Category Archives: customer satisfaction

Customers more satisfied when served by white males

In an interesting study, researchers at UBC have found that customers express higher satisfaction when they’re served by white men than by women or people of colour — even when their behaviour is exactly the same. Marketing professor Karl Aquino expressed surprise at the findings, as he told The Globe and Mail

“We had thought there would be some bias going on in the sense of people who were males or whites would be rated more positively,” Mr. Aquino said

“But we didn’t anticipate that for performing the same behaviours, the women and minorities would actually be rated lower,” he said of the study to be published in the Academy of Management Journal.

This study should not be surprising at all.

What this study demonstrates is what Raymond Breton calls the “symbolic order”; we unconsciously place white men at the top of our social hierarchy. We do this in multiple ways, including placing art, culture and ideas at the top of an invisible ladder. Public Enemy sums it up nicely in “Fight the Power”:

None of my heroes don’t appear on no stamp

We know that people have largely unconscious reactions of sexism and racism, oftentimes without even realizing it. It is likely that these unconscious ideas bleed into marketing research easily, especially when such studies are quantitative in nature, and therefore lack the thick description or deep probing offered by qualitative approaches.

This finding has wide-reaching implications. First, when companies use customer satisfaction surveys, they must be aware of the inherent inaccuracy of these surveys. You may believe you’re accurately measuring actual satisfaction, but this study shows that frequently, we don’t measure any such thing. Secondly, such surveys are often used to award bonuses or even job security. As we know in academia, student evaluations are frequently what stands between a scholar and a full-time position. If we know that customer satisfaction is driven by factors other than actual performance, then we are likely to be unwittingly simply rewarding membership in a dominant group.

Read the entire story on The Globe. It’s worth a think.


Online Surveys 101


Below is a (very!) brief overview of online surveys. This slideshow, via slideshare, is intended for people in the Web design industry. IAs, designers, media planners, strategists, usability researchers, and producers will learn if they should, in fact, do a survey.

The Brand as A Self: Web Design as Impression Management

Brands have few opportunities to come alive, and the Web is one of those opportunities. Make sure the brand gives off the right impression. Researchers have found that a company’s Web site particularly shapes how a person views that company’s innovation and concern for its customers. In other words, the Web site is even more important in “giving off” the right impression.

Brands introduce themselves to people much in the same way that people introduce themselves to people. And just like for humans, brands often “give off” more information than they explicitly mean to provide. This is especially true for Web sites: the brand online is the same as a “self,” and must manage its impression just as people do.

We have all experienced this: you meet someone and develop an immediate sense of what they’re about. You have figured out that this person works in, say, finance, and he has money and children and likes nautical sports. You also find him curt, arrogant and a bit full of himself. Is it something he said specifically? No, not specifically. He did snap at the waitress. And he did mention something about a regatta. He also casually tossed his credit card down when the bill came, rudely brushing aside protestations from the most senior person at the table.

One of my favourite theorists, Erving Goffman, tells us there is an impression you GIVE, and then there is the impression you GIVE OFF. “Selves,” as Goffman puts it, engage in impression management using subtle symbolic signals.

Designers often implicitly think of their particular product — whether it be a kitchen product or a print ad — as something that “gives off” an impression. But this is much more important for immersive experiences like Web sites. A company’s Web site in particular is an immersive experience that gives off countless symbolic cues.

Some observers call this phenomenon “cross channel synchronicity,” or simply just “user experience.” The Web site is key to “giving off” the right impression for a company and its brand because it is the living embodiment of that company.

How should graphic and interaction designers create their products? Keep in mind the following:

  • The brand is a “self” on the Web. This is a great opportunity but designers also run the risk of “giving off” the wrong impression immediately through interactions that suggest a stand-offish, arrogant, or selfish brand.
  • Brand-critical interactions must be done right: I have had many clients who appear unconcerned about appear small interaction problems of their Web site. But if these interactions revolve around mission-critical symbols of your business, make sure they’re done right. If your brand identity if “fun,” ensure that interactions are full of fun, not hard work. If your brand identity is “trustworthy,” over-communicate that message in interactions.
  • Provide the expected “props”: In an earlier post, I showed how individuals use symbolic cues, or “props” to manage impressions. Doctors use stethoscopes, for example, despite the fact that fewer than 40% of them know how to use them properly, mostly because patients EXPECT them to carry them. Web site designers should remember what users expect in terms of “props.” Does your brand really need AJAX? Are visitors surprised to find their is no flash element? Are visitors expecting form fields to have in-line editing?

Designing for time use

We all seem to be running out of time. Time use is an important but often overlooked aspect of design. What do designers need to know about time and time use?

  • Types of Time

We don’t all use or experience time in the same way. Scholars call two types of time “monochroncity” and “polychronicity.” Polychronicity is defined as the extent to which individuals do more than one task at once. “Polychrons” tend to overlap tasks, dovetail their activities to “hit more than one bird with a stone” and are overall more comfortable with a variability in time sequencing. Monochrons, by contrast, prefer strict planning, a knowable a predictable sequence of events, and a general uniformity in the understanding of time.

These two types of time mean two types of design outcomes: one that is intended for the multi-tasking user and one that is for the single-tasking user. Designers should know ahead of time which type of time to incorporate in their work.

  • Temporal Impact On Creativity

Madjar and Oldham found that time orientation, time pressue and task rotation is related to creativity. People who were polychronic and rotated through creative tasks (creating marketing plans) tended to be produce more creative results. Monochronic people tended to produce more creative results when they proceeded sequentially through tasks. Both groups had less creative results when they perceived intense time pressure.

  • Tips for Designing For Time Use
  1. Temporal Disruption for Users: Recognize you are disrupting users’ temporal process, which is often taken-for-granted and invisible. This disruption can be significant in that is will increase stress, anxiety and may elicit negative responses. This is especially important for designers of technology. Research has shown there is a large and often unintended impact through poorly designed technology.
  2. Agency/Client Temporal Disconnect: For those of you in agencies working with clients, recognize your own working process may differ from your clients’. This may result in miscommunications about expectations of temporal consistency. Your clients may be monochrons and expect you to be the same.
  3. In-house Temporal Disconnect: Managers tend to have more control over their work flow. They also tend to order themselves monochronically. But those further down the totem pole tend to have little control and are often polycrhonic as a result (often unwillingly). Managing a good design practice is ensuring that every worker has some autonomy in their temporal practice. Let monochrons be monochrons.
  4. Your Own Creativity: Are you monochronic or polychronic? Your team likely has a mixture of both. Find out which one you are and try to engineer situations that match your orientation.

Why customer satisfaction surveys are useless

Many readers seem to enjoy my qualitative versus quantitative research post. I take this to mean that designers are hungry insight that beyond the requisite (and useless) customer satisfaction survey.

I’m not a huge fan of customer satisfaction surveys because they are usually 100% reliable but 0% valid; they tell you nothing (but consistently tell you nothing). Witness, for example, the Foresee customer satisfaction survey. This survey is designed to give pop up as a user leaves a Web site. They are asked a variety of customized questions and then a variety of demographic information. Foresee tallies these results regularly and even ranks your Web site (or company in general) in comparison to your competitors.

What does a designer learn from this? Almost nothing.

Why? Several reasons.

  1. Consumers have “satisfaction” fatigue: consumers are surveyed to death these days. We are all familiar with the Likert scale “strongly agree” to “strongly disagree.” Few survey researchers actually rework their surveys for validity. It’s called “acquiescence bias” where people tend to just answer the same way repeatedly. Survey researchers who know better use reverse-scoring techniques; but most don’t. These surveys, therefore, result in a questionable assertion that they are actually valid representations of how consumers actually feel.
  2. Satisfaction surveys breed incremental “metricism”: surveys tell you nothing new: designers need to innovate their products, Web sites, and images. Satisfaction surveys tell you nothing you don’t already know. What’s more, they may actually inhibit creativity because they draw attention to minute changes that may be due to chance alone. Once organizations become regular consumers of satisfaction surveys, even small improvements become cause for celebration — even if they don’t reflect real improvements (see number 1).
  3. Surveys provide numbers, not detail: designers need thick description to make their designs truly evocative of lived experiences. Satisfaction surveys are simply stripped down representations of how people feel (or more accurately, how they say they feel). Designers need richer information to spark creative solutions.
  4. Customer satisfaction is a poor predictor of looming competition: Imagine a company that had consistently high customer satisfaction scores. Imagine also that this company falls victim to “incremental metricism,” and fails to see a competitor’s new, better designed product on the horizon. This competitive product would never appear in customer satisfaction surveys. It’s possible for customers to be “satisfied,” only to have them lured away by an innovative, better design.

Instead of customer satisfaction surveys, I recommend designers pore over free trend-spotting data, like the Pew Internet and American Life Project, which is a comprehensive and rigorous survey of current attitudes and beliefs. It’s harder to pull out insights from data that don’t look like they’re relevant, but the return is so much better than from a tired, staid customer satisfaction survey.