What is customer satisfaction? Defining it isn't easy...

We all intuitively have an understanding of what customer satisfaction is, but when it comes to writing it down, why is it so difficult to summarise?

On reviewing the literature over a 30 year period, Giese and Cote (Academy of Management Science Review, 2002) found a wide variance in the definitions of satisfaction but three common elements were notable:

1) Customer satisfaction is a response (emotional or cognitive) ;

2) The response relates to a particular focus (expectations, experience, etc) ; and,

3) The response occurs at a particular time (after consumption, after choice, based on accumulated experience, etc) .

Whilst useful, Giese and Cote stopped short of providing their own single definition of customer satisfaction, which perhaps says more about the complexities of defining the concept than anything else.

A further approach of interest can be seen by Rust and Oliver (Service Quality: New directions in theory and practice, 1994). They looked at the linguistic structure of the word 'satisfaction' and noted the word is derived from the Latin satis (meaning 'enough') and facere (meaning 'to do or make'), from which they suggested it implies that satisfaction is a consumers fulfilment response.

For me, the most concise yet fully encompassing definition I have found in recent years has been from the Institute of Customer Service (What Customers Really Want, 2006) who wrote, "Customer satisfaction, or dissatisfaction, is the extent to which a customer feels their experience with an organisation has met their needs".

This definition makes no distinction between product or service, it recognises that satisfaction is perceived on a range of cognitive emotion, it focusses upon the customers' perspective and not the organisations' perspective, and perhaps most importantly of all, it focusses upon customer needs.

Think you can beat that one? Have a go by trying to write a definition yourself - I'd be genuinely interested to hear of any suggestions.

Simon Williams, Director, Service Insights Ltd.  Info@serviceinsights.co.uk