This Satisfied Customer Could Ruin Your Business

What if I told you that a satisfied customer could ruin your business? Most people think satisfied customers are happy and will come back. At least, it appears that way.  

Many years ago, I used to begin my customer service keynote speeches with a question:  

By a show of hands, how many of you believe it’s important to satisfy your customers?  

As you might imagine, just about everyone raised their hand. Then, I shared the findings from a study by Vanderbilt University professors Anthony J. Zohorik and Roland T. Rust. They found that up to 40% of satisfied customers don’t come back – even though they are satisfied! And the reason is that they are just satisfied. The experience was average – not bad, but not great either. 

In the competitive world we are in, this makes sense. So many companies and brands are trying to win customers over by delivering a better service experience. It makes sense that “average” or “satisfactory” doesn’t cut it. 

In my recent customer service and CX research (sponsored by RingCentral), I included a question that would give us an updated number for this concept. We asked:  

If you were to rate a customer experience on a scale of 1 to 5 – where 1 is bad, 2 is fair, 3 is average or satisfactory, 4 is good, and 5 is excellent – how likely are you to return to this company or brand if you rated them a 3? 

There were five possible answers: Never, Not Likely, Not Sure, Likely, and Very Likely. 

The survey results are worth paying close attention to. In 2024, almost one in four American consumers (23%) will not likely or never return if the experience is just satisfactory

If you search synonyms for satisfactory, you’ll find words like acceptable, adequate, bearable, and more. By today’s standards, satisfactory is mediocre. And most customers won’t put up with a mediocre experience.  

I’ve said this many times before. Our customers are smarter than ever when it comes to customer service and experience. They have learned from the best. Companies like Amazon, Chick-fil-A, Apple, and other customer experience luminaries promise great service, deliver on their promises, and set the bar higher for others.  

You don’t have to be an Amazon or an Apple to deliver amazing service. But you do have to meet expectations. If you do that consistently, customers will positively describe their experience with you. They will say your people are always helpful, friendly and knowledgeable. None of that is over the top, but when you put the word always in front of those words, you’re operating at a level beyond average or satisfactory. That’s a big part of what gets your customers to say, “I’ll be back!” 

(To get the full research report, visit 

Related: “No” Is the Easy Answer