Everyone talks about customer satisfaction and some see it as the “holy grail” of a customer-centric business. But what is it really? Is there a simple basic definition?

committed to excellence and customer satisfaction - 030620091716

Contradictory message?

On Wikipedia, customer satisfaction is defined as “Customer satisfaction, a business term, is a measure of how products and services supplied by a company meet or surpass customer expectation.” But that seems off when you look at the separate definitions of the two words that comprise the term.

So let’s take a look at Dictionary.com:


[kuhs-tuh-mer]  Show IPA


1. a person who purchases goods or services from another;buyer; patron.

2. Informal . a person one has to deal with: a tough customer;a cool customer.

1400–50;  late ME; see custom-er1 ;  cf. ME customer  collectorof customs < AF; OF costumier,  c. ML custum?rius; see customary

customer. (n.d.). Dictionary.com Unabridged. Retrieved July 14, 2010, from Dictionary.com website: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/customer


[sat-is-fak-shuhn]  Show IPA


1. an act of satisfying; fulfillment; gratification.

2. the state of being satisfied; contentment.

3. the cause or means of being satisfied.

4. confident acceptance of something as satisfactory,dependable, true, etc.

5. reparation or compensation, as for a wrong or injury.

6. the opportunity to redress or right a wrong, as by a duel.

7. payment or discharge, as of a debt or obligation.

8. Ecclesiastical .

a. an act of doing penance or making reparation for venialsin.
b. the penance or reparation made.

1250–1300;  < L satisfacti?n-  (s. of satisfacti? ) a doing enough,equiv. to satisfact ( us ) (ptp. of satisfacere,  equiv. to satis enough + facere  to make, do1 ) + -i?n- -ion;  r. ME satisfaccioun < AF < L, as above

satisfaction. (n.d.). Dictionary.com Unabridged. Retrieved July 14, 2010, from Dictionary.com website: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/satisfaction

Well, I don’t think we’ll have any issues with the definition of “customer” but “satisfaction” doesn’t seem to include “surpassing the customer’s expectation.”

How Do I Define Customer Satisfaction?

Based on these accepted definitions (Dictionary.com gets there definitions from the Random House dictionary and other accepted references), I propose a definition that is much closer to what the words “customer satisfaction” actually mean.

Customer satisfaction is the act of just doing enough to be acceptable to a customer. It is simply meeting basic expectations.

Ouch! That’s very different from Wikipedia’s definition and worlds away from how many companies view customer satisfaction.

Should Customer Satisfaction Be Your Objective?

So, based on this definition, do you really want to do “just enough” for your customers? You may decide that this is your business model…

But if you want to build loyalty and generate word of mouth marketing, you should really consider going further. Define the customer experience that you want to deliver and aim for customer excellence.

So, what do you think? Am I wrong in defining the term based on accepted real-word definitions? Or should we continue using the definition that the corporate world thinks it should be?