Unraveling the Emotional Threads of Customer Satisfaction

Ever had a service interaction that left you genuinely frustrated? In this episode, we sit down with John Sills, a partner at The Foundation, to break down the insights from the Customer Pioneer Report on customer satisfaction in the UK. This isn’t about hype—it’s about the real emotional responses customers have to their experiences.

Join us as we move beyond the usual satisfaction metrics and dive into what customers are truly feeling. John shares his expertise in capturing authentic consumer sentiment and explains why understanding this emotional journey is crucial for the service industry.

We’ll also explore the public’s perception of various brands, highlighting the clear divide between the leaders and the laggards in customer satisfaction. Our discussion includes a look at the NHS’s mixed reputation and the broader narrative of customer service, which goes beyond merely addressing issues to encompass the entire customer experience.

This episode of Customerland is sponsored by

Read the full transcript of this episode below

Mike Giambattista 

John Sills is partner at The Foundation, and John and I’ve had well, we had at least one conversation that we chose to record, uh, which ended up as a podcast several months ago, which I felt like was one of the most, I don’t know energizing and fun conversations I had in a long time, because we tend to see things in very similar ways. But also because John’s a masterful storyteller, and I don’t know if you would agree to that assessment, but it seems like the way you make a point, you almost don’t know that I’m having a point made upon me, but somehow you’re able to deliver that. Anyway, John, it’s really great to see you again and I’m looking forward to this. 

John Sills 

Okay, I’m not sure my wife would agree, I think, I think she would say I’m far too pointed. Uh, the things I’m trying to say. Yeah, I feel a lot of pressure now, but no great to great to be having another conversation. Really enjoyed last time and, yeah, interested to see where we, where we, end up this time, I think well. 

Mike Giambattista 

So, yeah, the last conversation had a start and an end, but I don’t think either one of us really understood where those were at the beginning of the conversation, so it just went. This time, though, we actually have something of a framework, because the foundation has recently come out with a report called the Customer Pioneer Report, which is the state of the nation for UK customers called the Customer Pioneer Report, which is the state of the nation for UK customers. And just to frame that up a little bit and, john, you’ll do a better job explaining this than I will but the foundation is a UK-based and UK-centric operation, but from past conversations, there’s so much of your findings and the way you do business that has direct parallels to the way things run over here in the state, so I feel like there’s always something relevant to be gained here. So, yeah, so there were a handful of stats that, at a very high level, really stood out, and I would love to just make those kind of the starting points for this and just go as we said. 

So, um, excuse me, 63% of us have had a problematic experience with at least one organization. Truly not terribly surprising. Kind of felt like it’d be a higher percentage actually. However, one in four have had a truly enraging experience in the recent past, so I want to find out about that. But also I love the fact that you and your team feel like it’s okay to call out an experience as enraging, which seems like everybody else would be a little bit more diplomatic than that. 

John Sills 

Yeah, I think it was quite deliberate actually. So, funnily enough I’m sure you know about this, mike there’s a great study in the US called the National Rage Survey, which has been running, I think, since 1972. I think it started as a White House study and that’s always fascinated me. I got a chance to think of Scott Portsman, the guy that set that up, and I’ve been chatting to him recently about the spelling. He runs in the us and I thought the language was really powerful. Um, because actually Scott’s point was, you know, this started out as a study in the us about, uh, how many people have problems with organizations every single year, and then he started to notice the correlation between people that were having problems and the amount of people that were really angry, you know, in organizations and actually the reports you start to get of customers being angry with colleagues and that kind of quite unpleasant side to customer experience, and so now he also measures kind of how angry we all were and I guess whilst we you know that’s kind of in parallel to what we’re doing here I think there was that language that really stuck with us and we were really thinking about because so much customer satisfaction data is exactly that it’s called customer satisfaction. 

You know, are you satisfied with the service that you get? And it’s just really bland language, you know, it’s just really bland, really average. You know, is it okay? Are you satisfied? You know, yeah, I’m kind of 70% satisfied. Did we meet neutral? Okay, are you satisfied? You know, yeah, I’m kind of 70 satisfied and did we meet exactly? Did we meet neutral? Is it just about okay, you know, and more than that it’s, did we meet an average of neutral? So you know, organizations, like yeah like, yeah, 80. 

You know if you get 80 customer satisfaction, you’re seen to be like one of the best in in the world. You kind of go is that, is that really that great? Like this. And we just got this sense that this the language we use, the way we record the data it doesn’t capture what I think we all know to be true, which is customer experience feels like it’s going backwards, and people feel like they’re spending hours every day stressed, angry, upset by the service that they’re being given as paying customers, and so even right at that point, we made that decision. Well, we want to try and do this in a different way. We want to do this in a way that captures the emotion that people are really feeling, not just another kind of average satisfied customer experience report. 

Mike Giambattista 

So that was, that was how we ended up with that kind of language there um, which presents its own challenges too, because, um, you know, unless you’re really really passionate on one end of the scale of the other enraged or impassioned uh, it’s really difficult to gauge those kinds of emotions. 

John Sills 

So, um, and maybe that’s another conversation, but you know, difficulty in really gauging that entire spectrum is, um, can be daunting yeah, I think, I think that’s right and, like you said I probably won’t go off on that tangent now because I think we spoke about that last time as well the importance of getting out there with your customers, really immersing with them, to really understand it. But you know, you started talking about the statistics and I think that was one of the things that was really compelling to us. So straight away, one in four people, so kind of 25 of people that we studied, and I should say we studied one and a half thousand people, national representative across the UK, across 44 different categories. You know 25% had had an experience in the recent past that they would say is truly enraging and the fact that we put those words in and people chose to select that as their answer, I think tells a lot, because we are the other end, you know, in fairness, we brilliantly wonderful, you know, with one end of the one end of the spectrum all the way down to truly enraging. 

So there were, there were those, that kind of extremes at both sides and I think this is what gets covered up as I say, this kind of stress and emotion that people feel and that really, that really stood out for us. 

Actually, another stat that probably stood out even more was that one in six so a lower number, one in six rather than one in four but it had an awful experience across more than five areas. So it wasn’t just like there was one particular company or one particular industry that people were having a bad experience in. There were people having regularly awful experiences and bad experiences across a number of categories that were making them feel tired and stressed and upset, and this really matters. This really matters, and Charlie, my business partner, wrote a brilliant line in the report, which is this matters because the quality of our experiences impacts the quality of our lives and if you’re spending all day, every day, being stressed on the phone or not even able to get through, ultimately that is a stressful life that you’re leading, and organizations are surely there to make life better for customers and easier, not to make life harder and more stressful. 

Mike Giambattista 

In theory, yeah, you’d think so. 

John Sills

Yeah, yeah. 

Mike Giambattista

Was there any kind of an identifiable agreement or disagreement with those statistics, with the companies who provide those services? In other words, you know, did you talk to the executives there and see what they thought about their abilities? 

John Sills 

Yeah, so we haven’t spoken. So what we did? We got the customer view. We’ve got a view of the overall industries that are performing better and worse and the companies that are performing better and worse, although we were caveat with that. That, um, you know, that was asking people to tell us what they thought, rather than saying rate this company, rate that company, so, um, slightly less. 

Uh, you know, we may do another report that goes into those in more detail but we did go and speak to a whole load of business leaders as well. 

Now, we didn’t speak to those business leaders, precisely in reaction to what we’d had in the report, but we did go and say to business leaders what do you think, how do you think you’re doing so? 250 business leaders, CEOs, CMOs, people that are in influencing and decision making roles in their organization. And actually this for me was the, the standout statistic from the whole report that only 10% of business leaders felt that their organizations in their industries were giving a consistently great customer experience, and these are the people that run the organizations. So you know and that was really interesting for me, because sometimes there’s this view, this suggestion, that organizations think they’re doing a great job and customers think they’re doing a bad job and they just can’t understand each other. But actually, you know, 90% of the business leaders said, yeah, actually I don’t think we’re great all that often across the whole industry. We should probably do something about this, and I thought that was fascinating. 

Mike Giambattista 

Well, yeah, it might have something to do with how well you guys are at surveying, because I think you know, at least over here, a lot of business leaders and I’ve actually seen the data over on this side that shows that that real genuine disconnect between how customers feel a company is doing versus how the companies themselves feel they’re doing via, you know, vis-a-vis those same customers. But I would suspect that a lot of those answers on the reports that I’ve seen here have a lot more to do with protectionism. You know I’ve got a. You know my quarterly bonus is relying on something good happening here, so how honest can I really be? 

John Sills 

That was it and I think we I think we had an advantage of the 250 business leaders we surveyed. It was completely anonymous. All we asked them for was for the industry overall, but we didn’t make them give us that only if they wanted to. So I think that gives us a more honest answer. You know where you don’t want to kind of drag your own brand down necessarily or say something bad about your own industry. 

So I think it really gives us kind of a more honest answer that we were able to see what people really thought. In a sense, you know, it’s surprising and not surprising. I mean, a lot of the business leaders we work with. The reason they come to us to work with us is because they want to improve. So I think there’s an element of ambition there and people knowing they can always do better, and the question becomes quite interesting from an organizational perspective there. And again we could go off a tangent here. Maybe shouldn’t, but which is why this doesn’t work in organizations, because if the business leaders want it to happen and they know it’s not and the customers know it’s not happening, then what’s the part of organization that’s stopping what the CEO wants to happen from actually then happening? What is that in the middle of the organization that is not allowing the ambition of the leader to be delivered to the customer? 

Mike Giambattista 

I so want to hear the answer to that question, and so does basically everyone else who listens to this podcast. 

John Sills 

Yeah, yeah, yeah. Well, you know I’ve got kind of. We’ve got one very strong view and a second emerging view. I mean, the biggest view is around the way we all see the world. So, seeing the world from the inside out and we would have discussed this before. But you know, as human beings we all see the world from the inside out, closer to our own. You know business, organization, regulator, competitors and it’s that inside out view that stops organizations and people in organizations really appreciating the impact they’re having on life. 

And all of these surveys that come in, they give you all of this great data but it only ever gives you your customers opinions of your business and over, rather than what really matters to them, and it only gives you a small sliver of that. 

So you have all of this kind of data coming in that gets presented on Powerpoint and pdf and it paints, going back to the point at the start, this kind of generally satisfied average picture that actually you’re doing okay and if you’re better than some of your competitors, that masks you into thinking you’re doing really well. I worked with a contact center a few years ago and I uh, they were quite happy with their service and they had an average call waiting time of, I think, six or seven minutes, which was pretty good for the industry standard. And I said to them well, why don’t you turn that into a number of human lives wasted every year? So convert the whole amount of time people have spent on hold with you every single day, every single year, and see how many human lives they have. And they nearly did it. And then they pulled back right at the end yeah, that’s brutal. 

Nobody wants to know that no one wants to know, and this is the. This is the point. In fact, I posted the thing on Linkedin earlier about Jeff Bezos talking about this and this great story. He’s got where he was in a management meeting and one of his teams and manager actually the director of the contact center at the time said you know, all of our calls get answered within a minute, every single one. The data proves it. And Jeff Bezos said well, that’s not quite what I’ve heard. The anecdotes don’t match up with the data. So live there in the meeting. 

They phoned the Amazon contact center and they were on hold for kind of 15 minutes and everyone just sat around waiting and waiting and waiting. And there is this balance between the data that we’ve got and the anecdotes that we get told, and the organizations that struggle to put into action rely on the data more than the anecdotes. Of course, the other big reason is profit and that actually leaders say they want to be really customer-led and say that they want to create great experience, but when the rubber hits the road, when it really comes to it, they only want to do that if they could also make a really fantastic profit margin and therefore compromises get made and what they miss out is we want to be customer led brackets while still making this amount of profit, right, right. And then it starts to limit what they can really do and what their ambitions really are.

Mike Giambattista 

In your report, you called out certain brands that were doing it well and certain brands that weren’t. That’s the other thing I love about our discussions, and the foundation in particular, is that you’re not afraid to do that Very un-American, by the way. You know, everybody over here is very protective over those kinds of things, but you’re not, and I think that’s brilliant. And I also think it’s really instructive because as I was looking through that list the brands that I’m familiar with as a US resident you know not all of them, but still I was nodding in agreement with every one of them that I recognize and I think you’ve found something. You’ve found a way to get people to kind of acknowledge for themselves what their deep truths are as it relates to happiness or dissatisfaction with a company. 

John Sills 

Yeah, I think that’s right. I mean, on the first point, I think we’re quite comfortable sharing the names of the companies because it’s not our opinion, it’s a customer’s opinion. And I think that’s really true for us at the foundation, really dear to us at the foundation, that we’re here to represent what customers are saying and understand what matters to customers. That’s very different, I think, from us right in a case study saying we think this company’s rubbish for XYZ. You know, if our customers, if the customers that we, we speak to, want to tell us that amazon and Netflix and Audi are brilliant and they want to tell us that you know the NHS and the tax service over here or not, then we’re just kind of playing that back. And I think the other thing is for those people in those organizations, firstly, it’s not a surprise and secondly, obviously as a consultancy we’re, we’re offering to help as well. You know, we try in the report, I think towards the end of the report, to talk about how you can improve and what you can do differently. So it’s not a report that’s just negative and saying your rubbish get better. It’s a report that says we know you’re probably trying really hard and we know it’s not easy, and these are some ways that we think we can help. I think the other thing, mike, is by naming the companies. It allows you to see some really interesting correlations. You know, both in terms of the organizations that are doing well and less well so in the uk at the moment. 

Um, you know, it was interesting that so many of the vampires, we called them heroes and vampires, and we called them vampires because they suck your life and suck your time away from you. Um, they, uh, they’re public services. You know public services and we’ve had this big issue depending on what side of the fence you sit, in the past 10 years or so in the UK of a real kind of reduction in funds towards public services. And you see that you know the NHS, tax service, HRMC, local councils, local GP surgeries, doctor surgeries, local water companies, nationalized train companies these were all the companies that were kind of voted most like the vampires. And then on the other side, you know the heroes were more your kind of Amazons, Netflix, the supermarkets, apples, Tescos. You know some of the more kind of hospitality-based ones, but most interestingly, I think, were those that appeared on both, and the NHS was particularly interesting for us here. 

Mike Giambattista

Yeah, let’s talk about that. There’s strong feelings on both sides of that. 

John Sills

Strong feelings on both sides and we think there’s a few reasons for that. I mean, of course it’s a really emotive topic because you’re talking about health and I think the feeling with the NHS, of course, if it’s brilliant, it means so much to you. So you’re going to go up one end of the scale. If you have a health problem and the NHS helps you sort that out brilliantly, then you’re going to say that was a wonderful experience. Equally, if you have a health problem and the NHS gets it wrong, you’re probably going to describe that as enraging. It’s just a more emotive topic than um, I don’t know eating a McDonald’s, for example. However, I think there was some interesting depth behind the NHS story when we looked at some of the comments that customers made. The presumption for a long time within the NHS is if you fix the patient, they’re happy, and if you don’t fix the patient they’re not happy. But all of the evidence we’ve seen suggests that’s not quite true, that the experience of being fixed or not fixed is actually what really drives people, because people understand that sometimes they’re going to have a medical condition that can’t be easily fixed and so maybe they’re not going to be able to be fixed. Maybe you know people like my own mother, who I talk about in my book, who passed away a couple of years ago from a terminal illness. You know she wasn’t able to be fixed but the NHS was still able to do a brilliant job of helping that experience be fantastic and equally, you might be able to be a brilliant job of helping that experience be fantastic and equally you might be able to be fixed. But if the customer experience around that is really bad, that just makes it so much harder and so much worse. And again, I know lots of stories of people in similar situations to my mum who actually had a really rough time going through their illness. The outcome wasn’t going to change but the way they were treated and particularly when the bureaucracy came in and arguments about funding comes in, that starts to really divide. So the NHS is a real dividing point at the moment for a species similar for the UK. 

Similarly, we had Wetherspoons I don’t know if you know them. They’re one of the big pub chains in the UK actually owned by by US private equity. They were also very divisive, which I thought was very interesting as well. You know you either love them because they give you quick service and cheap drinks and they’re everywhere, or you hate them because it’s sticky carpets and not great beer choice and maybe not a great experience. So there were two or three that really sat across both sides of the dividing line, but digging into them, I think it’s really understanding that the experience matters for people, not just about what the outcome is. You can have a great experience with a bad quality of beer, you know, even if it’s not quite hitting your standards in some areas right, um, before we we made this conversation official and hit the record button, we were talking a little bit about a recent trip. 

Mike Giambattista 

you and your family took uh to Lego, Legoland, and, and you had some really interesting things to say about that experience and I I think uh just to spend a few minutes on that brings all of these theoretical ideas into reality, because you were right there. I mean, you’re a professional in this world. You can probably can’t help but evaluate it as you’re in the midst of it. But, um, but let’s talk about what. What was that like? 

John Sills 

what were your impressions of it and why were they so so, whatever they were, yeah, and, and you’re right, you know, again, my wife gets uh fed up of going anywhere with me, really, because I’m immediately uh looking around taking notes seeing what the experience is like. But, yeah, me, my wife and my family, I’ve got two, two young boys. Uh, we took a trip to Billund in Denmark, which is the home of Lego. You know where it was invented all those years ago. It’s a very small town. Most people there work for Lego in the head office or in the factories there. 

Um, and what they’ve got there? They’ve got the first ever Lego land, but they’ve also got this thing called Lego house and I guess, uh, you describe it as like a museum exhibition for Lego. So it’s got kind of five or six different floors, different rooms in it. Every room is basically just full of different types of Lego and encouraging you to play with Lego in different ways. So one way you’ve got to build cars and getting over a ramp and over a bridge, and another one where you’ve got to create a fish and all kinds of things like that. It’s a wonderful immersive experience surrounded by big lego models. 

But what I loved about it and I hadn’t expected was Lego have got this fantastic way at Lego house of bringing together a real, really fantastic digital experience in what is a very analog toy you know the most analog of toys. 

And so when you walk in, uh, you get a wristband and your wristband’s got a little barcode on and you scan yourself in and the first thing you get to is this big red wall and it’s full of little uh models made from a combination of six red bricks, all different combinations of six red bricks. And next to this big red wall there’s a big red screen and you go and scan your wristband and it comes up with your unique combination of six bricks. But it turns out there’s 193 million different ways of connecting six red bricks together. So straight away it flashes up your name, it churns and words and pretends it’s thinking and then it comes up with your combination, john’s combination of your six bricks. And then you get a little printed card with your combination on and then out pops a little bag with six red bricks for you to go make your combination. 

So straight away you’re in and it’s personalized and digital and you own it and they own you and you own it exactly there and my kids thought it was amazing their name, their combination of bricks. Now, as you go around all these different rooms, really subtly in the corners they’ve got just these little screens with a little camera on and at any point you can walk up with whatever you’ve built, scan your badge, and it’ll take a photo of you with your Lego creation, because obviously then you’re going to break it up and throw it back again. So you’re doing that all the way through the day and the staff come over and take photos of you on their phones, scan your badge, etc. You have a couple where your video, your Legos, get animated into videos on a big screen and then at the end of the day, when you get home, you get an email and it says click here to download all your memories, and one click and you’ve got all of the photos of all of the models you’ve made all day. You’ve got all of the photos the staff have taken of you as a family, all of your little videos. You know really fantastic subtle use of digital to bring it to life. 

But my favorite story Michael just got to tell you is there’s quite a um, a famous thing in the middle of Lego house, which is called the mini cafe, and it’s a special Lego cafe and you have to book to go there and when you, when you go in your menu, you get your menu and next to each item of the menu is a different combination of bricks. You have to build your menu out of Lego. So you build your combination of it out of Lego and you put it on a little tray and that tray goes into this little screen at the end of your table and it whirs and thinks and it says right, got it, this is your food. The robots will give it to you in a minute. So you wait a few minutes and then you get this flashing sign. 

Go and see the robots. You walk over to the middle of the cafe and there’s these two big Lego robots there and you see your food coming down in a big Lego box, like big Lego lunchbox. It wears down the conveyor belt, comes to the robot and the robot pushes it to you and, my favorite thing of the whole trip, having done all of this brilliant analog and digital process, the food were down. The robot pushed it to the bloke next to me, who immediately picked it up and dropped the whole thing all over the floor. Uh, so it just shows, you know, robots, one humans, nil, I think you know all this amazing technology. 

There’s a bigger story there but, in fairness, within 10 seconds there were two real humans on site cleaning up, but there was all these things, you know. They’ve taken what’s a really analog product, a really analog experience, and, through a really subtle use of technology, they’ve just brought it to life in these digital ways. They’ve got your memories for the day and it was just a brilliant, brilliant experience I’d recommend to anyone with interest in Lego or, frankly, just great customer experience. 

Mike Giambattista 

I’m trying to think through and list out all of the takeaways from that little story you just told us, and there are way too many, so I’m just going to say thanks, yeah, yeah. So we could and maybe should go on with this, but I’m just going to invite our readers and listeners. There’s a link to this report. It’s fascinating, as you can tell, it’s all story-based, or much of it is anyways. As you can tell, it’s all story-based or much of it is anyways. And if you’re anything like me, that’s how you retain and process and John, being the brilliant storyteller that he is, has done another great job here. So, john, thanks a million. I really love these conversations and please, if you’re listening and this has piqued your interest, and I’m almost sure that it has, because it just does um, get the report and stay tuned, because I hope to be doing more of this with john. 

John Sills 

So, thanks again pleasure, thanks, hasn’t he always enjoyed the conversation. 

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