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Frameworks and tools for evaluating customer satisfaction

As the previous section showed, different disciplines approach consumer research from different
stand points however they are all interested in identifying how an innovation - a new product or a
service - is accepted by the consumers. Some disciplines use techniques for evaluating market
response, others measure social influences on creating market acceptance, while yet others study
personal characteristics of consumers and how these affect purchasing decision of each
individual consumer. Each discipline also develops and uses specific methods as well. However,
there are also general tools that are employed in many disciplines.

Frameworks for evaluating customer satisfaction with products

Kano Model of Customer Satisfaction
The Kano et al. (1996) model of customer satisfaction classifies product attributes based on how
they are perceived by customers and their effect on customer satisfaction (Kano, Seraku et al.
1996). According to the model, there are three types of product attributes that fulfill customer
satisfaction to a different degree: 1) basic or expected attributes, 2) performance or spoken
attributes, and 3) surprise and delight attributes. A competitive product meets basic expected
attributes, maximizes performances attributes, and includes as many excitement attributes as
financially feasible. In the model, the customer strives to move away from having unfulfilled
requirements and being dissatisfied

The performance or spoken attributes (the central line of the model) are those expressed by
customers when asked what they want from the product. Depending on the level of their
fulfillment by a product or a service these requirements can satisfy or dissatisfy consumers.
The basic or expected attributes (lower curve in the model) are basic attributes, which customers
take for granted and they are so obvious that they are not worth mentioning. While the presence
of these attributes is not taken into account, their absence is very dissatisfying.
The surprise and delight attributes (upper curve in the model) lay beyond customers
expectations. If they are present they excite the customer, but their absence does not dissatisfy, as
customers do not expect them.
A successful combination of expected and exciting attributes provides a company with an
opportunity to achieve competitive advantage. A successful company will correctly identify the
requirements and attributes and use them to document raw data, user characteristics, and
important service or product attributes.
To make information about the identified requirements about attributes understandable and
useful for designers, a so-called Quality Function Deployment (QFD) approach is often being
used. The goal of QFD is to assure that the product development process meets and exceeds
customer needs and wants and that customer requirements are propagated throughout the life
cycle of the product. The approach uses a number of matrices, which help translating customer
requirements into engineering or design parameters, specifying product features, manufacturing

operations and specific instructions and controls. QFD allows for the minimizing of errors and
the maximizing of product quality for customers. The approach is probably the only existing
quality system with such strong orientation to customer satisfaction.

Expectations and Customer Satisfaction

Expectations are beliefs (likelihood or probability) that a product/service (containing certain
attributes, features or characteristics) will produce certain outcomes (benefits-values) given
certain anticipated levels of performance based on previous affective, cognitive, and behavioral
experiences. Expectations are often seen as related to satisfaction and can be measured as
1. Importance: Value of the product/service fulfilling the expectation.
2. Overall Affect-Satisfaction Expectations: Like / Dislike of the product/service.
3. Fulfillment of Expectation: The expected level of performance vs. the desired
expectations. This is Predictive Fulfillment and is a respondent-specific index of the
performance level necessary to satisfy.
4. Expected Value from Use: Satisfaction is often determined by the frequency of use. If a
product/service is not used as often as expected, the result may not be as satisfying as
anticipated. For example a motorcycle that sits in the garage, an unused year subscription
to the local fitness center/gym, or a little used season pass to a ski resort would produce
more dissatisfaction with the decision to purchase than with the actual product/service.
Measuring Expectations
In building a customer satisfaction survey, it is also helpful to consider reasons why pre-purchase
expectations or post-purchase satisfaction may not be fulfilled or even measurable.
1. Expectations may not reflect unanticipated service attributes.
2. Expectations may have been quite vague, creating wide latitudes of acceptability in
performance and expected satisfaction.
3. Expectation and product performance evaluations may be sensory and not cognitive, as in
taste, style or image.
4. The product use may attract so little attention as to produce no conscious affect or
cognition (evaluation) and result in meaningless satisfaction or dissatisfaction measures.
5. There may have been unanticipated benefits or consequences of purchasing or using the
product (such as a use or feature not anticipated with purchase).

6. The original expectations may have been unrealistically high or low.

7. The product purchaser, influencer, and user may have been different individuals, each
having different expectations.


Consistency theories suggest that when the expectations and the actual product
performance do not match the consumer will feel some degree of tension. In order to
relieve this tension the consumer will make adjustments either in expectations or in the
perceptions of the products actual performance. Four theoretical approaches have been
advanced under the umbrella of consistency theory: (1) Assimilation theory; (2) Contrast
theory; (3) Assimilation-Contrast theory; and (4) Negativity theory.

Assimilation Theory

Assimilation theory is based on Festingers (1957) dissonance theory. Dissonance theory

posits that consumers make some kind of cognitive comparison between expectations
about the product and the perceived product performance. This view of the consumer
post-usage evaluation was introduced into the satisfaction literature in the form of
assimilation theory. According to Anderson (1973), consumers seek to avoid dissonance
by adjusting perceptions about a given product to bring it more in line with expectations.
Consumers can also reduce the tension resulting from a discrepancy between
expectations and product performance either by distorting expectations so that they
coincide with perceived product performance or by raising the level of satisfaction by
minimizing the relative importance of the disconfirmation experienced.
Assimilation Theory Criticism
Payton et al (2003) argues that Assimilation theory has a number of shortcomings. First,
the approach assumes that there is a relationship between expectation and satisfaction but
does not specify how disconfirmation of an expectation leads to either satisfaction or
dissatisfaction. Second, the theory also assumes that consumers are motivated enough to
adjust either their expectations or their perceptions about the performance of the product.
A number of researchers have found that controlling for actual product performance can
lead to a positive relationship between expectation and satisfaction. Therefore, it would
appear that dissatisfaction could never occur unless the evaluative processes were to
begin with negative consumer expectations.

Contrast Theory

Contrast theory was first introduced by Hovland, Harvey and Sherif (1987). Dawes et al
(1972) define contrast theory as the tendency to magnify the discrepancy between ones
own attitudes and the attitudes represented by opinion statements. Contrast theory
presents an alternative view of the consumer post-usage evaluation process than was
presented in assimilation theory in that post-usage evaluations lead to results in opposite
predictions for the effects of expectations on satisfaction. While assimilation theory
posits that consumers will seek to minimize the discrepancy between expectation and
performance, contrast theory holds that a surprise effect occurs leading to the discrepancy
being magnified or exaggerated.
According to the contrast theory, any discrepancy of experience from expectations
will be exaggerated in the direction of discrepancy. If the firm raises expectations in his
advertising, and then a customers experience is only slightly less than that promised, the
product/service would be rejected as totally un-satisfactory. Conversely, under-promising
in advertising and over-delivering will cause positive disconfirmation also to be
Contrast Theory Criticism
Several studies in the marketing literature have offered some support for this theory. The
contrast theory of customer satisfaction predicts customer reaction instead of reducing
dissonance; the consumer will magnify the difference between expectation and the
performance of the product/service.

Assimilation-Contrast Theory

Assimilation-contrast theory was introduced by Anderson (1973) in the context of postexposure product performance based on Sherif and Hovlands (1961) discussion of
assimilation and contrast effect.
Assimilation-contrast theory suggests that if performance is within a customers latitude
(range) of acceptance, even though it may fall short of expectation, the discrepancy will
be disregarded assimilation will operate and the performance will be deemed as
acceptable. If performance falls within the latitude of rejection, contrast will prevail and
the difference will be exaggerated, the produce/service deemed unacceptable.
The assimilation-contrast theory has been proposed as yet another way to explain the
relationships among the variables in the disconfirmation model. This theory is a
combination of both the assimilation and the contrast theories. This paradigm posits that
satisfaction is a function of the magnitude of the discrepancy between expected and
perceived performance. As with assimilation theory, the 95 consumers will tend to
assimilate or adjust differences in perceptions about product performance to bring it in
line with prior expectations but only if the discrepancy is relatively small.

Assimilation-contrast theory attempts illustrate that both the assimilation and the contrast
theory paradigms have applicability in the study of customer satisfaction.
"hypothesize variables other than the magnitude of the discrepancy that might also
influence whether the assimilation effect or the contrast effect would be observed.
when product performance is difficult to judge, expectations may dominate and
assimilation effects will be observed contrast effect would result in high involvement
circumstances. The strength of the expectations may also affect whether assimilation or
contrast effects are observed.
Assimilation-Contrast Theory Criticism
Anderson (1973) argues that Cardozos (1965) attempt at reconciling the two earlier
theories was methodologically flawed. The attempts by various researchers to test this
theory empirically have brought out mixed results. Olson and Dover (1979) and
Anderson (1973) found some evidence to support the assimilation theory approach. In
discussing both of these studies, however, Oliver (1980a) argues that only measured
expectations and assumed that there were perceptual differences between disconfirmation
or satisfaction.