Reflections on Customer Satisfaction and Action Research 


2nd February 2007 


I have recently been going over some old research papers from one of the first Customer Satisfaction programmes that I was involved in.  The company concerned was a large multinational with a both a leading position and strong brand presence in its market place.


The work was carried out before my conversion to Action Research methodologies and I have been struck by the vast chasm between the character of some of my current work and this early stage research.  I present below some quotations from managers of the firm who were putting into practice the Customer Satisfaction programme (which incidentally was carried out in conjunction with an examination of employee satisfaction – just as foreseen in the Customer Service Profit Chain and as I would recommend still today).  The programme preceded, in the classical manner, the implementation of a closely related Key Account Management process.


Manager 1


1.      “Our ability to realise our vision is dependent upon our organisation’s ability to meet the requirements of our customers.  We must know our customers, listen to our customers and we must grow their business”.


2.      “Our customers will get what they want from our competitors”.


3.      It is absolutely vital that we learn to work together; market divisions, business units  and regions, in a process oriented seamless way, and not in the old functional style. Only then will we be able to improve the degree of Customer Satisfaction”.


4.       “Our Customer Satisfaction program is delivering results. We are now able to leverage the knowledge we have gained across other markets as we roll-out the global activity. Our customer approach of ‘Know me, Hear Me, Grow Me’ remains fundamental to our success.”


Manager 2


1.      ‘The customer is number one’ concept has been one of the essential ingredients behind our success over the years and we have worked hard to build strong customer relationships.  With world business changing, customers are becoming more sophisticated in their aspirations and demands, and competitors are diversifying into an increasing number of new offerings.  Our traditional approach to customer relations will not be enough to secure our future competitiveness.  We must listen to our customers when they say: “Know Me, Hear Me, Grow Me” and thereafter act accordingly.


2.      The Customer Satisfaction approach is based on trying to understand as much about our customers as possible, to develop an action plan to meet their needs, to develop a strategy with them on how to implement it and to monitor and share it across the organisation.


Manager 3


1.      “The Customer Satisfaction Process will lead to improving our level of service to customers by implementing the right solutions in a methodical, measurable and consistent manner”.


2.      The Voice of the Customer must be integrated into our organisation.  Customer Satisfaction concerns everybody.


3.      Complacency is the enemy of growth. On order to continue being successful, it is clear that we must increase our customer satisfaction. It is the responsibility of each and every one of us to adopt a working procedure to improve the satisfaction ratings of our customers.


4.      Customer Satisfaction is everyone’s business – every single one of us!”



And here are the contents of a PowerPoint overhead used to communicate the goals of the Customer Satisfaction programme




1) Create internal mindset where customer comes first


2) Achieve a global high score by Year 3 according to the criteria set out in the Corporate Customer Satisfaction Program


3) By April, the top ranking market divisions will have conducted their Customer Satisfaction Workshop after the customer interviews





This surely was an organisation in transition!  My (contemporaneous) highlightings illustrate thee trains of thought that seem to have been extant in the organisation at the time of the study:


·         The green highlights seem to show the “new” thinking – there is talk of “process”, of “listening” and trying to “understand” to the customer.  Recognition that “complacency is the enemy of growth” and that Customer Satisfaction is the business of all employees.


·         However, the yellow highlighted texts are the ball and chain that were still weighing down the organisation!  These phrases strike me today as redolent of prescription: “It is absolutely vital…”, “By April…”, something is “dependent on our organisation’s ability to…” and “It is the responsibility of each and every one of us to adopt a working procedure…”.  I fear that there was no guidance to the employees, who are essentially being told to shape up and get on with making the customers satisfied!


·         Equally incongruous to my current stance on Customer Satisfaction programme methodology is the apparent commitment (in mauve highlight) to following “criteria” and so to “measure” the (inevitable?) “increase” in Customer Satisfaction.  This is a vocabulary that has its root in the notion that “what gets measured gets done” and would seem to preclude an iterative learning approach to Customer Satisfaction programme management.

An Action Research approach to implementing Customer Satisfaction programmes facilitates the intimate involvement of all stakeholders in the business environment.  It helps bring about a strong learning experience that underpins future organisational change initiatives which might, for example, include a Key Account Management process that underpins the initial Customer Satisfaction initiative.


If you have any thoughts on the above - please mail me with your ideas!

Contact me: paul"at"paulsudnik"dot"com