Customer Satisfaction: Time is Precious


Today, there is a big emphasis on productivity in sales and customer service. Increasingly, customers are given tools to place their own orders, check on their status, and so on. In-person sales calls cost hundreds of dollars (some estimates run over a thousand dollars), so an emphasis on efficiency is understandable. And, as a customer myself, I appreciate being able to initiate orders, check on them, etc. at any time of the day or night. CRM software further strives to improve the efficiency of sales contacts by helping separate customers into priority groups, with the most important getting the most contact.

In this drive for efficiency, though, companies need to be aware of the importance of contact time to the customer relationship. Let’s look at three wildly different groups of “customers” and see how contact time played an important role in their satisfaction.

Convicted Felons. How do you think that felons – convicted felons, that is – would rate the fairness of their legal process? One might expect a rather high level of dissatisfaction (their defense was unsuccessful, after all), with the main variables being objective measures like length of sentence. In fact, as described in Sway by authors Ori and Rom Brafman,when researchers surveyed hundreds of such felons, length of sentence WAS a major predictor of their fairness rating. Short sentences made the legal process more fair, longer sentences less so.

The surprising finding was that nearly as important as the outcome was the time their lawyer spent with them. The felons who had more face time with their lawyer considered the process more fair than other felons with the same outcome. The Brafmans note, “…although the outcome might be exactly the same, when we don’t get to voice our concerns, we perceive the overall fairness of the experience quite differently.”

Venture Capitalists. Despite the sometimes rapacious behavior ascribed to them by entrepreneurs, one would have to admit that Silicon Valley venture capitalists are quite a bit different than the drug dealers and armed robbers in the felon study. It turns out that the VCs and felons have more in common than a desire for fast cash. When surveyed about their investments and relationships with the management teams at those firms, the researchers expected a hard-headed focus on the ROI of each investment. After all, the objective of the activity is to earn a high return on invested capital, and VC firms sink or swim based on their numbers.

Surprisingly, also as recounted in Sway, the researchers found that the amount and timeliness of feedback from the entrepreneurs was a key factor in the level of trust extended by the VCs and their level of support for management strategies. The Brafmans note that the willingness of an entrepreneur to keep investors updated has little to do with the bottom line and could sway the VCs into less than optimum decisions. (I suppose there could be a correlation with how good or bad the situation is at the firm with the willingness to talk to the VCs, making this bias not entirely irrational. Supposedly, the researchers controlled for this in their survey analysis.)

Injured Patients. Malcolm Gladwell describes why some doctors get sued for malpractice and others don’t:

…the overwhelming number of people who suffer an injury due to the negligence of a doctor never file a malpractice suit at all. In other words, patients don’t file lawsuits because they’ve been harmed by shoddy medical care. Patients file lawsuits because they’ve been harmed by shoddy medical care and something else happens to them.

What is that something else? It’s how they were treated, on a personal level, by their doctor. What comes up again and again in malpractice cases is that patients say they were rushed or ignored or treated poorly. [Emphasis added. Read more at USA Today’s excerpt from Blink.]

Think about that – most people who have suffered a potentially devastating injury because of a medical error do NOT sue their doctor if they feel that they were treated fairly and that the doctor was doing his or her best. This belief, in turn, is based on the quantity of time spent and the quality of that interaction.

Implication for Sales and Customer Relations

The takeaway from all this is that important customer relationships need to include listening to the customer. This may mean face time for big customers, perhaps phone time or even web chat for smaller ones. And these contacts can’t be one-way sales pitches – the customer needs to believe his concerns are being heard.

Is this difficult? Often, yes. Is it expensive? Perhaps not. Just about every customer relationship is tested – missed delivery dates, unexpected price increases, or an aggressive competitor… if you want your company to be like the doctor whose patient defends him – even after an injury-causing mistake – you need to have invested the time in cultivating the relationship BEFORE that relationship is put to the test. Time really IS precious.

  1. Brian says

    I’ve learned that customer service is really key when I’m designing web sites.

  2. Shyam Kumar says

    Quality Attention, rather than time, I think is the key here.

    Spending time is often interpreted as meaningless followups and ‘spamming’ the customers or prospects, which would result in dissatisfaction most of the time.

    Attention, on the other hand, coupled with permission marketing, and implemented by way of proactive or reactive responsiveness would lead to customer satisfaction.

    In this case, for VCs it is pre-sales, while for the felons and patients, this would be the post-sales attention. Big Difference.

  3. Roger Dooley says

    Shyam, I agree about the quality part. In the case of the docs who were more likely to get sued, for instance, they may have been interacting with their patients but they weren’t listening.


  4. Chris Sherrod says

    I?ve noticed in Internet Marketing that many professional Internet Marketers are awful at customer service. Some even remove people from their list and ban there IP address from their website so they can?t ever visit again. If they did this with a restaurant they would lose everyone else to after the big ?scene?. Not professional at all.

    I think Internet Marketing is at the end of it?s infancy. In a few years not having good customer service will be paramount to not being in business. Banning people for simply wanting some customer service on a product they bought just isn?t going to fly in the future.

  5. AlliedInput says


    Based on our findings we’ve seen that it’s extremely important for businesses to take the time to focus on establishing a relationship with their customers. Customers are interested in a great deal more than a businesses products and/or services. They are interested in establishing a relationship with their provider. Customers are more than willing to give you with their input provided you are willing to take the time to listen to them and more importantly address any concerns that they may have. One of the main goals of our service is to facilitate a mutual exchange of information between businesses and their clients which yields increased customer satisfaction and loyalty.

  6. avayaglobalconnect says

    The process that is used by organization to determine the satisfaction of customers. Also the process to get feedback on products/services from customers.

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