Why your ‘satisfied’ customers are unhappy

As a barometer of service desk quality, customer satisfaction is a flawed and misleading metric. Eric Wright explains why you need to rethink feedback to ensure you are delivering services your customers want.

Customer satisfaction can be a misleading measure for service desks

Customer satisfaction can be a misleading measure for service desks

Customer satisfaction plays an important part in the evolution of the service desk. Going back to its origins, the original helpdesks were infamous for their lack of ‘service’. The stereotype of the surly and arrogant IT support worker became so ingrained that it spawned its own comedy show (The IT Crowd).

The reason for this “anti-service” stance was easy to understand: there was no incentive. If something IT-related broke, employees had no choice other than to contact the helpdesk. Free from any competition, the helpdesk had no need to deliver the pleasantries of service.

“This is the help we provide. If you don’t like it, tough.”

A number of developments forced helpdesks to change. Spurred by the consumerisation of technology, IT became less of a black art, which meant most departments found within their ranks an employee who could troubleshoot IT for them. Suddenly, rather than having to ensure a call to the helpdesk, it was possible to shout across the office and lovely Greg would trot over to fix the Excel problem. Then the internet became a hotbed of IT support information. YouTube tutorials and the ability to ask very specific tech questions on Google gave another option to employees who would rather avoid the helpdesk call.

The change was profound. For the first time, employees had a choice. The helpdesk was no longer the default IT support option. Unsurprisingly given its poor track record of ‘service’, many people opted out of the traditional route.

For the first time ever, the helpdesk needed to improve service. It had to win back employees and once again become the first choice for gaining IT help. And this is where customer satisfaction came to the rescue.

Customer satisfaction is a simple measure and we’re familiar with variations of this question: “How satisfied are you with the service provided”. As a tool for helping helpdesks and service desks bring the customer experience into focus, it has been useful. The very existence of this measure and other associated feedback metrics create accountability on the service desk and have shifted the mindset towards customers.

Eric Wright explains the correct way to measure the effectiveness of the service desk

Eric Wright explains the correct way to measure the effectiveness of the service desk

However, customer satisfaction is not the definitive measure for ensuring customers are happy with the service provider. In fact, it can create a false picture that leads to a dangerous complacency.

The customer satisfaction trap
I’ll explain the problem with customer satisfaction using an example of Hilary and her credit card. Hilary is checking her statement and notices an unfamiliar charge for £48.50. She calls the credit card company, navigates four automated menus and waits on hold for four minutes. The operator is polite and listens to Hilary’s explanation of the problem. After several minutes, the operator deduces that the charge was added by mistake because the payment system used had been updated and during the cross-over, it appeared that Hilary had paid late. The operator apologises, cancels the charge and ends the call.

Hilary then gets a text on her phone asking for to complete the survey. The questions asked is this: “Did the operator deal with your call satisfactorily”. Hilary answers ‘yes’.

At this point, it is logged with the credit card company that Hilary is a satisfied customer.

Except she isn’t satisfied is she?

Hilary is furious that she spent 30 mins of her day troubleshooting a problem caused by the credit card company. Yes, the call part was fine, but in the context of her relationship with the business - Hilary is dissatisfied. The credit card company has fallen into the customer satisfaction trap, ‘safe’ in the knowledge that it is doing a good job for its customers.

You could argue that the service desk did its job by responding correctly. Yes, measuring satisfaction at the point of interaction does represent progress, but it creates a false sense of achievement if taken too far.

How can we measure true satisfaction?
There are of course key questions you can ask to get a true picture. Asking open questions about the overall experience of being a customer and any suggestions for changes can be incredibly powerful - as long as they are used. Too many organisations use the customer satisfaction measure as their headline measure, and then barely register the fine detail feedback because it takes longer to process and often creates a level of discomfort. We all seek validation for doing a good job but are less enamoured with negative feedback. Service desks that are serious about improving will actively seek negative feedback because it offers the best opportunities to make meaningful change.

Another measure that helps avoid the customer satisfaction trap is NetPromoter Score. This measure is based on a very simple question: “On a scale of 1-10, how likely are you to recommend this service/company to your friends and family”. In statistical terms, NetPromoter is an ‘acid test’ question. It avoids the transactional minutiae of customer satisfaction instead showing an overall impression of the service or business. If supported with the right open questions: “why wouldn’t you recommend us”, NetPromoter will show the truth about how customers feel about a service or organisation.

The key to improving service is getting honest feedback. It’s understandable the customer satisfaction metric is put on a pedestal by service desks attempting to prove their worth. But if their intention is to show true value, they need to rethink these measures to ensure the numbers being highlighted show reality rather than paint a distorted picture.

Once you have this feedback, you can begin improving the experience based on what customers really want. My advice is to automate the routine troubleshooting and call logging elements of the service desk. With less time spent “keeping the wheels turning”, you can use the feedback gathered to focus on those elements that will make a difference to customers. The Richmond ServiceDesk Portal offers the ideal platform for this. Because it’s so simple to build and customise support workflows and manage ticketing, our customers are able to dedicate more time to the ‘next level’ of customer experience. Customer satisfaction is not the goal, it’s the minimal expectation.

Want to see how to automate your service desk processes to create more time? Book a free one-to-one walkthrough with us and we’ll share some hints and tips.