If we could distill just three words from all the research on customer expectations, this is what they would be: performance, perception, outcome. This means that customers have performance expectations, perception expectations and outcome expectations. These can concern a specific product, a person or about the whole enterprise. If it is true that these expectations truly are the basis for satisfaction, we need to unambiguously understand what they mean.
The vice president of a fast-growing company recently told me his customer satisfaction was really improving. I congratulated him and asked what the indicators of that success were. He said his firm was tracking satisfaction in a couple ways: by surveys and by volume of new orders. A representative question on the survey regarded problems with a particular component of their product. It turns out that complaints about it have dropped significantly. I asked if that drop in dissatisfaction was to be viewed as satisfaction.
If the scores improve on our measures of customer satisfaction, are customers more satisfied? Or could they be merely less dissatisfied? The good news is that there are many ways to find out what customers want. The bad news is that we often get caught up in the mechanics without having a clear framework of what drives it.