Can you measure customer happiness?

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A recent post from the folks at the Buffer team got me thinking about the idea of customer happiness, and the ability to quantify it and measure it. In my experience, when you ask service providers if their customers are happy, they generally have two ways to tell you: an average of overall satisfaction, and customer comments (those in the industry often call these “verbatims”) that stand out and let you know something great happened.

Yet both the ability to measure an overall average of satisfaction and the fact that super-positive customer comments exist fails to take large-scale customer happiness into account. The overall average is great for ensuring general consistency (and data geeks out there would probably tell me that the median customer service score coupled with a tight standard deviation is an even better metric of consistency), but it doesn’t account for any one person having a service experience that just didn’t compute. And the super-positive “verbatims” tell you about single great experiences but can be “halo” comments or anchor your expectations to a level of service that doesn’t exist.

Given your perception of great service is different from mine, and given it’s challenging to engineer true “customer success,” here’s a modest proposal to measure customer happiness and to get an exact and consistent measurement of that metric:

  • decide what the “happy path” is – the way that if customers have the best possible experience, they should act and the system should behave in a way that delivers the product or service in the expected way – and instrument your service to capture some of the data points you need to know to confirm that they’ve gotten there.
  • ask the customer how they feel at the beginning of the process about the service experience – a simple click to answer “How ya doin’ today?” or a smiley face on a Likert scale. Your goal is to get a baseline idea for how customers feel when they begin a service process.
  • then, ask the customer two or three “smiley face” questions at the end of the process: “how did we do?”, “how do you feel about it?”, and “would you recommend this to others?”. If the response is negative (bottom two boxes on the scale, present a free text area that asks them to tell you one thing you should change about the experience.

We can’t know what’s going on in the customer’s mind before, during, and after a service process. We can only get a snapshot of the things that they tell us when a process goes right or when it goes wrong. And if we agree that using Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs as a guide for service, the goal is to create a service process that does more than just simply give safety and comfort. True “Customer Happiness” will also show signs of self-actualization – or the realization that using the service meets an unstated or unmet need and gives the customer the tools to become a better person – and will create a “virtuous loop” that makes the customer want to come back.

The table stakes for delivering customer happiness are to do the job right and be polite, whether you’re running an in-person service process or delivering that service remotely through another service or application. Combining the ability to get Big Metrics (service level, customer satisfaction, net promoter score), little metrics (testimonials and unaided praise), and placing that in a baseline of customer expectations is what’s required truly to deliver customer happiness. After all, if you are the best provider in an industry that historically has produced awful service experiences (yes, telecom and cable companies, I’m looking at you), you will be at best a necessary evil. Going beyond the customer expectation and delivering Customer Wow requires investment. And it delivers dividends far beyond that first cost.

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