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ITIL Customer satisfaction – Design driven by outcomes

Any service provider strives to be a “customer-oriented” business. This means that not only are you fulfilling a customer’s needs, but you must take that customer’s entire experience into account when providing a service. A customer’s satisfaction with the services provided is an extremely important experience outcome, so we flood them with satisfaction surveys and questionnaires, which may even offer rewards if the customer fills them in – all in an effort to gain feedback. Based on survey results, service providers try to improve the service in question, or the ways it’s provided, or anything that was revealed to be a reason for dissatisfaction.

You can find many articles within our blog that describe several important customer satisfaction areas within ITIL best practice methodology, or ISO 20000 standard: ITIL Request Fulfillment: A quick win for customer satisfaction, Taking care of relationships with ISO 20000, ITIL Business Relationship Management – Know your customer, and  How to avoid unsatisfied customers by managing problems and incidents according to ISO 20000.

Customer satisfaction attributes

Let’s pretend we’re an e-mail service provider. There is a plethora of e-mail service providers on the market, both free and commercially available, so we’ll need something to stand out from the crowd. We could say that our e-mail service is guaranteed to have 100% availability, and that customers can send e-mail to more than 100, or even 1000 recipients at a time.

After some time, and several customers later, we could perform a quick customer satisfaction survey, and I would expect the survey results to be the following: Customers are, at best, mildly satisfied with our services. Why would that be if we delivered exactly what was promised?

There is an old saying: “When you do things right, people won’t be sure you’ve done anything at all.” Having always-available e-mail service is a pretty basic expectation factor – one that will not raise customer satisfaction with time, but will hurt it severely if missing. On the other hand, people rarely send emails to more than 20 recipients (spammers excluded), so being able to send email to 1000 or more recipients is an indifferent attribute of e-mail service.

Within our service, or within the way we’re delivering it at the moment, there is no single excitement factor that would generate customer satisfaction by being present; therefore, at the moment, we could easily lose our customers to any competitor who introduces some new and exciting feature.

Kano model
Figure 1 – Kano model of service attributes

In order to avoid such a situation, ITIL recommends a service design approach driven by outcomes. Those outcomes will have attributes attached, and attributes can be evaluated using the “Kano model” displayed in Figure 1.

Type of attributes:

  • Basic factors / basic needs – (must-have, non-linear / Figure 1: red line) expected attributes, taken for granted. If not fulfilled, generates perception of lost utility. If fulfilled completely, can only reach neutral satisfaction, after which there is no gain.
  • Excitement factors / delighters – (attractive utility, non-linear / Figure 1: green line) service attributes that generate perception of utility gain, but do not have negative effect on satisfaction when not present.
  • Performance factors / performance needs – (attractive utility, linear / Figure 1: black line) service attributes that increase utility perception when increased, and vice-versa, in almost linear fashion.
  • Indifferent attributes – cause neither gain nor loss of utility perception whether fulfilled or not.
  • Reversed attributes – as name suggests, cause gain in utility perception when not fulfilled, and losses when fulfilled. An example could be a feature that requires a password each time you send e-mail.
  • Questionable response – customer’s feedback can’t be included in analysis, as the answer can be easily misinterpreted.

Spoiler alert: Perception changes with time

Some attributes are more important to customers than others. They have a direct impact on the performance of customer assets, and higher influence on customers’ perception of utility, so within the Service Design stage it’s very important to perform extensive dialogue with targeted customers or segments of market spaces to determine the attributes a service must have, should have, and could have in terms of must-have attractive utility.

Within our e-mail service provider example, we didn’t perform such dialog, and ended up having our own high expectations on customer satisfaction by offering very basic service utility.

Which reminds me: Do you remember the Gmail launch more than 10 years ago? (Yes, it has been more than 10 years since the Gmail launch.)

It had several very (at the time) attractive utility attributes:

  • 1000 MB (and counting) of free e-mail storage, while the competition at the time offered 2-4 MB!
  • Web mail access with easy-to-use non-traditional threaded interface, available in numerous languages.
  • Anti-spam filter included within free service.

Today, Gmail offers 10 GB (and counting) of e-mail storage space, webmail, multiplatform mobile access, calendar, contacts, tasks, extensive search, integration with cloud file service, chat (text, voice, video), social networks integration and many more features, and yet none of them will make you even raise an eyebrow. With time, factors that used to generate excitement tend to drift toward basic expectations and become basic needs.

Enterprise IT providers are struggling with such perception, as it’s pretty hard to justify the high cost of a 5+ GB mailbox size, regularly backed up, anti-virus and anti-spam protected, multi-platform accessible, protected from non-authorized access and always available mail server. The majority of those important features are either basic, or indifferent to the customers. Free or cheap cloud-based service providers don’t make any guarantees that data will be always accessible, nor can you count on them being in business for the next 3 years. Within enterprise, you have a contractual obligation to deliver the features listed and can’t gamble with customers’ data. Enterprise service providers have to invest a significant amount of resources to deliver services according to expectations. And with time, expectations will only increase.

You can download a free sample of the Customer Satisfaction Survey template to see an example of a survey document.