Is satisfaction satisfactory?

One of the things I love about research is that more often than not, I can see it from both sides. Yes, I’m a researcher; but I’m also a consumer, a customer, and a contact on countless company databases. The other day I found myself analysing my satisfaction with a service I’d received as a customer.

You can’t think about customer satisfaction without thinking about the usual ‘on a scale of 1-10 how satisfied were you with…?’ This question is often followed by something looking to understand the reasons a particular satisfaction scale fell short of the perfect score of 10/10. Previous verbatim answers I’ve seen include examples such as:

‘I wasn’t blown away’ and ‘It has to be really special to deserve a 10’.

On first glance, I thought nothing of these responses. When revisiting them however, I realised that my own idea of satisfaction was clouding over with doubt.

Take earlier today, for example. I popped to the corner shop during my lunch break for a bar of chocolate (don’t judge me, I’m a sucker for the odd chocolate craving.) After choosing my favourite, I walked to the till, where I handed the shop assistant some money, received some change, and left the shop. Was I completely satisfied with my visit? I suppose so, yes. I hadn’t expected anything more or anything less, and I wouldn’t (realistically) have wanted anything more either. If I were asked to rate my satisfaction on a scale of 1-10, would I have scored a 10? Probably not. This is where the confusion lies.

If you search for ‘satisfaction’ in the Oxford English Dictionary you’ll find the following definition:

Satisfaction: fulfilment of one’s wishes, expectations, or needs, or the pleasure derived from this.

I realised this is the root of my own confusion, and most probably, many other people’s confusion too. The sentence above effectively holds two completely different meanings:

  1. The fulfilment of your wishes, needs, or expectations. Did the shop assistant fulfil my needs? Yes, undoubtedly.
  2. The pleasure derived from this. Was I pleasured by my experience with the shop assistant? Most definitely not. (The pleasure definitely occurred after I got back to the office and opened the chocolate bar!)

So… what score should I have given? Should I have stuck with my initial thoughts and thought my experience wasn’t worthy of a perfect satisfaction score? Or should I have agreed with my (perhaps) more rational thought process and realised there wasn’t anything wrong with my experience, so why didn’t it deserve a 10?

More importantly… what do other respondents, or researchers, for that matter, understand of the word satisfaction? Are people naturally split between the two definitions, or does one generally overshadow the other? If so, which one is more dominant, why, and what can we do about it?

Bethan Turner, Senior Researcher