What is Customer Satisfaction? A Quick-and-Dirty Guide

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Satisfaction can be hard to come by. I guess that’s why there are so many videos claiming to offer it.

Satisfaction can also be hard to measure. That’s where Customer Satisfaction (CSat) comes in.

Customer satisfaction is jargon for whether and to what extent a product or service met, failed to meet, or exceeded a user’s expectations.

It’s a number that represents the percentage of customers who feel you excelled the last time they interacted with you.

It essentially asks the customer: “How good did that interaction feel to you?”

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Marketing and customer support both use CSat scores. Product teams can also use this data. While technically a marketing metric, CSat is obviously very applicable to customer support. First, customer support is where a lot of customer interactions happen. Second, customer interactions with support are having an increasingly large impact on customer loyalty, word-of-mouth, online reviews, and overall revenue.

“After all, customer happiness ultimately leads to a brand’s success,” Kimberly Powell wrote for the Getfeedback blog.

As former auto claims rep at a Fortune 100 insurance company and Capterra guest poster Page Gerrick Denny put it, the importance of measuring CSat for customer support can’t be overstated. As a customer support rep, “You’re where the company promise is kept or broken.” And you need to know whether you’re keeping, or breaking, your promise.

Okay, so how do I measure CSat?

Basically, you survey your customers. Usually, you’ll send out the survey after an interaction, such as a live chat or purchase, and the questions will pertain to that interaction.

The central question is worded something like: “How would you rate your overall satisfaction with the service you received?”

You’ll generally give customers five options for each question:

  • Very satisfied
  • Somewhat satisfied
  • Neither satisfied nor dissatisfied
  • Somewhat dissatisfied
  • Very dissatisfied

Should I measure CSat?

CSat is, at core, an attempt to quantify something as ineffable as whether a person’s expectations have been exceeded. Which is difficult. Most people aren’t terribly self-aware. So there are lots of problems with CSat, naturally. It can’t capture every nuance.

But the industry seems to have decided it’s among the least-bad measures. According to Marketing Metrics: The Definitive Guide to Measuring Marketing Performance, 71% of the nearly 200 senior marketing managers surveyed said they found a customer satisfaction metric very useful in managing and monitoring their businesses. Even if they’re wrong, they’re still not wrong. That’s because it’s useful to use the measure others are using so you can compare yourself to your peers.

According to Impact Learning, one of the best ways to use CSat is to measure how a change in policy or procedure impacts customer happiness. The trick is to measure it the same way before and after the change. So, for example, let’s say your policy right now is to onboard customers with written documentation. What about a video walkthrough? Measuring average CSat scores before and after this change can help you determine whether it improved the onboarding experience for customers.

CSat isn’t the only industry-standard measure though. Some people prefer Net Promoter Score (NPS) or Customer Effort Score (CES), to name two, and have great reasons for their preference. (Learn more: What Are CES, NPS, and CSAT? Understanding When to Use Which.)

One way to look at the difference between CSat and NPS is that CSat asks about one particular interaction while NPS asks about how someone feels about your brand overall. CES asks the customer how difficult it was, in their opinion, to do what they wanted to get done in the last interaction with your brand.

This chart from Checkmarket.com is a decent comparison between different scoring systems:

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Stephanie Zou reminds us at the Zendesk blog that you can also use CSat to measure happiness over time by surveying the same customer after multiple interactions. “Hopefully, you’ll see customer satisfaction increase the longer they are a customer,” Zou writes.

Ultimately, all measures have their pros and cons, and you should probably use more than one.

Tips for measuring CSat

First, decide when to measure. Powell suggests sending users a CSat survey after:

  • Each interaction with customer support
  • Each interaction with sales
  • Customer onboarding
  • Each conferences or other event
  • Each interaction with online checkout

How to use CSat results

Running CSat surveys requires survey software. While you can use generic survey software, it’s probably best to either use software dedicated to CSat surveys or the surveying functionality built into your help desk software or customer service software. Here’s more info about the software that helps your run these kinds of surveys.

Once you have some data, it’s time to put it to good use! Powell offers ideas on how to improve customer service with CSat data, including looking at average CSat scores before and after a new support policy to determine whether it’s improving customer happiness. She also says that low average CSat scores after onboarding can help warn teams that they should tweak the process.

Conclusion

Pro-tip: Don’t mistake good CSat scores with overall customer satisfaction. They’re meant to tell you how the interaction went, not how the customer feels about your brand overall. Think about it this way. Ultimately, your goal is customer loyalty. But you build, or destroy, loyalty with every interaction. A measure like NPS tells you how loyal the customer feels to you. This is very important information, but it doesn’t tell you what to change to increase loyalty. CSat tells you which interactions are making customers feel more loyal and which are making them feel less.

Keep in mind that, if you’re measuring CSat scores for one type of interaction but not another, you’re missing valuable data. On the other hand, you must balance your desire for complete, accurate picture with respect for your customers’ time.

Okay, how do you use CSat scores? Or do you not use them? Why or why not? Let me know in the comments!

Looking for Customer Service software? Check out Capterra's list of the best Customer Service software solutions.

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Cathy Reisenwitz

Cathy Reisenwitz is a former Capterra analyst.

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