The Subjectivity of 1-10 Scale Ratings: Navigating Nuances in Customer Satisfaction

Customer satisfaction ratings serve as a vital tool for us at Ideba to gauge the success of not just our client’s products and services, but our own work as well. The quintessential 10/10 rating is often the coveted benchmark. However, beneath this seemingly straightforward evaluation lies layers of subjectivity shaped by individual expectations, cultural influences, and self-interpretations.


Common Variation in CSAT Ratings:

The very nature of customer satisfaction can be inherently subjective. Some people will never give a 10/10 simply because they believe perfection is never truly attainable. To add to that, two  people may have an entirely different schema of grading— what one individual perceives as a flawless experience may fall short of another’s expectations. We all have our own personal preferences, prior experiences, and individual thresholds for what constitutes that perfect, 10/10 score. 

Cultural Influences:

An individual’s cultural background may also further complicate the interpretation of 1-10 scale ratings. Different cultures may have varying standards for expressing satisfaction or disappointment  (Cross-Cultural Survey Guidelines). For instance, in Western cultures such as the US, individuals may often exhibit a greater inclination to give top ratings due to “positive politeness“, where one may rate higher to avoid causing offense. 

Additional Biases: 

Various other factors may influence an individual’s response to a CSAT score, adding complexity to our understanding of customer satisfaction metrics. The Recency Effect can occur when a customer’s ratings are disproportionately influenced by their most recent experiences, rather than considering the entirety of their interactions with the business. Central tendency bias can arise from an individual’s inclination to place the majority of their ratings for survey answers in the middle, avoiding extreme choices.

Of course, while the 1-10 scale inherently carries subjectivity, it offers substantial value when managed effectively. Here are a few ways we strive to combat these variables during every step of our research process at Ideba:

Qualitative Feedback:

While numerical ratings offer a quantitative measure, delving into qualitative feedback provides a deeper understanding of customer experiences. Encouraging our clients to share their thoughts and opinions allows us to grasp the specific aspects that contributed to their rating, offering actionable insights for improvement. Oftentimes, the qualitative feedback provided is even more powerful than the x/10 score.  

Clear Communication:

Open and transparent communication during our interviews and case studies are crucial for reducing the likelihood of biased interpretations. Utilizing follow-up dialogue/posing additional questions are helpful for gaining deeper insights when clarification of an individual’s opinions is needed. As a strategic measure, for instance, we may opt to switch our scale to a simpler university-style rating system (A,B,C,D,F) to better resonate with the perspectives of the individuals we are interviewing. This adjustment is just one example of how communication can foster a more robust understanding of our interviewee’s viewpoints.

Customized Surveys:

Tailoring our interviews to include specific questions about different aspects of the customer experience can yield more nuanced feedback. An important step of our research process is creating a comprehensive enough interview guide. This allows for us to pinpoint areas of strength and weakness so that we can better support the overall numerical rating given.

Continuous Improvement:

Biases exist everywhere. Acknowledging the inherent subjectivity of 1-10 scale ratings serves as a driving force for us to limit their impact alongside other confounding variables on our research outcomes. Embracing this understanding enables us to cultivate a ‘continuous improvement mindset’, which allows us to constantly enhance our techniques as a third-party research group.


The subjectivity of 1-10 score ratings underscores the challenge of evaluating customer satisfaction. Though it may sound counterintuitive, we can actually use this complexity to our advantage. Through embracing subjectivity and taking steps to proactively mitigate its effects, we can navigate the nuances of customer feedback more effectively and actually see things more for what they are. This can allow for us to move beyond the numerical score and cultivate a deeper understanding of the diverse perspectives that shape customer satisfaction. 

CJ Andrews — Research Manager