AM Online

Jim Saker: Let’s ditch CSI scores and measure staff satisfaction instead

It started about 15 years ago, when virtually every car manufacturer training programme suddenly started to show what was affectionately known as the ‘fish’ video.

The video featured the now famous Pike Place Fish Market in Seattle. The film told the story of how this small fish stall had transformed its performance and reputation by throwing fish around.

Jim Saker

Professor Jim Saker is
director of the Centre for
Automotive Management
at Loughborough
University’s Business
School and an
AM Awards judge.
He has been involved
in the automotive
industry for more
than 20 years.

To a cynic such as myself, on first viewing I must confess I thought it was massively self-indulgent and over-hyped. However, having paid two visits to the fish stall, I have been won over – not necessarily by their retailing skills, but by the orientation that their fish-throwing process causes in the interaction between staff and customers.

Their four principles about customer service do not deal directly on the customer. Instead, they concentrate on the attitude and approach of the staff.

  •  The first principle is about ‘play’ – basically, staff should enjoy themselves.
  •  The second is about staff choosing their attitude at the start of the day.
  •  The third principle is encouraging staff to make the customer’s day by doing something memorable.
  •  Finally, the aim is to ‘be present’ for the customer, implying that the staff should be fully engaged in any
  • interaction with customers as opposed to simply treating it like a process.

Essentially, the basis of their philosophy is that by having a happy and satisfied staff, you are more likely to have happy and satisfied customers. Over the years, the fame of the fish stall has grown to such an extent that they now run seminars and workshops for corporate organisations.


How do employees influence customer satisfaction?

The influence of employee satisfaction on customer satisfaction has received considerable attention in both academic marketing literature and in practice.

It has been argued that the behaviour of employees plays an important role in shaping customer perception of business interactions. The theory is that satisfied employees are likely to be more friendly, enthusiastic, attentive and empathetic toward customers than ones who are dissatisfied. This satisfaction could be down to remuneration, job status or simply boredom.

The concept of ‘partner effects’ recognises that a person can be verbally and non-verbally influenced by the characteristics of a counterpart, in this case the interaction of the staff member and the customer. Additionally, the ‘contagion effect’ explains how satisfied employees influence others around them to feel good.

It has been proven that employee job satisfaction is positively related to customers’ perceptions of the service they are receiving.

Also in the academic literature, there is the notion that employees who have higher levels of job satisfaction also believe they are able to deliver better levels of service than those who are less motivated. Happy or satisfied employees are expected to be more inclined to share these positive emotions with customers. There have been a number of studies around the world to suggest it is almost a universal truth that satisfied employees are more likely to produce behaviours that lead to satisfied customers.

One additional aspect of this came in a study that we conducted into car salespeople, their personality, job satisfaction and the way they went about doing their work. An interesting issue arose around the concept of ‘organisational citizenship behaviour.’ This a person’s voluntary commitment to an organisation that goes beyond their contractual tasks.

To put it bluntly, how far is an employee prepared to go beyond what would be expected of them in their normal job role? Would the employee act in the best interests of the organisation at the expense of their own benefit?


Is it time we measured employee satisfaction instead?

Positive organisational citizenship behaviour has been shown to have a major impact on organisational effectiveness. These types of behaviour are discretionary and are born out of a positive attitude to the organisation in which the person works.

So where we should invest our management time? We talk about raising customer satisfaction as if it were an independent variable. Customer satisfaction is driven by the behaviours and performance of the staff that customers encounter as part of their interaction with the organisation.

If those staff are satisfied, the customer is more likely to receive a level of service they are happy with. The question is whether we should scrap customer satisfaction surveys and concentrate on keeping our staff satisfied instead.

You may even end up with a group of people that will go the ‘extra mile’ for the benefit of the organisation purely on their own initiative.

If you are not a registered user your comment will go to AM for approval before publishing. To avoid this requirement please register or login.

Login to comment


  • Darren Williams (Elements PRMC Ltd) - 01/06/2016 09:35

    We used this philosophy, to good effect, at my old Grants SEAT business and to be honest you either get it, or you don't and for me that defined (in large part) whether you were a cultural fit or not - It works #BePresent

  • Paul - 01/06/2016 11:23

    I remember watching the video in the late 90's whilst working for Audi JCT600 in Wakefield, unfortunately the management at the time didn't really get the idea of 'happy staff'.

  • JR - 01/06/2016 13:11

    Customer satisfaction scores are the scurge of not just the Automotive world but every business. I have seen and heard many car dealerships nearly in tears and unhinged along with the comment of "what can we give the customer for free to make them completely satisfied" after thier customer has complained, mostly about something trivial. This form of the customer givng feedback is now so easy to manipulate from customer and dealership that it is not worth the survey being sent out. Everyone needs to wake up and smell the coffee about CSI scoring and concentrate on what Jim Saker is saying. "Happy staff make happy customers" This simple change would make a whole lot of peoples lives who work in the Automotive sector, happier and more productive, whilst genuinely wanting to help/advise customers with the maintenance and repairs to their vehicles instead of trying to win Brownie points with the customer so they get a survey back "COMPLETELY SATISFIED" and either recieve/lose their monthly bonus.

  • JasonKenny - 04/06/2016 09:51

    We tried all the 'tricks' to get good returns, free chocolates, draws for free iPads, managers calling the customer the day after, managers meeting the customer on handover to make sure the customer was happy...none of it worked. So we changed our people. We brought the right staff in who wanted to give the customer a great experience, they hadn't sold cars before but just by doing the job right we sold more cars and are now getting awesome returns. There is no sibstitute for simply doing the job right.