Customers don’t feel averages


“On average our customers are 90% satisfied”. A popular headline reported by many businesses and organisations. Ok so the exact numbers may vary slightly but the statement is the same. And rightly so if an organisation is proud of the levels of customer satisfaction it’s delivering. But if you dig a little deeper into this statement we uncover something more than the headline itself.mean wordle

What does ‘on average’ actually mean? From a mathematical perspective, Wikipedia describes it as ‘average usually means the sum of a list of numbers divided by the size of the list, in other words the arithmetic mean. However, it can alternatively mean the median, the mode, or some other central or typical value. In statistics, these are all known as measures of central tendancy.’

So in this context, average or arithmetic mean denotes the average levels of satisfaction across a number of customers – assumed to be a statistically reliable sample size (by me anyway!). A convenient measure and an easily understandable headline number from an organisational perspective. One that most people can understand fairly instantly. However, if we turn this around and look at it from a customer perspective, do customers feel averages?

Before I give my view on this, let me share an analogy with you that a manager I worked for once used. To explain the point about averages he used to say ” if I put one hand in a bucket of ice and one hand in the fire, on average I don’t feel great do I?”fire and ice hands

To me that makes the point. Customers don’t feel averages. If I have a bad experience as a customer, I don’t cognitively step back and think, I’ve been in this shop ten times and I’ve only had one bad experience so on average I’m 90% satisfied. Customers experience it as it is, good or bad and future behaviour, purchases and recommendations are shaped by these experiences. To further compound matters, cognitive biases such as negative and recency bias often interject and give disproportionate weight to these positive or negative experiences, reinforcing them and the resulting behaviour that follows

I’m not saying don’t use averages. They’re definitely useful and informative but they shouldn’t be taken at face value alone or just seen from an organisational perspective. They should be used sparingly and in context with how customers actually feel about their experience. However you look at the numbers though, make sure it’s from the customer’s perspective.


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