How to Improve Your Customer Satisfaction Score (CSAT) Score

You have a good Customer Satisfaction Score (CSAT) but you want to make it even better. Here's proven-to-work tips on how to improve your CSAT score.


Annette Franz

August 26, 2019

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You know your customers are satisfied because the Customer Satisfaction Score (CSAT) that you see on your daily dashboard tells you as much. The score is solid. But you aren’t satisfied; you believe it could be so much better. And rightly so—it usually can be. So, what’s a company to do to earn an even better CSAT score?

Before I answer that, let’s take a look at a popular CSAT metric that was established 25 years ago: the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI). The ACSI is an economic indicator that measures the satisfaction of consumers across the U.S. economy.

ACSI chart customer satisfaction score CSAT

It’s interesting to take a look at this metric over time. When it was first launched in the third quarter of 1994—a completely different era, it seems, from today—the score was 74.8 out of 100. In the latest measurement, in Q1 2019, the ACSI was 76.5 out of 100. Doesn’t seem very impressive as improvements go for a 25-year span.

What’s going on here? Why isn’t that score higher today? No explanation is provided by ACSI, but you can take a look at the years and make some guesses based on the key drivers, which are expectations, perceived quality, and perceived value.

To give you a window into how the industries fared on this metric, here are the top 10 industries based on their scores for 2018.

CSAT Customer Satisfaction Score top 10 ACSI by industry 2018

It’s an interesting mix of industries at the top. The ones at the bottom probably wouldn’t surprise you: with a score of 62, subscription television service and internet service providers at the lowest scoring on this index.

Back to the question about what a company should do to ensure even better CSAT scores.

Here’s a thought—and the answer surely lies here: don’t focus on the score; focus on the customer and the experience. And never rest on your laurels.

The customer experience is a journey, and continuous improvement is key to staying ahead and winning at CX.

Once you rest on your laurels, you’ve lost because:

  • Expectations change: What delights customers today may no longer delight them tomorrow. Preferences for how they interact with your brand today will certainly shift in the future. Always keep tabs of changing customer needs.

    • A side note based on the key drivers of the ACSI: expectations, quality, and value, I believe, are all closely linked. In other words, when expectations change, so will the perceived quality and perceived value.

  • Customers change: Existing customers leave, and new ones come along. New customers may have different needs, expectations, and problems they are trying to solve or jobs to be done than the customers who have left.

  • The business changes: New products and services are launched; acquisitions are made, and growth happens or business shifts.

  • Competitors change: New ones enter the marketplace to compete with you at all levels, or they may just pick off easier touches along the value chain to disrupt the space.

  • Trends change: New industry trends, regulations, and technologies emerge, creating new business dynamics.

  • Strengths and weaknesses change: Weak signals become strong signals.

So, yes, you can continue to monitor that CSAT score, but while you’re doing that, you’ve got to do a lot of other things, things that will actually improve the experience, which ultimately leads to better scores (and other desirable business outcomes).

Let’s look at several ways to improve your Customer Satisfaction Score (CSAT). I’m going to assume you know that you must act on the feedback you’re getting from customers—and are already doing so. (You are acting on the feedback, right?!)


Design a customer-centric culture

Always start with the culture; everything else flows from here.

Do your core values speak to putting people first? Has it been deliberately designed to be customer-centric? Being customer-centric means that the customer is at the heart of everything you do; before every decision you make, every product or process you design, everything you do, you pause to ask: “How will this impact the customer?” and “How will this make her feel?”

Focus on the employee experience

A natural follow-on from culture is to consider the employee experience. Without employees, you have no customer experience. You must ensure that you listen to employees and improve their experience, as well.

As a matter of fact, you’ve got to put employees first. And you’ve got to ask: “Do they have the tools, resources, and processes they need in order to serve the customer the way the customer deserves or desires?” If you’ve not asked this of them before, you’ll be shocked by the answers.

Engage employees

Your ongoing customer experience transformation work will not be successful if you have not properly engaged employees in it.

First and foremost, they must understand what it is, what it means, why it’s happening, how they can be involved, and more. Involve them; train them; teach them what they need to know about your customers, the customer experience, customer expectations about the experience, and their impact on the experience.

Review and refresh your Voice of the Customer (VoC) program

As all of the changes noted earlier happen, the surveys must also evolve to capture feedback about all of the new things going on in your business or industry.

Also, data collection methods have changed. Respondent preferences for completing surveys and when and where to provide feedback have changed. The Voice of the Customer (VoC) has changed and includes more than just surveys.

There are a lot of things that change over time; but if your approach to your VoC program—not just the way you capture feedback but also the way you distribute, analyze, act on it, and communicate improvements—has remained stagnant, you’re not only wasting money, you’re doing your customers and your business a huge disservice.

Don’t just ask, listen

I alluded to this in the previous paragraph, but today VoC isn’t just about the surveys you put out there for your customers, asking them about the things you want to know; make sure that you’re giving them plenty of options to provide feedback about the things that they think you should know!

VoC is also about listening to your customers, wherever they want to provide feedback. Be sure to include online reviews, social media, Voice of the Customer through the Employee or through customer service interactions, and other listening posts in your VoC program data feeds.

And, finally, customers leave crumbs of data with every interaction and transaction with your company; use that data to better understand your customers, as well. (And, it goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: and use it to improve the experience!)

Do not game the system

This is definitely something that should go without saying, but I’m going to say it anyway, too. Do not offer incentives for completing the survey. The best incentive for providing feedback is to do something with the feedback you get—and let customers know what you did with it!

Don’t offer cheesy incentives that put your employees in an awkward position to say, “Here’s a free candy bar. If you don’t rate me a 10 out of 10, I’ll get fired.”

That shows you don’t care about the customer or the employee. And don’t cherry-pick respondents, which often happens in B2B situations. That’s not the way to improve the score, either. It’s not a quick fix. You have to do the work.

Go beyond basic analytics

Once you’ve got that feedback, you must analyze it. Take a look at your analysis toolbox and go beyond simple descriptive analytics and quadrant charts; use predictive and prescriptive analytics in order to identify the next best action to take to ensure the customer achieves her desired outcome, how much effort to put forth, and what the impact is on the customer and the business.

Focus on the partner experience

Partners, vendors, or third parties could be partially responsible for delivering the customer experience.

Have you considered the impact of the vendor experience? Have you gotten feedback from them? Are they properly trained on the experience your customers expect from your brand, regardless of who delivers it?

Take a look at vendors, franchisees, licensees, and other partners who impact satisfaction with your brand.

Map the customer journey

Mapping the customer journey helps you understand the current customer experience, including pain points and high points. It also identifies listening gaps—where you have opportunities to get more data from customers in order to better understand what’s going well and what’s not.

Bring VoC data into your journey maps

Along the same vein, be sure to bring your existing VoC data into your maps. Adding customer feedback brings in additional customer perspectives, takes the map from qualitative to quantitative, allows you to measure and to analyze the experience, and makes the maps more actionable.

In addition, the VoC data helps you identify the key moments of truth—those make or break moments that drive the customer away or keep them coming back. The maps alone cannot identify these moments; the data does that.

Create a service blueprint

You can’t fix what’s happening on the outside if you don’t fix what’s happening on the inside. Any improvements you’ve made to customer-facing or customer-touching parts of the experience must be backed up with changes to the people, tools, systems, and processes that support or facilitate it.

If you don’t do that, then the improvements are purely cosmetic, and the issues will continue to happen. Service blueprints are maps that outline the people, tools, systems, and processes that facilitate the experience that you’ve mapped in your journey maps.

Root cause analysis

Here’s one final concept that is closely related to the service blueprint in that, if you don’t get to the heart of the matter, it will continue to happen. You’ve got to conduct a root cause analysis on any issues or pain points that your customers experience.

Again, if you just make improvements in a tactical or cosmetic way, that’s very temporary. You’ve got to get to the root cause of the issue, fix that, and design a better experience for customers.

Before I wrap this up, just a final thought. It’s not about the score. And the score doesn’t tell you everything. I’ve given you a dozen ideas to implement to improve the customer experience.

The best idea of all is to tie them all together—yes, do them all—to get the biggest bang for your buck. Focus on your employees and your customers and their experiences. The numbers will follow.

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About the guest author

Annette Franz is the founder and chief experience officer of CX Journey Inc.

She’s got 25 years of experience in both helping companies understand their employees and customers and identifying what drives retention, satisfaction, engagement, and the overall experience—so that, together, you can design a better experience for all constituents. She has worked with both B2B and B2C brands in a multitude of industries. Connect with her: | @annettefranz | @cxjourney | LinkedIn | Facebook

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