. It is part of being human and a result of living in the modern consumerist society that we have become.
While there are certainly many who struggle to make ends meet in New Zealand, in Maslow’s terms, most of us seek the upper levels of the Hierarchy of Needs. We aspire more to lifestyles shaped by self-actualisation, self-esteem, belonging, identity and love than a pre-occupation with the life-necessities of foraging for food and shelter.
We are lucky to live in a country where most people’s needs are generally well-served. Indeed, most categories we buy from are over-supplied with many choices at a range of prices. This tends to breed a healthy level of competition for our custom thereby creating an upward pressure on quality and value, and weeds out the inferior and inefficient.
With this competition in mind, a lot of companies focus their attention on delivering great customer experiences, or being ‘customer-centric’; the assumption being that this will lead to superior satisfaction, greater loyalty and earn the elusive word-of-mouth endorsement we want people to share.
Many say that the goal of marketers is to deliver customer “delight”. To strive for excellence and provide customers with something to write home about, or to post a ‘Gram about in modern terms.
This all sounds logical, but some interesting research by Dixon, Freeman and Toman published in the Harvard Business Review challenges this exponential view that the more the delight the better. Their work suggests that there are diminishing returns on loyalty. In other words, adding elements of delight indefinitely past a certain point risks of adding cost and effort that is not returned by the customer in the form of added loyalty.
So, if satisfaction is not an exponential, or even linear path of delight, how should we understand it?
The answer is that satisfaction is a relative concept that compares what people expect with what they experience, within the context of the product or situation.
The reality is that satisfaction means different things, in different situations, to different people.
- If you’re after a fast, cheap and highly predictable meal, a Combo at McDonald’s might be very satisfying.
- If you’d rather have an exotic, crafted degustation, then McDonald’s is not the place to dine at.
- If you’re looking for something smart and affordable to wear for work, then H&M will probably have something that is just right.
If you’re looking for a sophisticated dress for the ball then you’ll probably need to go past H&M.
The implication from this is that you should aim to satisfy customers in a way that is commercially prudent; that cultivates loyalty, but does not over-invest in chasing the ultimate ‘delight’.
To navigate this balancing act, and know how to achieve optimum satisfaction, without over-investing in the pursuit of delight, you need to understand three things:
- The context of customer decision-making – what are they buying, what are the practical dynamics of the category, why are they buying and how they make decisions?
- Customer expectations – what do they expect from the product, service and the buying process?
- Customer experiences – what is the reality of what customers experience?
This creates a formula for satisfaction that reads:
Applying this to your business requires you to understand the relative utility of what adds value and builds loyalty, and what just adds cost without loyalty dividends.
What are the areas of asymmetric value for your customers? The chocolate on the pillow that costs little but delivers a warm sense of treat. Conversely, what are the costly service features that customers don’t value?
Understanding your customers’ context, expectations and experiences can only be captured by getting to know them in-depth, in their words, from their point of view, and in their environment. Traditional qualitative research can go part of the way, but it is often limited by the artificial way in which focus groups or in-depth interviews are conducted in research rooms, along with strangers, in a rushed way.
Similarly, some try to understand satisfaction with quantitative metrics like Net Promoter Score. While useful as a kind of temperature gauge, this approach is too superficial to get a true picture of customer satisfaction, and too limited to guide you on how to improve customer experiences.
To really get under the skin of your customers’ context, expectations and experiences Energi’s Shop With Me customer experience platform is designed to let you see the world through your customer’s eyes, in their environment, in a relaxed way over time, in a way that is interactive and dynamic. It will help you understand how to raise and optimise satisfaction.
As Goldilocks showed us, the secret to satisfaction is realising that you can have not enough, or too much of a good thing. The trick is knowing when enough is just right.