When a retailer does not live up to expectations, customers perceive a gap, leading to Customer Dissatisfaction.

The effects can be dramatic for a company. Companies can lose loyal customers, forcing them to expensively acquire new customers, decreasing profitability. With the knowledge that it is often cheaper to invest in customer satisfaction than to lose a customer over the long term, companies can focus on several initiatives to boost customer satisfaction.

1. Targeting indirect purchasers

One way to combat dissatisfaction is to make indirect buyers happy. Who are indirect purchasers? Children are often the best example. For example, if Burlington Coat Factory were experiencing high customer dissatisfaction among adults 35-50, the company can combat that by making children feel excited when they come to the store. The store can offer candy and merchandise that kids will like (e.g. Dora the Explorer accessories). Children will be excited to come to the store and will drag parents along to appease them. Parents are often happy when their children are happy. By delighting children, the store would better combat dissatisfaction among adults.

2. Self-checkout

Long lines are a major complaint among shoppers, especially in discount stores. One way to combat dissatisfaction is to set up self-checkout machines. Not only can the store decrease its overhead and staff costs, but also it gives shoppers another activity to do. Our research has found that shoppers, particularly women, often go to discount stores for excitement. Giving control to shoppers in checking out and providing a new experience for adventurous shoppers can be a way to increase satisfaction.

3. Online Shopping Experience

One way to have profitable sales without having customer dissatisfaction is having an exciting online shopping experience. Companies can have exciting videos and a robust interface that interacts with customers, instead of just peddling goods.  With lower overhead, companies can limit the problems customers face in-store. They can even go one step beyond and replicate an exciting in-store shopping experience and putting it online.

Zappos does so by:

  • Stocking nearly every article of apparel customers would want
  • An extremely easy-to-use browsing process and return policy
  • A fun-brand name, important to many cost-conscious and disgruntled shoppers


  • Disgruntled shoppers and other receptive segments buy the same products in another channel
  • Brand improvements, as customers receive a better experience online
  • Boosts in profitable sales online

4. Addressing long waiting times with point of purchase activities

Companies can make checkout lines more exciting and engaging. They can go beyond placing magazines and candies to provide meaningful activities. One idea might include having trivia games for children and touch screen activities for adults (e.g. what is my carbon footprint counter). Companies implementing ideas like these not only address dissatisfaction, but also contribute meaningfully to the lives of their customers.

Other companies that want to make a statement with their efficiency can also use these benefit-oriented activities. For example, Wells Fargo posted on its branch banks “5 minutes or 5 dollars” which offered to credit a customer’s account if she/he waited more than 5 minutes. This promotion may help to position the firm as an efficient company offering convenience to busy customers. Not only can the customer feel as though they benefit from fast banking, but they also feel that the bank is generous with what it offers to customers.

One interesting way to address long waiting times is to introduce mirrors around the checkout counter. Studies have found that these mirrors divert attention away from an inefficient sales clerk or another shopper stocking up on cheap merchandise. Why? Because the customers tend to look at themselves in the mirror, thinking about the issues that most concern them.

5. Living up to an established Quality of Service

Customers have an expectation of what service they will receive. Companies that concretely define the level of service quality that they can realistically satisfy can better monitor their customers’ satisfaction.

High end stores can build a reputation for outstanding customer service, by promising to go above and beyond the call of duty for their customers. An example of this is Ritz Carlton Hotel Company. They promise to focus wholeheartedly on the customer, and receive a premium for that promise and their reputation for keeping it. These hotels customize services and communications to make interactions between the brand and customer feel more personal. The company can then promise an unparalleled service quality that its hotel managers can live up to.

6. More customer convenience

Companies can make it easier for customers to reach the firm, see their products, and place orders. For example, Commerce Bank offers longer hours than most other banks.

7. Employee Coaching

Employee training is often considered a fluffy waste of time, and can be difficult to keep up with in an industry notorious for high staff turnover.

Yet customers can often tell a difference between an untrained employee who cares little of the customer and one that provides a level of service consistent with the retailer’s brand. Often, customers encounter situations when they need to deviate from the traditional buying process. For example, a customer might need to buy a huge amount of liquor for a party the next week, and may desire a discount for future purchases throughout the week. A customer may need their Zappos shoes purchased online to be able to be modified by their favorite cobbler. Retailers need employees that are flexible enough to understand why customers are buying their products and to see the “bigger picture” about their customers, in order to provide exceptional service.

Unfortunately, many customers get a representative that cannot see the “big picture” about such a customer. They decline the discount because they asked another inexperienced clerk, instead of a manager who would have approved the discount to build a long term relationship with that customer.

8. Member Benefit programs

Retailers can retain customers by rewarding them for being customers. An express or red-carpet checkout line can be devoted to high-frequency, lucrative customers. This could provide customers with many major reasons to shop at your store instead of a competitor: prestige, convenience and a better customer experience.


Contact us for your next Customer Satisfaction Market Research project.