Business, governments, and nonprofits often ask those who come into contact with them how satisfied are they with X?  You’ve undoubtedly been asked this yourself in the past and perhaps you’ve even run your own customer feedback (often dubbed Voice of the Customer) program.  Doing so is smart as it can uncover problem areas and give a chance to resolve still lingering issues.

However, what are you measuring when you ask someone whether they are satisfied?  There are two general areas in which we measure satisfaction:

  1. Transactions or event-based.  This is when we ask someone how satisfied they are with their recent interaction with an employee, service received, or other specific action between your organization and the customer.
  2. Relationship.  This is when we ask how satisfied they are overall with their relationship with your organization.

The former helps us diagnose very specific issues and uncover unresolved issues with their last interactions.  The latter gives us a snapshot of the organization overall and not only the most recent interaction.

The challenge is that organizations often use a transaction survey as a measurement of the broader relationship.  Depending on the nature of your interaction, asking people their overall satisfaction may be appropriate, but often a question of, “how satisfied were you with your purchase/service call/donation?’ is used as a proxy for overall organizational satisfaction.  The issue here is that someone can have a bad experience once and that won’t necessarily translate to low satisfaction overall.

For example, if you called your cell phone company and had a bad experience on the phone – it took too long to get a human, you had to be transferred multiple times, etc. – a survey of that experience would likely show dissatisfaction.  However, you may still be happy with the quality of service and price you pay.  A survey about your overall relationship may show positive results, even if slightly dented by the recent episode.

Both types of satisfaction surveys have their place, and knowing what you’re trying to measure can help you refine the question you ask and how you interpret the results.  Better insights start with better data that start with better design.

In an upcoming blog post we’ll discuss the different ways to report satisfaction and which may be best for your needs.