Satisfaction and Dissatisfaction

What satisfies customers? I would argue that it is the tangible attributes, features and characteristics of a product or service itself, and how these function in use. Satisfaction is a function of utility – the benefit that the customer receives from using the product or consuming the service.

Dissatisfaction, on the other hand, is the presence of things that irritate or annoy the customer – late deliveries, a cumbersome ordering process, etc.

What’s really important here is the idea that these two things – satisfaction and dissatisfaction – are not opposites. By removing dissatisfaction you do not necessarily improve satisfaction. When you address the sources of dissatisfaction, you are doing exactly that – reducing dissatisfaction. You are not increasing satisfaction, because it is a function of utility.

I have made the same argument with value improvement versus waste reduction. When you reduce waste (non-value adding activity), you are doing just that – reducing waste and increasing efficiency. You are not necessarily increasing value – value is a utility function, not an efficiency function.

Some firms fall into the trap of equating these two things – satisfaction and dissatisfaction, value improvement and waste reduction. They believe they are exact opposites and that a decrease in one (dissatisfaction or waste) necessarily results in an increase in the other (satisfaction or value). Avoid this conceptual trap at all costs!


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