Imagine that I am asked to design an organization whose mission is total customer satisfaction. What does it mean to totally satisfy a customer? If I give them exactly what they want right now, is it total? If my business is to sell alcohol and my customer is an alcoholic, what does it mean to satisfy this customer? Does it mean selling them booze? Does it mean doing something different?
If we say “total”, let’s mean it. Let’s go all the way to the max. That is, when a person is on their deathbed, surrounded by their loved ones, they look back and smile peacefully, recognizing that their life, though at an end, was worth it. This is total satisfaction. So maybe the idea here is that for each customer, “total customer satisfaction” means helping customers to move closer toward the sense of a well-lived life at the grand finale? Total customer satisfaction is the 5-star review the customer gives to their life at the end.
This is a preposterous proposition, I might protest. It is impossible to determine whether or not a transaction with a customer takes them closer to life well-lived. Further still, who am I to decide what it means to have such a life? My mind boggles even trying to consider how to quantify something like that. And what can’t be measured, can’t be optimized. How would one build a company that is effective at such definition of total customer satisfaction?
An answer might be hiding in the distinction between Remembering and Experiencing Selves that Daniel Kahneman drew a while back. I am going to make a small leap off his shoulders and propose the concept of the Incrementally Satisfied Remembering Self.
If I posit that, along one’s life, there is a series of anchoring points that Remembering Self uses to evaluate their total life experience and satisfaction thereof. The Incrementally Satisfied Remembering Self considers their life well-lived at every one of those anchoring points. Sure, there are loads of suffering between those anchoring points, but at each anchoring point, it seems like the whole thing was worth it.
With this concept at hand, I could aim to engineer those anchor points, those “magic moment” pins on the timeline of life that holds the “well-lived life” story together. Here, I quickly run into the “magic moment” addiction issues. Everything around satisfaction begins to run on a sliding scale, with every next magic moment begging to be more magical than the previous. The amount of magic needed for Total Customer Satisfaction becomes quite staggering, with the suffering remaining roughly the same.
So I might also be well off helping customers change their relationship with their experiences, so that the Remembering Self’s perspective on life shifts toward satisfaction. With this shift, even the most painful memories of the past are viewed as part of the “life well-lived.” Such change would transform the Incrementally Satisfied Remembering Self into Continuously Satisfied Remembering Self. When a customer reaches this state, they simply live a well-lived life at every moment.
Definitionally, such customers do not need my magic moment engineering efforts. Even when I fail to deliver on my commitments, they see this failure as a beautiful opportunity to connect with me and help me grow, help me find my own path to Continuously Satisfied Remembering Self. I become their customer. For someone who views their life as well-lived at every moment, what else is there to do other than helping everyone do the same?
I am torn being dubious and hopeful that reaching such a state is even a possibility. But I wonder… if I make even a slightest shift in how my customers relate to their experiences toward Continuously Satisfied Remembering Self, how much human suffering have I eliminated? Maybe that’s what total customer satisfaction is really about?