Gap Model Of Customer Satisfaction Oversimplified

GAP Model of Customer Satisfaction Too Simple To Be Useful

The Gap Model Of Customer Satisfaction

At least in theory, customer satisfaction levels are important for their assumed ties to customer retention, profit, and so on, although those relationships are rather complex. Also companies don’t want to spend extra money to serve customers unless it is absolutely necessary.

Over the decades researchers, and customer service pros have tried to map out the relationship of various factors that cause or detract from satisfaction, generating a number of different models.

The Gap model is deceptively simple. On the surface it refers to a simple relationship.

Customer satisfaction drops as the gap between what a customer expects and what the customer receives increases.

If a company can make the gap smaller, than the model suggests that satisfaction will increase.

Simple, right?

Gap Model Seriously Flawed, and Complex

As is the case with most simple models trying to explain complex human behavior, the Gap model is almost useless if companies want to improve customer perceptions. That’s because it is far too generic, and doesn’t account for many human actions.

Flaw 1: No Relation To Customer BEHAVIOR

Notice that the model links two abstractions – customer satisfaction, and expectations. There is no behavioral referent, no observable behaviors by which we can falsify or support the contention. If it was to say that the more satisfied the customer the more likely he is to return (a common sense interpretation), we could test it, at least in theory by looking at customer retention numbers.

Flaw #2: Customer Expectations NOT Defined

If you look at the virtual reams of material written by customer service experts, you find that they almost always equate expectations with “what the customer wants”. However, at other times, those same people appear to use a different definition; that expectations means what the customer PREDICTS will happen for a specific experience.

These are two quite different concepts, both likely relating to customer satisfaction, but the meanings are clearly different, but the term is used without referent.

Further, unless we have a solid idea of what creates customer “expectations” regardless of definition, we hit a roadblock if the goal is to improve service in a company.

Flaw #3: Expectations/Satisfaction Is Situational

The GAPS model, and many customer service experts treat both expectations and satisfaction as relatively fixed — things that customers apply across all their interactions with various companies. In fact, that’s not the case.

Expectations change depending on company, niche, product type, current emotional state of the customer, and many other contextual factors, as do the things that cause satisfaction.

For example, the same person has different criteria for satisfaction and different expectations when going to McDonalds, vs going to a find dining establishment. Not only that but even going to the same find dining establishment several times may result in different expectations, and different criteria. Some times the diner wants to be pampered, and the next time that same diner may feel smothered.

These are all moving targets.


The strength of this model is that it’s simple and easy to understand provided you don’t think about it too much. The downside is that companies will “believe” that this model, and other simple ones, capture how customers function well enough to inform their action.

Of course there are other models, some rather complex, but the more complex, the harder to understand, and harder to implement.

Author: Robert Bacal

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