Defining Customer Satisfaction

In the delivery of IT services, value is measured in the eyes of the customer and customer satisfaction plays a large part in the customer’s perception of value. Only the customer can say if they are satisfied with the interaction or with overall service delivery. This makes it critical for all providers, including IT, to understand their customer’s level of satisfaction with their products and/or services. Customer satisfaction surveys are one way they can do this, but first, it’s important to understand customer satisfaction conceptually.

Customer satisfaction can be defined in several ways:

Customer satisfaction is also expressed as a metric of a customer’s satisfaction and intention to stay with the provider, most frequently by marketing organizations, where an attempt is made to quantify the level of customer satisfaction provided. Most essentially, when a provider focuses on delighting customers with every interaction, their goal is to retain these customers by driving their customer satisfaction up and gaining a competitive edge. Even with internal IT organizations, customers have a choice: personnel can be replaced, IT can be outsourced in whole or key critical services can be purchased from SaaS providers.

Essentially customer satisfaction is knowing the customer’s perception of the value of the product or service provided or it’s quality vs. price. Customer satisfaction is not as simple as this however, it rolls aspects of the total experience from purchase through usage and support into a single perception.

Customer Satisfaction Surveys Defined

Since customer satisfaction is always measured from the eyes of the customer, customer satisfaction surveys are a core component of every organization’s attempt to discover and understand the customers’ perception of value. Customer satisfaction surveys have become embedded in virtually every aspect of doing business and as companies move to manage more interactions online or via mobile apps, customer satisfaction surveys also measure these experiences immediately after they take place. In short, customer satisfaction surveys are a tool used by businesses to gauge their customers’ opinion of their services through each and every transaction and to trend overall satisfaction over time. Many customer satisfaction management tools, therefore, embed the ability to conduct customer satisfaction surveys throughout their use.

Customer satisfaction surveys can be a simple one-question rating requested after a transaction to a set of robust questions that take a customer ten to fifteen minutes to complete. They provide a wealth of information to a business:

This information can to be used by the business to understand changes in the quality of their goods/services, but also to form the basis for improvement programs. Being able to track both increases and decreases in customer satisfaction turns customer satisfaction surveys into an early warning system for IT, by revealing weaknesses and failures that could lead to customer dissatisfaction (or churn). Thus, the act of surveying customers and the metrics they produce provide important information to be used in refining and designing IT’s operational processes and in managing quality of the products they provide.

Types of customer satisfaction surveys

The measures below are the most common types of customer satisfaction, and a well-designed survey will address all of them:


Customer Satisfaction or CSAT

A survey to measure overall customer satisfaction survey could be a single question or rating after a transaction or a longer survey that combines some of the questions needed to collect the other three common measures, but the general goal of a CSAT or customer satisfaction survey is to be able to measure a customer’s satisfaction with their overall experience of the business end to end. This produces the single measure needed to ensure the business can benchmark their results over time. The more robust option ensures the ability to drill down and determine which customer satisfaction areas need more attention.

Typically, customer satisfaction surveys will take several forms:

Most CSAT surveys will be analyzed by scoring each question, then totaling the scores or showing the percentage of each question considered to be a great result, good result, neutral, negative or very negative result. It’s important to look at the results of each question individually as they will indicate where improvement might be needed.

The more specific measures mentioned previously are usually included in a general customer satisfaction survey as defined below:

Net promoter score (NPS)

The net promoter score has become a popular measure that has grown in importance because of social media and the Internet. This metric looks at the brand loyalty of a customer and whether they will recommend a business. In short, the net promoter score is a measure of a customer’s brand loyalty and how far they will go in promoting a business:

The metric itself relies on specific questions in a survey (such as “how likely are you to do business with us again” and “how likely are you to recommend us”) as a percentage of positive responses versus the total number of responses. The metric is expressed as follows:

(Positive Responses – Negative Responses) / Total Responses

In this calculation, the passive or neutral responses are not considered. The final percentage shows the number of promoters, with the detractors removed, as compared against total responses. There may be other opportunities with passives and detractors, but these would fall into efforts for improving customer service.


Customer Effort Score (CES)

Customer loyalty is impacted by the ability to engage and do business in an easy manner. A customer may leave one business for another simply due to ease of engagement. Thus, the customer effort score, which measures how easy it is to do business or conduct a transaction is critical. This score can be subjective, via surveys but can also leverage web site metrics to notice when a customer fails to execute a purchase. At the end of the day, if the effort to engage is too high the customer fails to purchase something or leave the provider altogether. Consider a scenario where a customer puts several items into a shopping cart, moves around the checkout process, but fails to execute the purchase. It is likely in a situation such as this that there was a design issue with the website making it difficult to finalize the checkout, causing the customer to abandon the purchase.

When surveying customer effort, a simple question asking how easy it was to obtain the desired outcome, with a sliding response scale enables a business to calculate the percentage of time it was easy or very easy vs. the percentage of time it was hard or too hard. The most important aspect of this measure compared to other methods of measuring customer satisfaction is that it is used as a means of churn prevention. Determining the aspects of engagement that are difficult enables a business to put improvements in place that improve the effort on the next transaction, helping with customer retention. A customer may do things “the hard way” once or twice, but if it’s always difficult to do business with a particular company, they’ll look for providers that make it easier. This is why CES is so important to customer satisfaction measurement. It’s also worth noting that this is a critical measure for web site experiences, where interaction with an employee may not happen. One way to avoid churn in this scenario is to have a chat window pop up if activity indicates a customer may be running into difficulty.


Customer Churn Rate (of interest to third-party IT providers):

The customer churn rate measures customer retention expressed as the percentage of customers who have stopped doing business with a provider. This metric directly expresses or calculates the overall churn, but when combined with customer effort and net promoter metrics can help a business determine when a customer will leave (churn) and how to prevent it. This knowledge leads to taking positive steps to impact retention. The metric is calculated as follows:

Total # of Lost Customers / Total Customers

Looking at the power of this area, measuring and prevent churn is an intentional effort to retain a customer and while it takes some effort, retention is an important activity in ensuring customer satisfaction.


Conducting Customer Satisfaction Surveys

Given their importance, it’s easy to see why customer satisfaction surveys need to be embedded across every customer-facing activity of the business. Anyone who uses app-based services, like Uber can see the attention to customer satisfaction surveys within the operation of the business. Each ride asks the customer to rate the driver and the driver to rate the customer. The results of these ratings form a two-way customer satisfaction survey: the primary focus is on the driver rating and drivers that do not offer a minimal level of service will be dropped (at the same time drivers might not pick up a poorly rated customer).

Thinking of this holistically, on-line services measure customer satisfaction in several ways:

Phone-based businesses often ask customers to stay on the line for a brief survey as well, enabling them to conduct transaction-based customer satisfaction survey and this is certainly a practice that can be adapted for use at the service desk.

The need for a holistic approach explains why customer satisfaction surveys will be conducted after an interaction after a transaction is completed and periodically as a general survey. The key is that since customer satisfaction can only be expressed by the customer, the customer satisfaction survey gets between the business and the customer to solicit their experience as well as possible and as often as possible.

Importance of Customer Satisfaction Surveys

This is the crux of the importance of the customer satisfaction survey: its importance is based on the fact surveys are the only way you can measure customer satisfaction accurately. There are also many aspects of customer satisfaction to be measured. Looking at each of these, businesses need a strategy to solicit feedback at every stage of customer interaction:


Each of these relates to one of the customer satisfaction survey measures defined and is a key aspect of designing the ability to manage the customer experience at every stage of doing business. A well-rounded customer satisfaction survey strategy will involve all of these, but not necessarily in a single survey. Consider the difference between a 5-star rating scheme after using a service vs. the robust customer satisfaction survey delivered via email, which measures every aspect of the experience. Both are important as they provide a measure of customer satisfaction, but each has a distinct purpose.

Another concept to consider is the use of customer satisfaction as a leading indicator of processes and product or service quality. In a customer-facing business, effectiveness in customer engagement can be difficult to measure. Customer satisfaction surveys measure the overall experience, indicating that back-office functions are well designed and support overall customer satisfaction or that supporting functions and service portal experiences are not well designed and could cause customers to engage support via more expensive channels. When several customer satisfaction survey results are combined into a single survey, the resulting information provides business executives with the ability to assess processes that are not optimized or working the way they should. From this perspective, customer satisfaction surveys provide the basis for many business improvement activities.

Based on this, customer satisfaction surveys provide value in several ways:


Customer satisfaction survey templates and examples

There are many types of customer satisfaction surveys and styles. With a focus on survey response-rates, a business must be sensitive to the length, frequency and ease of conducting the survey:

Transaction-based surveys should be short and easy to submit. Samples of some of these can be found all over daily life and across the Internet. Use an app-based service and it’s likely that at the end of the transaction a 5-star or emoticon rating survey will appear on screen or in the customer’s email:

survey samples survey samples

Longer customer satisfaction surveys are more tailored to the service provided, but great samples can be found in hotel and airline surveys which survey every aspect of the experience, generally on a scale of 1-10, 10 being the highest. They can be easily adapted for IT. Consider this survey for portal-based support experiences:


While the last question can drive an overall customer satisfaction survey rating or CSAT score, many of the other questions enable the business to identify specific areas for improvement. Looking at this template again, see the accompanying customer satisfaction survey metric often associated with the question:

One important aspect of customer satisfaction surveys is the ability to provide trend reporting on the answers. For this to be possible, developing customer satisfaction survey templates for each type of experience survey and staying with it for a period of time is a helpful practice. Asking the same questions over time, even if they are randomly delivered to customers, allows the organization to trend results and even automate customer satisfaction survey tools to raise an alert when there’s a significant change to the trend.

Best Customer Satisfaction Survey questions

Many customer satisfaction survey questions can be found on the Internet, but a cross-section of these indicates some fairly standard questions. The following set of questions are commonly seen in use for assessing overall brand loyalty and general satisfaction:


These questions are sometimes followed by questions concerning the quality of the product:


Where there were issues, especially if the customer complained about the service IT provided, several follow up questions might be offered:


Finally, IT can also consider using questions that can be used to gauge the adoption of support channels like a service portal, especially during adoption campaigns:

These can also be used to measure adoption likelihood for the chat and chatbots as they are introduced.

Ultimately, the “best” customer satisfaction survey questions are those that can be answered quickly, and which can be translated into actionable metrics. IT should look for questions that combine the ability to get immediate feedback on the experience or a measure of overall customer satisfaction, combined with net promoter score for different support options offered.

Trended over time, they would give IT the ability to identify service variations that could lead to increased customer dissatisfaction.


When to use Customer Satisfaction surveys

As often as possible! Customer Satisfaction surveys provide immediate feedback and enable a business to get out in front of issues that could result in the loss of a customer. Their customer satisfaction practice should be well-rounded and enable them to capture all of the critical indicators over time (CSAT, CES, NPS and Churn). Not all of these measures need to be questioned at the same time. A good customer satisfaction survey practice might look like the chart below, in fact, planning out the organization’s survey practice is a good practice:

Frequency / When to Use Survey Type What it Provides
After every interaction Single question, star/emoji rating style CSAT score that can be trended across customers, over time
Randomly after interactions Longer, full survey asking end to end questions Designed to provide CSAT, CES and NPS
After customer service contact Short, targeted questions evaluating service Ensure service issue doesn’t lower NPS or increase churn
Periodic surveys of all customers Longer, end to end surveys about product/service and support Designed to provide CSAT, CES and NPS
Persistent, service portal survey Provide a single online experience rating (star or emoji) Live-time CES indicator


The most important aspect of building a solid customer satisfaction survey practice is the ability to balance the collection of information that is detailed enough to enable improvement programs with frequent feedback that ensures a sudden decrease in quality is noticed quickly. This can be achieved by tracking customer satisfaction survey response rates and pulling back a survey’s frequency when these fall off.

Advantages of customer satisfaction surveys

It’s been mentioned that customer satisfaction surveys provide instant feedback and as such, they provide an early warning system for factors that could cause customer churn. Overall, they provide several advantages:


The concept of customer satisfaction survey results being a leading indicator is an important one. For example, in the case of a third-party IT provider, when revenue is not meeting targets, executives might find themselves at a loss, blaming economic conditions or other factors as the reason. That’s because it’s difficult to find direct metrics that are a predictor of revenue shifts. Looking at this, revenue would be considered a lagging metric. Customer satisfaction survey scores can actually predict some factors that could impact revenue:

Trending these three measures over time makes it possible to correlate revenue increases and decreases based on these factors. Once a good benchmark is available for each, understanding their impact on company revenue can be documented and used as a future predictor. For example, if an increase of 2% in customer satisfaction score occurs a month before a 10% revenue increase, watching this measure daily (based on the single-question survey type) can be a predictor of revenue and taking steps to impact it could directly result in increased revenue or to forestall a decrease in revenue.

Net promoter score is another measure that could be used to impact revenue. If the score drops, immediate action can be taken to identify passives and survey them to determine what factors could turn them into promoters, while surveying lost promoters could enable the business to correct factors that caused their shift. If these issues are addressed in a timely manner, a revenue decrease could be avoided.

Finally, the concept of customer churn provides an immediate indicator and churn can be prevented with predictive analytics. Customer satisfaction surveys enable a business to determine the points at which a customer becomes frustrated with a business and leaves by surveying their reasons and opinions about their experience. These can be analyzed and used to instrument the customer service management tool to identify conditions that lead to turn and enable an agent to act. This alone can positively impact revenue and growth by reducing the revolving door nature of the business. If the business can stop people from leaving while they continue to win new business, the business can continue to grow customers and revenue.

Customer satisfaction survey best practices

As much as customer satisfaction surveys are an integral part of business and IT success, the reality is that customers don’t really enjoy completing them. With this in mind, there are some best practices to keep in mind when conducting customer satisfaction surveys:

Expect fall off

Ask the most important questions first, like the customer’s overall rating of the business

  • If a customer only answers one question, this is the key question

  • As mentioned previously, frequent one-question surveys can be an early indicator of falloff in customer satisfaction and be used to initiate longer surveys

Make the questions simple, easy to understand
  • Avoid circular logic or long sentences: they make it more difficult to understand the question and could lead the customer to abandon the survey
  • They take longer to read, leading to frustration and survey abandonment

  • Avoid leading the customer to select a certain answer with phrases like “even if”

Use a simple rating schedule
  • Many surveys use a 1-10 rating scale, this can take longer to complete
  • Ten selections don’t really tell you much more than good, neutral, bad and offer extremes like excellent and very bad
  • Replacing scores with emojis, makes it faster and easier to answer the survey and leading to better response rates
Keep the survey under a few minutes in length
  • Longer surveys provide more specific information about improvement opportunities but may lead to lower response rates
  • If questions are well chosen, it may be possible to lower the time it takes to take the survey without reducing the quality of the information provided
  • A more detailed survey can be offered after several basic questions have been answered
Ensure the survey can be answered from any device
  • Coming back to CES, even on a survey if the effort is too high, the customer will abandon the survey

  • If a customer receives a survey on their phone, they’re unlikely to answer it back at their PC, make sure they can answer it right then and there

Use the responses
  • There’s no point in asking a question unless you’re ready to address the response

    • If checkout on a web site is too complex, be ready to streamline it

    • If survey results indicate an individual is becoming a net promoter, find a way to reward them

    • When a bad experience is reported, apologize and send a discount coupon or other incentive to the customer as a thank you for their feedback

  • Develop customer service improvement programs based on the results of the survey

  • Develop customer satisfaction survey response benchmarks internally to have a point of comparison over time

Among these simple best practices, it’s important to be intentional about the use of customer satisfaction surveys. As demonstrated, customer satisfaction surveys are an important tool in providing information that enables a business to differentiate their service. To achieve this result, customer satisfaction surveys should be closely tied to a customer satisfaction measurement program that acts as the core of continuous improvement efforts. No matter how satisfied CSAT measures indicate customers are, there are always small areas that can drive even more loyalty. Frequently businesses that are not actively working towards improvement see an unintentional decline in their services. Surveys can help prevent this.

It doesn’t need to be difficult to start a program. Regardless of whether the survey will be conducted via e-mail or through the use of a website or mobile app, starting small is better than not surveying at all. It’s simple to start with a single question survey, then add a few over time. Consider the value of the three simple questions offered earlier (for service portal users):

These three questions provide all a business really needs to know from a customer. In under 30 seconds, an honest assessment is provided that indicates the potential areas that need improvement. Negative responses on any of these can lead to a more robust survey that takes longer to design and which requires a customer satisfaction survey tool. The more robust survey can then be used to drive more detailed analysis and improvement programs, but the business would never have a chance to realize these outcomes without first starting to use at least one simple customer satisfaction survey.

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