Thursday, January 1, 2015

What Makes a Satisfied Customer?

I am assuming that Chris Matyszczyk wanted his latest CNET article "Samsung beats Apple in customer satisfaction, says survey" to be read with a jaundiced eye, since that is the way he seems to like to write. Nevertheless, between those factors that might indicate that the survey was flawed and those that suggest that satisfaction with any product or brand tends to depend on a rich context of factors, many of which get abstracted way by survey designers, there remains the question of whether satisfaction itself is context-dependent. The late Mike Nichols used to do a routine with his then wife Elaine May about a guy at a pay phone trying to get satisfactory service from Ma Bell. This involved more escalations than I can remember, but each one brought with it a different attitude from the service provider.

These days I would guess that we really do not expect very much competence from a help desk. We know that the voice on the other end of the line is just reading things the computer is telling him/her to read. Some of us are experienced enough to know bad advice when it is dished out to us, and others are not so fortunate. The point is that, like all of the characters in E.M. Forster's "The Machine Stops," we come to accept the flaws in the system rather than give up all the "improvements" the machine provides, even when it is no longer providing them. In other words we  now live in a world of drastically reduced expectations; and when expectations are that diminished, satisfaction no longer has any meaning. In yet other words, "customer satisfaction" has become yet another phrase that has lost its meaning, thus fulfilling, yet again, Max Weber's proposition that loss of meaning is one of the more dire consequences of a society that is market-based to the exclusion of all other factors.

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