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Business - Written by on Friday, February 27, 2009 16:30 - 6 Comments

Naumi Haque
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Customer Service

I’d like to share a graphic that I’ve been using a lot lately in my presentations about Wikinomics approaches to contact centers.  The original source, I’ve learned, is from the book “Peak: How Great Companies Get Their Mojo From Maslow,” by Chip Conley.  However, I originally came across it while looking at some presentations on SlideShare that were posted by the founders of the third-party customer relations portal Get Satisfaction.


I really like this graphic because it highlights why customer interaction strategies are changing from a transactional approach to one where we focus on the broader customer experience.  I think it’s particularly relevant when we think about what is needed to satisfy each level of the pyramid. 

  • Level 1: Companies can meet expectations with current customer service model.  Simply optimizing transactions, having the answers to customer queries, and providing a decent level of service is where the bar is set right now.  Amazingly, many organizations are still struggling to meet these simple customer needs.
  • Level 2: To fulfill desires, companies have to figure out exactly what those desires are.  Usually they are articulated, but buried in call data and interactions with company employees.  Analytic tools and predictive modeling software now exist to help companies make sense of customer data, measure emotional responses, quantify customer wants, and respond accordingly.  It can be complex, but it’s not rocket science.  You’re front line employees probably have a good idea of what the customer is asking for; just ask them.
  • Level 3: To meet unrecognized needs you have to learn more about the customer and develop a certain intuition about what would make them happy.  The only way to do this is to interact with them – build on what you learned from Level 2, engage them in conversations, and take the time to get to know them at an individual level.  Unrecognized needs are often not articulated, so you have to read between the lines to figure out what is missing from the customer experience.

I recently interviewed Lane Becker, President and co-founder of Get Satisfaction.  Becker’s model of “people powered customer service” is part of the new way some of the world’s top companies are rethinking their customer engagement strategies.  Becker likes to say, “customer service is the new marketing,” and uses the analogy of a hotel concierge to articulate the type of forward-leaning approach companies need to take to meet unrecognized needs:

“We really see this as a significant inflection point in the way companies treat customers. More importantly, how customers look at companies.  The concierge analogy is really about creating a team of people whose job it is to lean forward into the world.  So, if you think about the concierge model; what authority does the concierge have in a hotel? Concierges have absolutely no authority whatsoever. Yet, a hotel concierge, for example, not only provides the information customers want and need to know, but also engages in conversation with the customer. By putting conversations at the center of the relationship, the concierge reduces their sphere of control—that is, they do not limit the customer to a set of options for which there are defined solutions—but they increase their sphere of influence.  A good concierge doesn’t operate within silos; rather they cater to customer needs across all operational silos that exist both within and outside the hotel.

It’s their job to get out and engage with their customers in every way that they can; to anticipate the problems that customers have and try and solve them.  You are not just waiting for a customer to ask you about ‘Why did this break and how can I get a new one.’ Now you’re out there and you’re talking to your customers and you’re saying, “Have you tried this?” “Have you tried that?” “Have you ever tried using our products with this other product because that works pretty well?” It’s really a different mindset, one that is much more about leaning forward—I keep using this phrase—leaning forward into your customer base, engaging with them, anticipating what it is they need, finding out what it is that they want, and giving it to them before they even ask. And that’s a very different way about thinking about customer service.”

If you think about the current economic downturn, the Hierarchy of Customer Service becomes even more important.  As companies scale back expenses, the temptation is to operate at the first level of the pyramid where operational efficiencies are easily measurable and cost control is the modus operandi.  This type of “hunkering down” is often easy to justify because the value accrued from extra contact with customers isn’t visible in the contact center – it more often falls to sales, marketing, PR, and product development units.  The misalignment between where value is created and where it’s measured in the enterprise has been a problem for a while, but now customer choice and a more frugal market will punish companies that operate at the bottom of the hierarchy.   As wallets tighten and customers are increasingly discriminating about who they spend their money with, they are likely to seek out companies that are adding value and operating at the top of the pyramid.


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Daniel Steiche
Mar 3, 2009 2:12

The graphic is effective because it distills the essence of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs into a working model for understanding both consumerism and capitalism itself. Working through this model enables needed fluidity to formulate actionable agendas designed to optimally respond to the ultimate determinants of an entity’s security, longevity and impact – the people it serves, and the people it employs to deliver its promise to a diverse, empowered market.

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outsourcing providers Philippines
May 31, 2010 23:06

I like the way that you presented how customer services should be like. It only makes sense that customer satisfaction be at the base, and therefore the biggest concern, because it is through satisfaction that customers become loyal and be ready listeners (and patrons, hopefully) of the product or service that you are offering.

Andy Perkins
Sep 4, 2010 8:21

A key element of the discussion should be how to engage a customer to measure where the company is on the hierarchy. Standard customer satisfaction surveys shed little light on the success and transformation levels.

Instead, it takes deep conversation (as pointed out in the concierge discussion) to get beyond the survival factors. The problem is that most firms employ feedback mechanisms and analytic techniques that keep their focus down on these lower levels and never allow them to lift their eyes to see where they need to go.

Andy Perkins
The Satisfaction Questionnaire Blog

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