The Importance of Importance

It’s no news that measuring Customer Satisfaction is key for all businesses – be it an company that makes a very niche product, such as an ICs that helps HDMI streams process faster , or a company that makes a consumer-oriented product, such as an engineering toy for girls.


Measuring satisfaction on the surface is easy: ask a benchmarked question or series of questions indicating how satisfied customers are, how likely they are to recommend a product or service, or a host of other measures that can be trended over time and across customers.

The hard part – as with most research efforts – is determining what question you ask.

Let’s look at the restaurant industry.  Restaurants serve food, so on the surface it would probably be important to understand how satisfied customers are with the taste of the food they receive.

Yet restaurants offer more than just food as a service.  Fast food, for example, serves up time – since ordering and eating fast food is generally less time-consuming than a full-service restaurant and/or cooking for oneself.  On the other end of the spectrum, a health-food restaurant may serve faire that’s not as tasty as an upscale restaurant, but offers healthbenefits to the consumer.

To allow for this type of dynamic, for most clients we recommend conducting an Importance-Satisfaction Gap Analysis.  Sounds fancy, but it’s fairly straightforward:

  1. Identify key parameters that apply to your business
  2. Ask respondents to rate those parameters in terms of IMPORTANCE
  3. Ask respondents to rate those parameters in terms of SATISFACTION
  4. Aggregate your data, and subtract mean Satisfaction from mean Importance

So long as you’ve identified the appropriate parameters, you now have a metric that ranks the parameters your business should improve upon.  In words: it’s the the aspects of your product or service people think are important, but the aspects that your product or service that yield relative dissatisfaction.

The nitty-gritties of how to do this vary, depending on the nature of the survey, at what point the survey is taken, and the mechanism used (in person, on paper, online Web, online mobile).  If the survey relates to a recent or very recent experience, we often start by asking customers to rate their satisfaction across 5-6 parameters, then following up with the importance of those 5-6 parameters.  If we have the luxury of space (e.g. a paper form, or an online survey likely to be done on a desktop), we can often include asking both across one matrix, such as this format offered by QuestionPro.

At first, these metrics can be surprising to a business, especially those that have a product that has evolved over the years to address changing market dynamics.  However the more that’s known about customer wants & needs, the more can be done to better meet those needs.  Which more often than not has the lovely side effect of increasing customer satisfaction.

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