Editor's note: Terry Grapentine is an independent marketing research consultant. The author thanks Brian Kiley, Christopher Meyer, David Soorholtz and R. Kenneth Teas for helpful comments on earlier drafts of this article.

This article presents an argument for not measuring the concept of customer satisfaction as researchers typically measure it: by using a direct rating scale such as the typical 0-10, very dissatisfied to very satisfied scale. (For purposes of discussion, I refer to that scale as the satisfaction scale.) The article’s fundamental premise is that the satisfaction scale is too ambiguous to be used as a good summary measure of a respondent’s overall affective, i.e., emotional, response of varying intensity to a brand.1 This is because consumers who are identical in their beliefs, needs, wants and evaluation of a brand can give widely different answers to the satisfaction scale, based on their interpretation of the term satisfaction. 2

This article is organized as follows: satisfaction is an ambiguous concept; the marketing literature does not offer a uniform definition of the satisfaction concept; satisfaction can be an emotion; satisfaction can be a cognition; and, how to approach the satisfaction concept in applied research. 3 

An ambiguous concept is one having more than one distinct meaning. In the sentence “We saw her duck” duck could refer to the quacking animal or to the action of lowering one’s head or body. 

Is satisfaction an emotion or cognition? Some respondents interpret satisfaction as an affective (i.e., emotional) response to a brand, others as a cognitive response. A cognitive process is the “mental action or process of acquiring knowledge and understanding through thought, experience and the senses.” 4 For example, some respondents answer the direct satisfaction rating scale with respect to how they feel about a brand (e.g., terrible/delighted, don’t like/like ...