It’s Christmas. I am buying most of my presents on Amazon. My mailbox then explodes. I receive a satisfaction survey from Amazon. This is followed by another from the delivery company. Finally after the product is delivered the manufacturer sends a third. Given the size of my family, my email box is full of satisfaction surveys. Each in turn asks me to rate their service. Sometimes on a numerical scale. Sometimes it is a set of smiley emojis. Finally I am asked whether I would recommend the company to my friends. If I am lucky I get a small space for comments.
Why would they do this to me? I know they are trying to improve their service. Does it work? Many do not allow me the space to provide enough information to be helpful. If I respond that something has gone wrong, I have yet to receive an apology. If all this is supposed to make me feel they care, then it is failing. Many customer service managers are bonused on these survey results. Are they getting anything useful from all this effort except their bonus?
Third Age Customer Satisfaction
Nothing can be more ambitious than the American Customer Satisfaction Index. This survey measures whether all US consumers are happy with all their suppliers. It was set up in 1994 by the University of Michigan. Each year since, it has measured customer satisfaction. They do this for the products and services of over two hundred suppliers. These suppliers come from different industries as well as US Government Services. The companies may change over time, but the survey analyses sectors or industries. The data is collected from a representative sample of the US population. It uses a telephone survey of more than seventy-five thousand people.
The Overall Satisfaction Index itself is an amalgamation of all the data into a single number. This reflects how satisfied the American consumer is at any given date. At the end of September it stood at seventy-three point seven out of hundred. It has been falling since 2018 from a high of seventy seven. COVID accelerated the decline. It has remained static for the last two quarters. The results are also show how satisfied people are with different service sectors over time. COVID has certainly hit those sectors suffering from supply chain shortages.
A group of researchers have used the data in a different way. They assessed the impact of age on satisfaction. Obviously the survey collected lots of demographic data. This includes income, gender, education level and of course age. They showed conclusively that older people are more satisfied than younger respondents.
Statistically the relationship is extraordinarily strong. With forty-five different industries over twenty-five years there are many ways of analysing the data. They looked first across the whole sample of all years and industries. This showed that age is accounting for nearly ninety percent of the changes in satisfaction. I wonder if the customer service mangers know this? They also looked at different years. For example, this is the data across the forty-five industries in 2008.
One might think that satisfaction would also be related to education, income, and gender. An analysis looked at the relationship between age and satisfaction for each of the forty five individual industries. This was done over the many years of the survey. In each case it also controlled for all these demographic variables. The same strong relationships existed. In only three industries was there no apparent relationship.
Creating Satisfying Experiences for Consumers
Service organizations are there to create the most satisfying experience for their customer. Satisfied customers return and tell their friends. Satisfied customers protect the firm for losing customers to the competition. It underpins their profitability. Organizations that understand how to satisfy their customers will evolve. Perhaps they will use surveys to do it, perhaps not!
How does satisfaction happen? The consumer must perceive that the service they receive is equal to or greater than the one they expected. This is known as the disconfirmation paradigm. It underpins the whole of satisfaction theory in marketing. Satisfaction is therefore perceptual. It depends on how the consumer perceives the experience rather than some objective measure.
Take "time" for example. One would think that time was immutable. Many studies have looked at the simple experience of queuing. They show that the time we perceive we spend waiting varies significantly from reality. One study of queuing asked respondent to estimate how long they waited in a queue at the bank. From security video tapes, it was then possible to measure actual waiting time. The average respondent perceived that they had waited four point seven minutes. The actual time was only three point six minutes. The average overestimate across all wait times was thirty percent. The perceived waiting time is influenced by the rest of the experience. Background music will tend to make waiting seem shorter. It is even influenced by the other customers. Queuing with people who are socially dis-similar will make it seem longer.
Where do the expectations come from? We bring with us some expectations. These are based on advertisements, word of mouth from our friends and prior experience. We refine our expectations in real time during the service experience itself. Expectations like perceptions can be managed. The quality of the setting can signal whether this is a self-service or table service restaurant. This in turn sets expectations for the quality of the food. The dress of the staff signals the level of “formalism” to expect. The smell of the food being delivered to other tables can raise or lower the expectations for our own food.
Why Are Older Consumers More Satisfied?
The socio-emotional selectivity theory described in Newsletter # 033 offers many clues. We know that older people manage there experiences to maximize the pleasurable ones. They will have chosen suppliers accordingly. They only go where they are likely to be satisfied. They are less likely to experiment and have a “bad” experience.
They have expectations that have been built up over many years. They have “seen it all before” and there is lots of tolerance for minor variations. They have expert scripts. Because they always "look on the bright side of life" they do not register the mistakes. Just as they look more at happy faces than miserable ones. Even if they do see something that is wrong they may “correct" their memories. We know that memories of older people are more positive than reality. This survey happens annually and relies on those memories. Even if they do not get what they expect, is it worth being dis-satisfied? Most experiences are happening on autopilot. Why create an emotionally upsetting one?
For a manager who is bonused on customer satisfaction scores there is a simple plan. Get more Third and Forth Age clients!