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Why Customer Satisfaction is not Enough


Which of the next two statements are true?

1.Holding onto a customer has never been harder — or more important.

2.All you must do is satisfy the customer’s needs.

If you said 1 is true and 2 is false then I would agree with you! In today’s financial climate a customer really wants you … for free. If they must pay, they are probably struggling to afford you. To have the real sense of having value added they must really get more than they are paying for. Client satisfaction therefore might be the wrong measurement. There is convincing evidence about that from Gallup. In good research Gallup states that “High scores (in customer satisfaction) don’t necessarily link to sustainable growth.” See “Customer Satisfaction is the wrong measure”.

Also, “Regardless of how high a company’s satisfaction levels may appear to be, satisfying customers without creating an emotional connection with them has no real value. None at all.” Customer satisfaction doesn’t count.

Instead of worrying about customer satisfaction a good way to look at the customer is as a partner. We should move away from the view that the client is always right so we must give them what they think they want. In the current thinking about sales, your customer might be very well informed. However, them being informed does not mean knowing what you do. It is not unusual for a client to be educated by the consulting expert. Their education, in some industries, is a key element. It is not about giving them what they want, it is about giving them what you (as the expert) know they really need. This might include putting pressure on them to take ownership of some aspect of the service being offered.

A partnership is therefore not about being nice, or obsessed about satisfying the customer’s wants. The work is in the giving of what is appropriate. To contribute to the client’s consistent success. It is establishing the emotional connection, because of the evidence of success for the client.

But what does this mean for sales? Effective sales have two components: One – getting the client to say “yes!” Two: having a sustainable relationship by getting repeat business.

A surprising truth is that what is important in getting the first yes is different from getting repeat business. Getting the yes in an initial sales interaction is about showing customers how you will satisfy their wants. Getting repeat business however is about having a well established partnership.

Over 15 years ago I made this discovery. At the time, I was consulting to an advertising industry, (one in South Africa, one in the USA) and with them addressing the “3-year divorce syndrome.” It was a pattern that as the advertising agency got better at being creative for the client, they got fired. The timing for this “divorce” was on the average three years. When I looked closely my findings were somewhat surprising. What we saw was that the client shifted what was important for them as their relationship with the advertising agency developed. Unfortunately, the advertising agency missed the cues for this change. They kept on using the first requirements for prioritizing the design and content of their work. This meant they were uncoordinated/disconnected with their customer.

This “divorce” does not just happen in advertising. I have seen this happen across many industries: bulk moving, service and parts suppliers, insurance, consultants, pharmaceuticals, production, etc.

Once again we can turn to Gallup research to corroborate our findings. For example, John Felming wrote in Human Sigma: Managing the Employee-Customer Encounter that: “Business leaders, researchers, academics, and management consultants alike have expressed concern that though customer satisfaction may be a necessary foundation for building strong customer relationships, by itself, it’s a relatively poor indicator of future customer behaviour. Our data support this concern.” (“Customer Satisfaction: A Flawed Measure”

So, the moral of the story: it is partnership that gets you the repeat business, not just the contractually defined expectations. It is the presence of this partnership, in combination with the formal execution of the contract, which determines the possibility of repeated or sustained business with the client.  My experience confirms the research reported in the Harvard Business Review that satisfied clients are not necessarily loyal clients.  Whoever else meets their dominant criteria will also satisfy them. The challenge for the service provider is to do what it takes to maintain a sustainable relationship.


Armand Kruger

Armand Kruger qualified as a clinical psychologist at the University of Pretoria in 1972. Since 1973 he has been working with one burning question: How do successful people do it differently? What alternatives are they doing in their minds not done by the average or the underachiever? To answer that question he went outside of mainstream psychology to find cognitive process models that will capture the essence of success.

One Response to “Why Customer Satisfaction is not Enough”

By Jose Santiago - 4 May 2017 Reply

Spot on, satisfaction is now response to the need, what of the long term need and response? Answered above we need to look at the depth of the need that is being satisfied a bit like Mao’s teach the man to fish and he will feed his family, vs give him a fish to feed his family, Ed Schein’s work in consulting addresses this and now applied to sales. Good stuff thank you.

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