Why being happy is better than being satisfied

by Rolf Gutknecht, Agent of Change (c) 2012

I got another customer satisfaction survey from my bank the other day. Another request for me to take my time to tell them how they’re doing. Once again a perfectly framed poll asking closed ended questions so that someone, somewhere can report the ‘score’.

Is customer satisfaction all that they’re striving for? Really? So, if I say I’m satisfied, then the company is OK with that and all is “good to go”? Correct me if I’m wrong, but doesn’t satisfaction come from performance as expected? On a good day, you might exceed my expectations. If you deliver as expected, I’m neutral. Fall short and I’m dissatisfied. Be it a survey like this or leaving a waiter or waitress the customary 15%, satisfaction doesn’t equate with feeling like all went well.

Therefore, asking me if I’m satisfied is the wrong question. If you really want to know how you’re doing ask me if I am happy. Watch my behavior to see if I am happy. Listen to what I say to learn if I share my happiness with others. Because if you make me happy, I’ll be back…and I’ll bring my friends.

So, how do you make your customers happy? Look at all of the touch points that they experience with your organization related to your products and services. Look beyond the functional benefits to the emotional and social benefits that you can deliver. You see, you and all of your competitors must deliver functionality…it’s required. But premium products and services (you make or sell those, right?) that truly endure into the future deliver emotional and social benefit  — let’s call that happiness.

For example, it’s the reason we still have candles. We haven’t needed them to light up a room for a while and in fact, one could almost say that they’re functionally obsolete. But, they can deliver a romantic glow or a scent that can make you feel better and create a certain mood. They make us happy. So we still buy candles and will even pay a premium for fancy ones. A product benefit comparison chart between a candle and a light bulb would turn out badly for the candle. A customer satisfaction survey would likely go the same way — “On a scale of 1-10 is a candle better than, equal to, or worse than a light bulb.” But we still buy them for their emotional and social benefit.

To drive value for customers it’s necessary to look beyond product and service functionality to the emotional and social benefits that your company and its products can provide. There are companies in a variety of industries that make sure their customer experiences go beyond just being functional – in short, intentionally focusing on how customers feel about the experience of dealing with their company and its products, and themselves to elicit personal happiness.

So, what does one do to get beyond the commoditizing nature of functionality? Well, maybe you can:

•    Identify the type of happiness that you provide based on what the prospect or customer is looking for. Maybe it’s being flexible when the customer really needs you to be in order to get your product where and when it needs to be there…even when the ‘rules’ say differently.

•    Design your brand experience to achieve the emotional benefit that your customers want in a way that makes them happy. Look for key times when you’re dealing with customers and capitalize on them to deliver a strong emotional and social experience. A way that makes customers say “I’m really happy with how that all went.” From customer phone inquiries to tradeshows and community events to in-store experiences.

•    Measure your efforts by asking your customers very consistently throughout the interaction process to see if they are happy rather than use surveys that lean towards reporting satisfaction. Look for things that make people happy as well as asking them if they’re happy.

At the end of the day, lasting products and services provide happiness…and we know them for delivering such because they’ve been around for a long time. On the other hand, commodities provide satisfaction. To avoid being seen as a dreaded commodity, focus on designing and delivering customer experiences that provide happiness, enabling your customers to feel better about themselves and their prosperity. Because while we like to think it’s about us and our products, it’s really about the customer and their needs. So as we all know customers only care about you when they see you care about them.

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