Our Thoughts

Can Customer Satisfaction be Objective?

27th August 2019

By Stephen Hampshire, TLF Research.

I've just been sent a survey about my experience at Headingley on Sunday.


That's the word that several of my friends independently messaged me when Ben Stokes completed his miracle on Sunday afternoon, and it's the word you'll find popping up again and again in post-match interviews and Twitter reactions. It barely does justice to how unlikely an England win felt when Jack Leach walked out to the wicket with 73 runs still to get.

If you're not a cricket fan it's probably hard to understand quite why we're so excited about this innings, but there truly is something special about test match cricket. "Who's winning?" people ask (usually only once). It's never clear cut. Bit by bit through the day England clawed their way from rank outsiders to narrow favourites, but then a few moments of poor decision making made a defeat all but inevitable. No sport in the world takes that ebb and flow of dominance and stretches it so taut for so long. No other sport has such a contrast between the concentrated patience needed for a batsman to get on top and the microsecond of skill or misjudgement that means it's all over.

So how was my experience on Sunday? Unbelievable. Headingley, like many sports venues nowadays, conduct satisfaction surveys so that they can make the fan experience better. They ask questions about getting there, staff, food and drink, toilets, information announcements, even atmosphere.

The natural question is: are my perceptions of all of those things influenced by my feelings about witnessing a historic Ashes triumph? Of course they are. I don't have the data, of course, but I'd be amazed if the average scores aren't higher for Sunday (from England fans at least) than for an average day.

Does that expose flaws in the robustness of customer satisfaction measurement? Not if you understand that customer insight is never about measuring performance. It's about measuring customers' experiences of your performance, which are affected by a whole host of things. That's one reason to be very careful when you're using customer satisfaction scores to judge staff performance.

The danger, otherwise, is that you try to reduce everything to dull controllables. There's a good reason that "The atmosphere" is such a crucial element of a good fan experience survey, far more important to most fans than the queue for the bar or the state of the toilets.

It's something that is hugely affected by the performance of the team, but that doesn't mean it can't be enhanced by a venue that knows what it's doing. Good design will help fans to feel and create that memorable atmosphere, when the conditions are right.

So yes: customer research is subjective, but that's the point. So are customer attitudes.

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