The main customer experience measurement and improvement systems – Part 1 – Smiley Buttons

There are quite a number of customer experience measurement and improvement systems in use around the world. They are not all equal. This post is the first in a series that covers some of the most common ones. Some consulting companies offer proprietary systems, and I will cover their main measurement principle. There are wide variations in approach for these proprietary systems, but all have one common feature.

The systems I will cover in the series are:

  • Smiley buttons
  • Customer Satisfaction / CSAT
  • Customer Effort Score
  • Net Promoter System
  • Wallet Allocation Rule
  • Consultant-provided proprietary systems
  • Journey Mapping

Smiley Buttons

Smiley buttons are gaining popularity in consumer businesses and have only marginal potential in B2B situations. HappyOrNot and Agoraopinion are examples of companies who provide low-tech solutions in this area. Changi airport in Singapore has a more high-tech version. The general principle is that you tap on one of three or four emoticons to show how happy you were with an experience you just had. The first time I ran across it was in Heathrow airport, just after the immigration counters. They also have them just after security as you leave. If you are just looking for a number to track, this seems like a simple way. The challenge with the low-tech approach is that you have no idea why people are pushing a particular button so cannot use the input to drive improvements. The weirdest place I have seen such buttons was at the passport control desks in Beijing airport. Theoretically, you are supposed to push a button while the immigration officer is looking at your passport. Really? Can he/she see you push the red button and what are the consequences? You can see a typical button layout in the image at the top of this article.

In my local Media Markt

The HappyOrNot buttons have been installed in my local Media Markt electrical goods and media store in Geneva. They have been positioned just behind the checkout desk, facing the cashier. “Please rate our service today,” The first time the buttons were there, my wife and I had had difficulty being served when buying an electric kettle. Were the buttons there for us to rate the service in the whole store, or just the check-out, which was efficient? The lady at the checkout desk did not know what was being done with the feedback. Once again, there was no way of indicating what we were happy or unhappy about, so no conceivable action could be taken by Media Markt.

Extracting value without providing any

I was in our Cambridge UK office one day when a US visitor arrived. She was only too pleased to tell me she had seen the smiley buttons just after immigration at Heathrow. I asked her whether there was any indication anywhere of the number of people who pushed each button, what they had learned, or what they were doing with the feedback. The buttons have been there more than four years now. As in all other situations where I have seen the smiley buttons, there was no feedback loop. They seem to be extracting value by having you push buttons, but are not providing any value back. There are plenty of people and companies who are not actually serious about improvements and just want a number. This seems like an excellent way to do just that.

Lest the above be perceived as excessively negative, note that HappyOrNot list some major companies as clients, including McDonalds, Microsoft, Lego, eBay and American Express. The references on their site indicate some happy clients.

Emerging high-tech solution

When I last went through Singapore’s Changi airport, I came across a somewhat better smiley system in the rest rooms and elsewhere. A touchscreen asks you to “Please rate our toilet” and gives five choices. If you choose Poor or Very Poor, you are taken to a second screen asking why and giving a choice among eight reasons, including the smell or lack of toilet paper. My Swiss half was worried about touching a touch screen that may just have been touched by someone who had not washed their hands, though the screen was marked “This screen is sanitized regularly.” There did not seem to be any way to explain positive feedback, and there was no explanation about improvements that had been made from past feedback. A similar system using screens and software from Dr. Voxx is in Brisbane airport, or at least was a year ago.

Relevance to B2B

There are very few B2B situations where you could ask your customer to push a physical button. The system could be used by government administrators that require you to go to their service counters to register your company or for other simple transactions. While you could clearly use smileys as your scoring interface for a web-based survey, this crosses the line into more conventional measurement systems. There is no real difference between asking a customer on your website to give you a score on a rating scale or on a smiley scale.


I can see the low-tech method as useful in a single situation, and this is A/B testing, where you are interested in finding out which of two things a customer prefers, and don’t care why. For situations that require deeper insights, the low-tech system provides no way of finding out why customers provide specific feedback, and therefore has no conceivable use as an improvement system. If you only want to measure a score, but use other data sources to act on that score, it may fit your needs. The high-tech screens are an improvement and show promise.

As always, I have opinions, usually based on fact. That does not make me correct. Please feel free to comment below. And this article is a slightly edited chapter of one of our four books, in this case Customer Experience – Design & Implementation. Our fourth book So Happy Here came out today in Amazon Kindle version, and two print versions should be out later in the week. It is a heavily-annotated book of my brother’s business cartoons. Most have appeared in our first three books, in my blog posts or Tweets. This and all of our books make great end of year presents for your colleagues and teams.

Next time: Customer Satisfaction / CSAT