Taking the Customer’s Point-of-View: Engagement or Satisfaction?

Bobby J. Calder, Mathew S. Isaac, and Edward C. Malthouse, 2013, 13-102

Traditionally, marketers have used customer satisfaction as a guiding objective and metric. Increasingly, however, marketers are focusing on customer engagement as a complement or even an alternative to satisfaction, and many large, established companies have made engagement a major objective of their marketing efforts. At the same time, there is little agreement on what engagement is or how to employ it as a marketing metric.

Whereas satisfaction is an integrative, usually post-hoc evaluation of a product or service, engagement is a highly personal and motivational state arising out of consumer experiences with a product or service. It is not yet clear how engagement should be conceptualized and whether it is fundamentally different from satisfaction. That is, will measures of satisfaction and engagement actually reveal different facets of the customer point-of-view that most companies seek to capture?

In this report, Bobby Calder, Mathew Isaac, and Edward Malthouse clarify the concept of engagement and show that it can offer unique insights from satisfaction. Specifically, they suggest that because satisfaction is a summary concept that reflects a product’s overall value, a host of product-related factors such as price and availability are likely to impact one’s satisfaction. These factors are less likely to influence engagement, which arises from experiencing a product in pursuit of a larger personal goal. Engagement reflects the qualitative experience of what consuming the product means for the person.

The authors develop a new model for measuring engagement, consistent with their conceptualization, and demonstrate via two large-scale surveys that engagement and satisfaction are each uniquely and incrementally predictive of different kinds of consumption behaviors.

Managerial implications

In order to evaluate their marketing activities, many companies regularly query their customers following a consumption experience. This research suggests, first, that it is worthwhile to assess both satisfaction and engagement whenever possible, since each construct can provide different insights into the customer’s point-of-view. Second, their study suggests that satisfaction may be the better indicator for consumption metrics that reflect the evaluation of alternatives, such as the intention to repurchase a product. Engagement is likely to be the superior predictor for metrics that reflect the motivation of consumers to consume more, such as consumption frequency, level, and depth of usage.

A recent example from Facebook illustrates: For 2011, Facebook received a relative low satisfaction score (66 out of 100) in an American Customer Satisfaction Index study. Yet in terms of the amount of time consumer spend on social media, Facebook is dominant. The engagement construct provides a possible explanation for those contradictory results: Facebook may be high on engagement, which translates into heavy usage, but low in other factors that affect customer satisfaction, such as unhappiness with Facebook’s privacy policy or negative comparisons relative to alternative social media sites. As a result, Facebook may be vulnerable even though it is highly engaging. Scenarios like this underscore the need to look at engagement as well as satisfaction in order to fully understand the customer’s point-of-view.

Bobby J. Calder is the Charles H. Kellstadt Professor of Marketing and Psychology at the Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University. Mathew S. Isaac is Assistant Professor of Marketing at the Albers School of Business and Economics, Seattle University. Edward C. Malthouse is the Theodore R. and Annie Laurie Sills Professor in the Integrated Marketing Communication Department at the Medill School of Journalism, Media and Integrated Marketing Communication, Northwestern University.

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Related links

Top Paper Makes the Case for Customer Engagement (2015) [Article]

Do Satisfied Customers Always Buy More? The Roles of Satiation and Habituation in Customer Repurchase
Glenn B. Voss, Andrea Godfrey, and Kathleen Seiders (2010) [Report]


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