Tuesday, May 03, 2005


cultural differences in customer satisfaction

I read recently an intriguing suggestion that different nationalities express their level of satisfaction in different ways. Specifically, the widely used Likert scale (rate from 1 to 5 or whatever) yields different spreads of results, depending what country one administers the test in. Americans are supposed to be most comfortable giving extreme ratings (a lowly 1 or whopping 5), while more restrained Germans or Japanese tend to give ratings in the middle.

Is it true, I wondered? I thought, Amazon has sites in the US, Germany and Japan, perhaps I could compare product ratings among the countries. I know there exist so-called "Amazon hacks" that could derive such information in a scientific way, but I wanted just a peak, not to create a huge project of this. The trick, I figured, was to find some common item sold in the three markets, and compare the user ratings of them. Books and music were not candidates, since they would reflect too much cultural preference. Electronics seemed sensible, as they are not so culturally influenced. Yet attempts to find models of electronic products that were sold in all three markets became maddeningly frustrating. Seems the electronics manufacturers come up with minor variations in the product names for each market, and I'm not expert enough to know that the German model G345X is the same as the Japanese model G34.

I made a quick check of the iPod mini. It is a bad example, in that it generally elicits favorable opinions, rather than a range of opinions, both favorable and unfavorable. But as a popular product, at least there were a number of Amazon reviews on each of the three sites pertaining to the iPod mini.

My check partially, if tentatively, supported the assertion that Americans are inclined to express extremes on Likert scales. German and Japanese reviewers were fairly uniform in favorable praise, though some Japanese gave the iPod mini a mere 3 stars. Some Americans were happy to slam the iPod with one star only, even though the majority gave 5 star ratings. Amazon's US site has more iPod reviews than do the German and Japanese sites. So the possibility exists that the appearance of negative ratings by US reviewers simply reflect the presence of more reviews.

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