B629 week two: Customer satisfaction

What is customer satisfaction?

Customer satisfaction is not a difficult concept. Put simply, customers have expectations of the products and services they buy. If an organisation meets or exceeds these expectations, customers will be satisfied. However, if they fail to meet expectations, customers will be dissatisfied.

The danger of exceeding expectations is that customers will in turn adjust their expectations to the new level, and will automatically expect the new level to apply to all future exchanges!

The zone of tolerance

Parasuraman, et al. (1991) showed that there is a ‘zone of tolerance’ between two levels of customer expectation: adequate and desired; and that this zone can expand and contract according to circumstances such as what may have happened to the customer that day, whether they are in a hurry, etc.

Organisations must always strive to operate within the zone of tolerance if they are to have satisfied customers.


Expectations represent a combination of:

  • previous experience
  • situational clues
  • external information

Although it may not be possible to completely control a customer’s satisfaction process, it is possible to influence customer expectations – by carefully explaining to a customer what level of service or product performance they can expect. A different approach is to improve the customer experience by improving service levels or product performance.

Customer satisfaction and quality

There are many different definitions of quality, including perceived (by the customer or client) quality, the measurable characteristics , fitness for use, fitness for purpose, conformance to specification, and value for money. Quality can mean excellence (based on perceptions), or lack of defects (based on conformance), or value for money, according to Jackson, 1998. Quality is also considered to be relative to what something should be.

Slack et al. (1998) argues that quality is consistent conformance to customers’ expectations.

However it is defined, satisfying customers is central to quality.

Customers’ requirements

Bank (1992) points to five elements that customers take into account when considering quality. These can be used to judge the quality of the experience; however, expectations are likely to comprise a mixture of these elements in different combinations.

  • Specifications – what can I expect?
  • Conformance – will it do what I expect?
  • Reliability – will it continue to do what I expect?
  • Delivery – when can I have it?
  • Cost – how much do I have to pay?

People’s judgement of quality is a matter of how well their experiences live up to their expectations on the occasion.

Different customers are likely to have different expectations, even of the same product or service. They may also perceive the same product or service differently. The quality of a product or service is therefore whatever customers perceive it to be. This means providers must understand quality from the point of view of their customers.

Customer expectation of service quality

Parasuraman et al. (1985, 1991) identified a variety of aspects that determine a customer’s perception of service quality:

  • tangibles
  • reliability
  • responsiveness
  • communication
  • credibility
  • security
  • competence
  • courtesy
  • understanding/knowing the customer
  • access

What can be done?

Organisation constraints may limit what a manager can do to put customers first and respond to their needs, but constraints should be highlighted as issues, and not used as an excuse for inaction. Organisations need to remain open to new ideas.

If customers (whether internal or external) are to be satisfied It is important to allow staff and managers to take calculated risks and ‘learn by doing’. The right to make mistakes is vital in this.

(Source: B629, Understanding marketing and financial information).

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