Customer satisfaction and loyalty are the two big buzz terms in service organizations today. Question is, how do you achieve — and measure — them?

First step: Instead of targeting good practices, focus on getting rid of the bad ones, says Dr. Bill Bleuel, a Pepperdine University professor of decision sciences, who specializes in measuring and analyzing business operations. Bleuel has worked on field service analyses for Taylor Instrument Company and Xerox, among others, and offers advice on how to optimize customer service.

The SmartVan: What’s the difference between customer satisfaction and customer loyalty?

Bill Bleuel: Satisfaction and loyalty are different. Satisfaction is a passive condition. You don’t have to do anything to be satisfied. It can come and go. Loyalty is active; to be loyal, you have to be hooked into the company. It’s hard to become loyal if you’re not satisfied, so your product or your service has to be good. You’re not going to get people to hook into you and continue doing business with you if they’re not satisfied.

So which measurement is a better indicator of a company’s overall health?

Neither! The most important thing is getting rid of dis-satisfiers. Every connection you make with a customer, you’re either doing something positive or negative, and the negative might not even be the exact opposite of the positive.

For example, think of McDonald’s. You go there, and you expect fast service, and reasonable quality food. Those are satisfiers. If it’s a little slow, or the food’s off, you’re not necessarily dissatisfied; you don’t get that upset if they screw that up.

But imagine at the same McDonald’s, if you go in the bathroom and it stinks and it’s filthy. Are you ever going to go back there again? Probably not. So that’s not a satisfier, but it is a dis-satisfier. Speed and quality are satisfiers, not dis-satisfiers. I talked to a businessman who owned a bunch of movie theaters, and he said they clean the restroom every half-hour, and that’s the reason. It’s the biggest reason people do or don’t come back.

So what would a dis-satisfier be in a field service context?

Think about accounts-receivable. They’re never trained on how to deal with a customer. But they can piss off a customer faster than a speeding bullet. I was talking to [a technology-services company], and their accounts-receivable put IBM on credit hold. Are you out of your mind?! You’re putting IBM on credit hold? You’ve got to be kidding me!

So it’s the parts of a business where people aren’t trained to deal with customers, yet they touch customers. … That’s actually one of the things I find most disappointing — most companies don’t look for their dis-satisfiers. They’re happy to play with their satisfied customers; they’re easier to find. So they say, ‘I’ll just go with the easy stuff.’ To do good work, though, you have to dig deep and understand your business.

I did a study with a management team for two days, and we figured out that there were 168 different ways that company could touch their customers. Now, that’s a heck of a [satisfaction] survey. So obviously we had to cut it down and focus on the key issues, but the point is that they never realized how many ways they could touch a customer, and how many of those are done by people who have no training with customers.

Even in field service organizations, most of the training is on technical skills; there’s very little on how to fix the customer. My mantra is that there’s always two repairs: The equipment and the customer. And the customer’s more important.

So how do you measure these things?

There’s no perfect survey. You measure something and say, ‘That makes sense.’ But people let these surveys go for five or 10 years — you should really review your survey every year or so. Most people don’t even take the time to write a plan for their survey. They don’t know what they’re trying to do. I’ll say, ‘What’s your objective?’ And they’ll say, ‘We don’t have one.’ Well then you met it. But if you’re spending $100,000 or more to take these measurements, with no plan for it, no management write-off? Then you’re just spending money.

I don’t really like a lot of the measurement scores out there — the NPS score, the Customer Effort Score, the ACSI or a standard Likert score measure — things like that. They’ll ask three questions: Would you buy again, would you recommend us, and what’s your overall satisfaction? — and one or more of these three measures are often used as a surrogate for loyalty. There’s no good definition for loyalty that makes sense.

Probably the best measurement, which I’ve never seen, would be “trust.” That’s a better measurement for loyalty. Do you trust your auto mechanic? The first couple of times, you’ll go to the cheapest guy. But when you find someone you trust, you’re willing to pay a little more for it.

So you have to have a long-term trend in satisfaction, and you have to get rid of the dis-satisfiers. Really, the best way to increase your scores isn’t to improve the best ones. It’s to get rid of the lowest ones.

More: Three Keys to Crafting Effective Customer Surveys.

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ABOUT Ian Stewart

Avatar photoIan is a veteran journalist who has covered sports for various news outlets. Previously, he was managing editor for an electronic-book publishing company and a public relations writer.