A Literature Review and Critique on Customer Satisfaction


The concept of customer satisfaction has attracted much attention in recent years. Organizations that try to analyze this concept should begin with an understanding of various customer satisfaction models.

In this paper, the emphasis is on reviewing the main concepts and models of customer satisfaction. Keywords: Customer satisfaction, Definition, Macro-models, Micro-models.

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Both public and private sectors have given much attention to the concept customer satisfaction in the past couple of decades. Naturally, administrators have requested their staff to do customer satisfaction studies for their own organizations. An analyst or researcher must operationalize the concept of customer satisfaction in order to measure it.

More importantly, in order to have validity for any measurements, the analyst needs to assume some model of the subject matter. The analyst must use very explicit conceptualizations of the subject matter (in other words, models) if she/he expects to do research and analysis that has relevance for organizational decisions. This paper is divided into several sections. First, a brief review of main concepts of customer satisfaction is provided. Next, we try to provide the analyst an overview of models of customer satisfaction. Finally, the article concludes with main research findings.

Consumer Satisfaction

Customer satisfaction has been a popular topic in marketing practice and academic research since Cardozo’s (1965) initial study of customer effort, expectations and satisfaction. Despite many attempts to measure and explain customer satisfaction, there still does not appear to be a consensus regarding its definition (Giese and Cote, 2000). Customer satisfaction is typically defined as a post consumption evaluative judgement concerning a specific product or service (Gundersen, Heide and Olsson, 1996). It is the result of an evaluative process that contrasts prepurchase expectations with

perceptions of performance during and after the consumption experience (Oliver, 1980). The most widely accepted conceptualization of the customer satisfaction concept is the expectancy disconfirmation theory (McQuitty, Finn and Wiley, 2000). The theory was developed by Oliver, who proposed that satisfaction level is a result of the difference between expected and perceived performance. Satisfaction (positive disconfirmation) occures when product or service is better than expected. On the other hand, a performance worse than expected results is dissatisfaction (negative disconfirmation).

Studies show that customer satisfaction may have direct and indirect impact on business results. Luo and Homburg (2007) concluded that customer satisfaction positively affects business profitability. The majority of studies have investigated the relationship with customer behaviour patterns (Dimitriades, 2006; Olorunniwo et al. , 2006; Chi and Qu, 2008; Faullant et al. , 2008). According to these findings, customer satisfaction increases customer loyalty, influences repurchase intentions and leads to positive word-of-mouth.

Given the vital role of customer satisfaction, it is not surprising that a variety of research has been devoted to investigating the determinants of satisfaction. Satisfaction can be determined by subjective (e. g. customer needs, emotions) and objective factors (e. g. product and service features). Applying to the hospitality industry, there have been numerous studies that examine attributes that travellers may find 359 important regarding customer satisfaction. Atkinson (1988) found out that cleanliness, security, value for money and courtesy of staff determine customer satisfaction.

Knutson (1988) revealed that room cleanliness and comfort, convenience of location, prompt service, safety and security, and friendliness of employees are important. Barsky and Labagh (1992) stated that employee attitude, location and rooms are likely to influence travellers’ satisfaction. A study conducted by Akan (1995) showed that the main determinants of hotel guest satisfaction are the behaviour of employees, cleanliness and timeliness. Choi and Chu (2001) concluded that staff quality, room qualities and value are the top three hotel factors that determine travellers’ satisfaction.

Customer Satisfaction Models

Traditional Macro-Model of Customer Satisfaction

  1. Perceived performance often differs from objective or technical performance, especially when a product/service is complex, intangible, and when the consumer is unfamiliar with the product/service.
  2. Comparison standards can come from numerous sources that can vary widely by individual, by situation, and by product/service type.
  3. Perceived disconfirmation is the evaluation of perceived performance according to one or more comparison standards. Disconfirmation can have a positive effect (generally implying a satisfying result), a negative effect (generally implying a dissatisfying result), or a zero effect.
  4. Satisfaction feeling is a state of mind, an attitude. The phrase “mixed feelings” applies here, as a consumer may have different levels of satisfaction for different parts of a product/service experience.
  5. Outcomes of satisfaction feelings may involve intent to repurchase, word-of-mouth (the consumer’s communication with her/his network of her/his approval/disapproval for a product/service), and complaints.

Furthermore, it highlights the construct of a “global” level of satisfaction (the overall service satisfaction) in contrast to the construct of a component level of satisfaction (the encounter service satisfaction). This model helps explain survey results that indicate different levels of satisfaction for a service that one individual may experience. The above models are a sample of the many models that give the analyst the context for the meaning and analysis of customer satisfaction. In the next section, we deal with narrower issues in customer satisfaction.

  1. The Expectations Disconfirmation Model has been the dominant model in satisfaction research. The model has consumers using pre-consumption expectations in a comparison with post-consumption experiences of a product/service to form an attitude of satisfaction or dissatisfaction toward the product/service. In this model, expectations originate from beliefs about the level of performance that a product/service will provide. This is the predictive meaning of the expectations concept.
  2. The Perceived Performance Model deviates from the above model in that expectations play a less significant role in satisfaction formation. The model performs especially well in situations where a product/service performs so positively that the consumer’s expectations get discounted in her/his post-consumption reaction to the product/service.
  3. Norms Models resemble the Expectations Disconfirmation Model in that the consumer compares perceived performance with some standard for performance. In this case, however, the standard is not a predictive expectation. Rather than considering what will happen in the consumption experience, the consumer uses what should happen as the comparison standard.
  4. This is the normative meaning of “should” rather than its occasional chronological connotation in the English language. 4. Multiple Process Models characterize the satisfaction formation process as multidimensional. That is, consumers use more than one standard of comparison in forming a (dis)confirmation judgment about an experience with a product/service.
  5. Attribution Models integrate the concept of perceived causality for a product/service performance into the satisfaction process. Consumers use three factors to determine attribution’s effect in satisfaction. These are locus of causality, stability, and controllability. The locus of causality can be external (that is, the service provider gets the credit or blame) or internal (that is, the consumer is responsible for the product/service performance). Stable causes would tend to have more impact in satisfaction because consumers tend to be more forgiving of product/service failures that appear to be rare events. Finally, controllability affects attribution in that a poor outcome in a consumption experience may mean that the consumer will be unsatisfied with the product/service provider if the consumer believes the provider had the capacity, that is, control, to perform in a better fashion.
  6. Affective Models differ from previous models in that it goes beyond rational processes. In these models, emotion, liking, and mood influence (dis)satisfaction feelings following the consumption experience.
  7. Equity Models emphasize the consumer’s attitude about fair treatment in the consumption process. Fair treatment can use the concept of the equity ratio (that is, the amount of her/his return for her/his effort made) or the concept of social comparison (that is, the perceived, relative level of product/service performance that other consumers experience).

Of course, need can be defined in different ways, with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs being just one typology for needs. The standard of excellence refers to technical perfection, that is, some objective, widely recognized criteria. The standard of regret refers basically to the “what might have been” scenario for a consumer. This commonly occurs when a consumer realizes that what she/he got in one encounter could well have been improved if she/he had chosen a different provider. Finally, the nothing standard denotes the situation where consumers form a (dis)satisfaction feeling without cognition.


This paper has covered a vast pool of marketing research in customer satisfaction. The coverage by necessity is partial. We grouped satisfaction models into either a macro level or a micro level to simplify our presentation. Logically speaking, the macro-models subsume the micro-models, and overlap in concepts should occur. Other analysts may well approach the conceptualization of these models in an entirely different manner. An analyst who plans to do a customer satisfaction study could benefit from consulting the insightful works as well as the works previously cited.

The mountain of information that the analyst can review may consume a huge chunk in time and effort, but the benefits of understanding customer satisfaction models may pay commensurate dividends in useful analyses in the future. At the very least, use of the above material will supply a basic footing in any effort to understand customer satisfaction. Acknowledgments: Supported by University of International Business and Economics’ “211 Project” (No. 73200008) and the National Social Science Fund of China (No. 07BJL047).


  1. Akan, P. Dimensions of service quality: a study in Istanbul. Managing Service Quality, 1995:5(6): 39-43.
  2. Atkinson, A. Answering the eternal question: what does the customer want? The Cornell Hotel and Restaurant Administration Quarterly, 1988:29(2): 12-14.
  3. Barsky, J. D. & Labagh, R.. A strategy for customer satisfaction. The Cornell Hotel and Restaurant Administration Quarterly, 1992:35(3): 32-40.
  4. Bitner, M. J. , & Hubbert, A. R. “Encounter Satisfaction Versus Overall Satisfaction Versus Quality. ” In R. T. Rust & R. L. Oliver (eds. ), Service Quality: New Directions in Theory and Practice, 72-94. Thousand Oaks, California: Sage, 1994.
  5. Cardozo, R. N. An experimental study of customer effort, expectation and satisfaction. Journal of Marketing Research, 1965:2: 244-249.
  6. Chi, C. G. -Q. & Qu, H. Examining the structural relationships of destination image, tourist satisfaction and destination loyalty: An integrated approach. Tourism Management, 2008:29: 624-636.
  7. Choi, T. Y. , & Chu, R. Determinants of hotel guests’ satisfaction and repeat patronage in the Hong Kong hotel industry. International Journal of Hospitality Management, 2001:20: 277-297.
  8. Dimitriades, Z. S. Customer satisfaction, loyalty and commitment in service organizations-Some evidence from Greece. Management Research News, 2006:29(12): 782-800. 363
  9. Faullant, R. & Matzler, K. The impact of satisfaction and image on loyalty: the case of Alpineski resorts. Managing Service Quality, 2008:18(2): 163-178.
  10. Giese, J. L. & Cote, J. A. Defining Customer Satisfaction. Academy of Marketing Science Review, 2000. [11]. Gundersen, M. G. , Heide, M. & Olsson, U. H. Hotel Guest satisfaction among Business Travellers: What Are the Important Factors? The Cornell Hotel and Restaurant Administration Quarterly, 1996:37(2): 72-81.
  11. Knutson, B. Frequent travellers: making them happy and bringing them back. The Cornell Hotel and Restaurant Administration Quarterly, 1988:29(1): 83-87.
  12. Luo, X. & Homburg, C. Neglected Outcomes of Customer Satisfaction. Journal of Marketing, 2007:71(2): 133-149.
  13. McQuitty, S. , Finn, A. & Wiley, J. B. Systematically Varying Customer Satisfaction and its Implications for Product Choice. Academy of Marketing Science Review, 2000.
  14. Oliver, R. “Value as Excellence in the Consumption Experience. ” In M. Holbrook (Ed. ), Consumer Value: A Framework for Analysis and Research, 43-62, New York: Routledge, 1999.
  15. Oliver, R. Satisfaction: A Behavioral Perspective on the Consumer. Boston: McGraw-Hill, 1997.
  16. Oliver, R. L. A Cognitive Model of the Antecedents and Consequences of Satisfaction Decisions. Journal of Marketing Research, 1980:17: 460-469.
  17. Olorunniwo, F. & Hsu, Service quality, customer satisfaction and behavioural intentions in the service factory. Journal of Services Marketing, 2006:20(1): 59-72. 364

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