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Customer satisfaction vs. customer experience: game over?

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In the 1990s, we sought to “satisfy” our customers, but today this is no longer enough. Our aim now is to provide them with positive and memorable “experiences”.

With over a decade of studies and established practises in customer experience, we are in an even better position to assess managerial progress and dispel the confusion that periodically arises regarding the difference between customer satisfaction and customer experience.

Over time, customer satisfaction was associated with the way customer contentment was targeted and measured in relation to customers’ expressed expectations, particularly concerning products, services and prices.

Emotional impact

This is still true, but we now know that customer satisfaction is only one analytical factor. The problem with most customer satisfaction measurements is that they only assess the organization’s response to the expectations expressed by its customers, but not the emotional impact of an experience, a relationship or a simple interaction.

Since emotional impact is an important vector, even the most important vector, of the decision to buy, we often are dealing with an incomplete picture, if we rely exclusively on the concept of customer satisfaction. Instead, customers must be provided with experiences that will not only meet their expectations and their needs, but generate positive emotions during different interactions between the customer and the organization.

While many customers may remain loyal to an organization due to their satisfaction, they may leave it if they find something better elsewhere. Recent studies have shown that 60% to 80% of customers claimed to be satisfied or very satisfied before leaving an organization for the competition! This means that, while customer satisfaction is an important step in the quest to generate value with outstanding service, it should not be the final objective.


In reality, an organization’s final objective with its customers is twofold: the customer’s intention to return (loyalty) and the customer’s propensity to recommend (recommendation). Walt Disney, who was in the avant-garde in many respects, especially concerning customer service, had already discerned these concepts in his day:

Do what you do so well that they will want to see it again and bring their friends. – Walt Disney

A well-considered and well-executed customer experience improves the organization’s chances of achieving its objectives, which have a strategic value beyond mere customer satisfaction.

Needless to say, building greater customer loyalty increases a customer’s short-term value (increase in the customer’s shopping cart of goods or services), as well as his or her long-term value (recurrence of purchases over the customer’s life cycle).

Become ambassador

In addition, the customers’ greater propensity to recommend the organization causes them to become ambassadors of this organization or its brand of their own free will, thus creating a powerful – and free – advertising tool!

During the past decade, a multitude of organizations have made the transition from a mentality of executing tasks to a mentality of providing experiences to their customers. We need only consider Apple, Amazon and Videotron, among others. These companies have left a positive imprint on their customers.

In a world where competition increasingly reduces the differences between products, prices and even services, dynamic organizations bet on the customer experience to stand out and stay competitive.

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