Understanding Customer Delight and Outrage

Reading Time: 30 min 


Already a member?
Not a member?
Sign up today

3 Free Articles per month, $6.95/article thereafter. Free newsletter.


Unlimited digital content, quaterly magazine, free newsletter, entire archive.

Sign me up

Delivering quality to customers in a competitive marketplace dictates the need to continually enhance a customer’s experience and satisfaction. However, evidence indicates that satisfying customers is not enough to retain them because even satisfied customers defect at a high rate in many industries. For example, Xerox found that its “totally satisfied” customers were six times more likely to repurchase Xerox products during the following eighteen months than its “merely satisfied” customers were. “Totally satisfied” ranks only two scale points higher than “merely satisfied,” although it earns six times more loyalty. Apparently, the scales that researchers commonly use to measure satisfaction do not translate linearly into outcomes such as loyalty in terms of purchases. This also suggests that businesses must strive for 100 percent, or total, customer satisfaction and even delight to achieve the kind of loyalty they desire.1

Current studies attribute a higher degree of emotionality to the opposite end of the satisfaction continuum — that is, to dissatisfaction — than was true in the past. For example, Bell and Zemke suggest that customers who have experienced service failures fall into two categories — annoyed and victimized. They define “annoyance” as minor irritation associated with a promise not fully realized; a feeling of “victimization” is characterized by a major feeling of “ire, frustration, and/or pain.” In effect, the feeling of being victimized is a deeper emotion than feeling irritated and might lead to outrage, not dissatisfaction. In the language of recovery, it may be more difficult to recover from feelings of victimization than to recover from irritation or annoyance — unless the latter occurs repeatedly.2

These insights suggest that focusing on customer delight and outrage — emotions more intense than satisfaction or dissatisfaction — may lead to a better understanding of the dynamics of customer emotions and their effect on customer behavior and loyalty. Such behaviors include actively choosing to purchase exclusively from one business and offering word-of-mouth support or unsolicited advocacy of a service business.

In general terms, most customers range from being moderately dissatisfied to moderately satisfied (see Figure 1). We can infer that such a state of moderation means customers are essentially ambivalent in their loyalty to a particular business.

Read the Full Article



1. T.O. Jones and W.E. Sasser, Jr., “Why Satisfied Customers Defect,” Harvard Business Review, volume 73, November–December 1995, pp. 88–99; and

A.S. Dick and K. Basu, “Customer Loyalty: Toward an Integrated Conceptual Framework,” Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, volume 22, Spring 1994, pp. 99–113.

2. C.R. Bell and R.E. Zemke, “Service Breakdown: The Road to Recovery,” Management Review, October 1987, pp. 32–35; and

J.L. Heskett, W.E. Sasser, Jr., and L.A. Schlesinger, The Service Profit Chain: How Leading Companies Link Profit to Loyalty, Satisfaction, and Value (New York: Free Press, 1997).

3. See Jones and Sasser (1995); and

M. Christopher, A. Payne, and D. Ballantyne, RM: Bringing Quality, Customer Service and Marketing Together (Oxford, England: Butterworth-Heinemann, 1991).

4. For a thoughtful review of the customer satisfaction literature, see:

R.L. Oliver, Satisfaction: A Behavioral Perspective on the Consumer (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1997); and

V.A. Zeithaml and M.J. Bitner, Services Marketing (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1996).

5. R.L. Oliver, R.T. Rust, and S. Varki, “Customer Delight: Foundations, Findings, and Managerial Insight,” Journal of Retailing, volume 73, Spring 3, 1997, pp. 311–336.

6. Ibid.; and

V. Liljander and T. Strandvik, “The Nature of Customer Relationships in Services,” in T.A. Swartz, D.E. Bowen, and S.W. Brown, eds., Advances in Services Marketing and Management, volume 4 (Greenwich, Connecticut: JAI Press, 1995), pp. 141–167.

7. See S.S. White and B. Schneider, Climbing the Commitment Ladder: The Impact on Customer Commitment of Disconfirmation of Service Expectations (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Marketing Science Institute report, 1998).

This study used the SERVQUAL five-dimensional model of service quality — namely, reliability, responsiveness, assurance, empathy, and tangibles from:

V. Zeithaml, A. Parasuraman, and L.L. Berry, Delivering Quality Service: Balancing Customer Perceptions and Expectations (New York: Free Press, 1990).

For details about the measurement of expectations, see:

D. Iacobucci, K.A. Grayson, and A.L. Ostrom, “The Calculus of Service Quality and Customer Satisfaction: Theoretical and Empirical Differentiation and Integration,” in T.A. Swartz, D.E. Bowen, and S.W. Brown, eds., Advances in Services Marketing and Management, volume 3 (Greenwich, Connecticut: JAI Press, 1994), pp. 1–67.

8. For application to management, see:

D.M. McGregor, The Human Side of Enterprise (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1960); and for the role of fairness in service, see:

L.L. Berry, On Great Service (New York: Free Press 1995).

The discussion of needs is based on:

B. Schneider and D.E. Bowen, Winning the Service Game (Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 1995).

9. M.J. Lerner, The Belief in a Just World: A Fundamental Delusion (New York: Plenum Press, 1980); and

D. Rousseau, Psychological Contracts (Pacific Oaks, California: Sage, 1996).

10. See Berry (1995), p. 108.

11. Discussion of these three forms of justice can be found in:

D.E. Bowen, S.W. Gilliland, and R. Folger, “HRM and Service Fairness: How Being Fair With Employees Spills Over to Customers,” Organizational Dynamics, volume 27, Winter 1999, pp. 7–23;

K. Seiders and L.L. Berry, “Service Fairness: What It Is and Why It Matters,” Academy of Management Executive, volume 12, May 1998, pp. 8–20; and

L. Bettencourt and S.W. Brown, “Contact Employees: Relationships Among Workplace Fairness, Job Satisfaction, and Prosocial Behaviors, Journal of Retailing, volume 73, Spring 1997, pp. 39–62.

12. See Lerner (1980);

Bowen, Gilliland, and Folger (1999);

Seiders and Berry (1998); and

Bettencourt and Brown (1997).

13. These findings are from:

E.C. Clemmer and B. Schneider, “Fair Service,” in T.A. Swartz, D.E. Bowen, and S.W. Brown, eds.,Advances in Services Marketing and Management, volume 5 (Greenwich, Connecticut: JAI Press, 1996), pp. 109–126.

Additional recent work on fairness can be found in:

Bowen, Gilliland, and Folger (1999);

Seiders and Berry (1998); and

Bettencourt and Brown (1997).

14. C. Gronroos, Service Management and Marketing: Managing the Moments of Truth in Service Competition (Lexington, Massachusetts: Lexington Books, 1990).

15. C.W.L. Hart, J.L. Heskett, and W.E. Sasser, Jr., “The Profitable Art of Service Recovery,” Harvard Business Review, volume 68, July–August 1990, pp. 148–156.

16. R.W. White, “Motivation Reconsidered: The Concept of Competence,” Psychological Review, volume 66, September 1959, pp. 297–333; and

E. Langeard, J.E.G. Bateson, C.L. Lovelock, and P. Eiglier, Services Marketing: New Insights from Consumers and Managers (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Marketing Science Institute, 1981).

17. Ibid.

18. B. Shamir, “Between Service and Servility: Role Conflict in Subordinate Service Roles,” Human Relations, volume 33, October 1980, pp. 741–756.

19. For a complete discussion of the role of goal setting in employee work motivation, see:

E.A. Locke and G.P. Latham, A Theory of Goal Setting and Task Performance (Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1990).

20. J.C. Flanagan, “The Critical Incident Technique,” Psychological Bulletin, volume 51, July 1954, pp. 327–358;

M.J. Bitner, J.D. Nyquist, and B.H. Boom, “The Critical Incident as a Technique for Analyzing the Service Encounter,” in T.M. Bloch, G.D. Upah, and V.A. Zeithaml, eds., Services Marketing in a Changing Environment (Chicago: American Marketing Association, 1985); and

G.P. Latham and K.N. Wexley, Increasing Productivity through Performance Appraisal (Reading, Massachusetts: Addison-Wesley, 1981).

21. J.A. Unruh, Customers Mean Business: Six Steps to Building Relationships That Last (Reading, Massachusetts: Addison-Wesley, 1996).

22. Berry (1995).

23. For examples of relationship marketing in the literature, see:

F.R. Dwyer, P.H. Schurr, and S. Oh, “Developing Buyer-Seller Relationships,” Journal of Marketing, volume 51, April 1987, pp. 11–27; and

M.J. Bitner, “Building Service Relationships: It’s All About Promises,” Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, volume 23, Fall 1995, pp. 246–251.

24. R. Hogan, “Socioanalytic Theory of Personality,” in M.M. Page, ed., 1982 Nebraska Symposium on Motivation: Personality — Current Theory and Research (Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press, 1983), pp. 58–89.

Reprint #:


More Like This

Add a comment

You must to post a comment.

First time here? Sign up for a free account: Comment on articles and get access to many more articles.

Comment (1)
Ken Foster
Great insight via the article - it also makes me questions brand loyalty.  I've been satisfied with Cablevision services for quite some time, never had any problems.  However, they recently had a problem where they could not settle on a deal and the entire area around me lost Fox, UPN9, and a few other channels.  

This one mistake made many of my neighbors switch to Verizion FIOS.  Many people who were satisfied, switched immediately, after one problem.  That's how it feels in today's world - there are so many competitors in every industry that customers can bounce between companies.  I think this somewhat verifies your point that "satisfying customers is not enough to retain them."