July 20th, 2010

Facebook: A Lesson on Why Customer Satisfaction Does Not Matter

By Kyle Morich

Wall Street Journal’s Digits Blog had a post today about a study released by the American Customer Satisfaction Index, and the results were not good.  Facebook, the world’s dominant social network with over 500 million users, had one of the lowest scores of any company in the index.  It currently sits shoulder-to-shoulder with cable providers, airlines, and the IRS – not exactly the ilk of companies Facebook would want to be associated with.  It seems users have very negative feelings toward the site’s privacy policies, interface changes, platform technology, advertising, and spam.

The survey sponsor trots out some reasons for why the site continues to grow despite the poor rating, primarily insinuating that Facebook holds a monopoly over Internet social activity and would be replaced if there were a suitable replacement in the market.  But this survey is really a lesson in why customer satisfaction, the golden measure by which all consumer interactions are judged, does not matter.

Meta-analysis of customer satisfaction ratings point to a counter-intuitive finding. Beyond a certain baseline level of satisfaction that must be reached, statistical analysis shows there is, in fact, no correlation between satisfaction and repurchase.  The average customer satisfaction score out of 100 is an 80.  Basically, most customers are satisfied all the time.  Even with Facebook’s ‘failing’ score of a 64 out of 100, they clearly have not fallen below the ‘disatisfaction’ point where users start walking away.  But there are many examples in the marketplace of companies with very satisfied customers who see deflated sales and customer defection to competitors.  What, if not satisfaction, determines whether or not a customer returns?

Reinforcement. A company that reinforces a customer’s behavior will see that customer return again and again, until that customer’s use of that company’s products or services becomes habitual.  Facebook is incredibly reinforcing.  With every visit there is an updated news feed, quickly digestible pictures of friends and family, links to interesting articles, games, and an inherent sense of self-worth with each ‘friend’ interaction.  This instant reinforcement of behavior is a classic training situation.  Your dog doesn’t sit because he’s ‘very satisfied’ with the walk you went on that morning.  He sits because you gave him enough cookies during training that his sitting comes automatically.  Not to overtly compare any of our readers to animals, but that’s exactly what goes on each and every day, with Facebook, the TV shows we watch, and our diets.  Habits are reinforcing activities.

I confess to having a Facebook habit; I find myself multiple times per day visiting the site without even thinking about it.  Facebook might work on fixing some of its contentious issues — someday, there may be a competitor that corrects Facebook’s foibles.  But even then, the competitor would need to heavily reinforce the user and get enough repetitions of its service to usurp the habit.  Facebook is a lesson to marketers.  Customer Satisfaction is important, but the goal should be Customer Reinforcement.

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