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Avoiding the Customer Satisfaction Rut

Having received a great deal of attention for decades now, customer satisfaction (CS) practices have become one of the core prescriptions for managers and organizations. Indeed, for many companies, customer satisfaction has become the guiding principle, as they increasingly initiate all manner of strategies and processes under its banner. But more and more, says Fredrik Dahlsten, these practices are losing their effectiveness for companies and their customers alike.

Using qualitative research at Volvo Cars, the author illustrates how the interpretation of customer satisfaction can become skewed, employing rigorous and extensive CS measurements, but measuring the wrong variables and using the information in mainly reactive ways. Many companies have only an intrinsic CS focus -- a product orientation based on attribute quality and a short-term internal perspective triggered by surveys and aimed at cost control. With an intrinsic focus, customer satisfaction is seen mostly as the absence of dissatisfaction. In contrast, an extrinsic CS focus emphasizes finding new ways to increase the positive, emotional aspects of the customer experience over time.

The author argues that managers who wish to climb out of their customer satisfaction rut must move beyond the mere measurement of quality, refocus their practices on the customer's actual experience and formulate a comprehensive strategy for using that knowledge throughout the organization. He illustrates those concepts by showing how practices at Volvo are being improved to incorporate a greater extrinsic focus and make better use of the resulting customer knowledge.

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