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In response to customer complaints about cluttered aisles and displays, Walmart removed about 15% of its products from store shelves back in 2009. This allowed managers to remove displays, shorten shelves and otherwise straighten up stores. What do you suppose happened to satisfaction? It went up. What do you suppose happened to sales? They went down. $1.85 billion down.

One of Filene’s researchers, Professor Lerzan Aksoy of Fordham University, co-wrote an MIT Business article with the following finding: “The American Customer Satisfaction Index consistently shows Wal-Mart to have the lowest satisfaction levels of all major grocery retailers in the United States. Yet our research finds that the percentage of its customers who consider it their first-choice grocer is high relative to competitors. And despite it being a low-service category position, this strategy has paid off handsomely for Wal-Mart. It is now the largest grocery retailer in the United States, with groceries contributing 55% of its sales.”

Credit unions are not so different from Walmart when it removed 15% of its inventory. We fixate on service to members and measures such as satisfaction help us benchmark our progress. But the siren song of satisfaction disguises an important truth: Members love their credit union but they often take their business elsewhere.

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