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A Closer Look at Apples and Oranges

By: Bill Bleuel


Fresh mixed fruits ( orange and red apple and banana and green apple. Fruits Healthy eating food background

I recently wrote a blog about apples and oranges as a comparison with satisfaction and dissatisfaction. In that blog, I particularly related how the NPS metric was making a large assumption about satisfaction and dissatisfaction that doesn’t appear to be appropriate. I am going to take a deeper look at these two parameters. I think when we examine them we can see what makes them different.

It all starts with the fact that metrics such as satisfaction and dissatisfaction do not naturally fall onto a numeric scale. Most often these parameters are measured on what is called an ordinal scale. An ordinal scale is known for its ability to provide order to a series of values such as flavor (a little sweet, sweet, very sweet), color (dull, flat, bright) or shape (straight, slight curves, very curvy). The parameters such as satisfaction (slightly, somewhat, very satisfied) and dissatisfaction (slightly, somewhat, very dissatisfied) are most often also characterized on ordinal scales. Most customer satisfaction surveys use some form of an ordinal scale with both satisfaction and dissatisfaction identified on the scale. A simple five-point scale usually consists of the ranking from dissatisfied, slightly dissatisfied, neutral, slightly satisfied, and satisfied.

This is where the trouble begins. The first assumption is that the customer attitude change between dissatisfied and slightly dissatisfied is approximately the same as the attitude change between slightly dissatisfied and neutral. This assumption follows between two consecutive majors on this ordinal scale. Of course, is not possible to use arithmetic operations on these numbers. One of the strongest violations of this first assumption is the assumption that the attitude change between slightly satisfied and satisfied is equivalent (and this is the real problem) between slightly dissatisfied and dissatisfied.

The fallacy of this first assumption is that customer attitudes of satisfaction have the same impact of dissatisfaction. What is happening is that when the scale is designed we are saying that satisfaction and dissatisfaction on the same ordinal scale implicitly assumes is that reduction in dissatisfaction leads to satisfaction and similarly, reduction in satisfaction leads to dissatisfaction.

Tom Peters and other authors have noted that dissatisfied customers appear to have stronger feelings about dissatisfaction than satisfaction. They measured this by the number of people they communicate with. Those who are dissatisfied will generally tell more people about their dissatisfaction than those who are satisfied. The ratio has most often been noted as three or more times more people are told of a dissatisfaction event to those that are told of a satisfaction event. The old wives’ tale would say “bad news travels fast.”

The bottom line is that satisfaction scales and dissatisfaction scales are more than numbers in a sequence. Satisfaction causes significantly different responses in customers than does dissatisfaction. It is time that we start to pay attention to the reality that measuring satisfaction and dissatisfaction on the same scale is not just misleading but wrong.

Published: February 24, 2020

Source: The Customer Institute

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Bill Bleuel

Dr. Bill Bleuel is an award-winning Professor of Decision Sciences at Pepperdine University’s Graziadio School of Business and Management. Dr. Bleuel’s expertise lies in the quantitative aspects of business. He specializes in the measurement and analysis of operations, customer satisfaction, customer loyalty and customer retention. He has held senior positions in engineering, marketing and service management at Xerox, Taylor Instrument Company and Barber Colman Company. Dr. Bleuel has also experience as general manager in two start-up companies that he co-founded.

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