What is a Hierarchy of needs?
A ‘hierarchy of needs’ is a way of describing the relationships between people’s different needs. The ‘basic’ needs are at the bottom, and these must be fulfilled before the needs at the top can be fulfilled.
The original hierarchy of needs was produced by Maslow (1943), and covers the basic needs of human life, with the most fundamental Physiological and Safety needs at the bottom, and the higher needs of Esteem, Love and Self-actualization at the top. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is commonly used to represent the idea that we have basic needs which must be met, and once these have been met we can focus on the next need.
When a person interacts with a company, product or service, their needs take the form of interaction needs. Interaction needs are relative to the reason why the person is interacting with that company or service in the first place. For example, a person’s needs of a telephone service will form the basis of their expectations when interacting with the telephone service provider, and their subsequent assessment of whether or not the service, and the way they interact with it, meets their needs.
I developed the Customer Experience hierarchy of needs to help explain how customer’s needs relate to each other when they interact with a service. It is based on the four component measures which describe any human interaction with a product or service. These are an extension of the measures currently defined in International Standards in usability (which I have also been involved in developing), with ‘Engagement’ adding the extra dimension required to extend this to Customer Experience.
The Customer Experience hierarchy of needs illustrates the needs of the customer when they interact with a product or service:
The Customer Experience hierarchy of needs
More information on each component part follows:
The most basic need of the customer experience is effectiveness – can the customer achieve what they want to achieve? For example, “Can I access my bank statement?” “Can I download the audio file?” “Can I get money from the cashpoint?”
If a service does not meet this most basic of needs, there is no point in worrying about ‘higher’ needs such as satisfaction.
Once we know a need can be met, we turn to efficiency. Efficiency has a time component, and defines the speed with which something can be achieved. This is not to say that the maximum efficiency must be achieved to produce a good customer Experience, just that it needs to be within acceptable thresholds.
There are different thresholds for different environments, for example, a 5 second delay in getting a readout from a car speedometer is a very bad (and dangerous) customer experience, and clearly outside acceptable thresholds, whereas a 5 second delay in a customer agent answering the phone is a very good Customer Experience, and well within acceptable thresholds.
This brings out a very important aspect of the hierarchy of needs overall – there are no set limits for what constitutes achievement of each level. These depend on the customer, the nature of the service they are interacting with, the nature of the channel through whch they are interacting, and the context in which they are doing so.
Once these ‘basics’ have been achieved, there is potential for achieving customer satisfaction.
Whether or not something achieves satisfaction is subjective, and very dependent on the individual concerned and the context of the interaction. Satisfaction cannot be easily quantified like efficiency and effectiveness can, as it operates in degrees, so is more of a challenge to measure accurately.
Each individual has their own parameters for satisfaction, and commercial decisions come into play when deciding whether or not to fulfil these - it is not necessarily good business to try and keep everyone satisfied all of the time. However, it is definitely good business to satisfy the people who you want to be satisfied, when you want them to be, so the trick is in knowing what will achieve this and how to measure it accurately.
Satisfaction operates in the context of the customer’s other interactions – what they have come to expect from interactions with other companies will determine what they expect, and not necessarily within the same industry.
It is surprisingly common for companies to focus on satisfaction, whilst not meeting the basic needs of Efficiency and Effectiveness. For example, there are several web-based application processes which are beautifully designed forms, with fantastic animations on the help text popups, but the underlying process gets stuck in a loop, or a dead end, so that the process cannot be completed. These companies would be better advised to focus their efforts on making the process efficient and effective, before spending lots of money on trying to achieve ‘attractiveness’ or even ‘engagement’.
Many factors affect satisfaction, and how to achieve it, but separating out efficiency and effectiveness allows easier measurement, management, and achievement of customer satisfaction.
And so to the pinnacle – the thing most companies aim for – Engagement.
But why aim for engagement? In itself, engagement has little financial value, however, it has a direct relationship with increased Customer Lifetime Value, which is extremely valuable. Engaged customers spend more. They come back more. They shop more often. They include you in their lifestyle, and the recommend you to their friends.
This is the ‘Apple scenario’ which so many marketers dream of. Any marketer seeking to replicate this success should bear the Customer Experience hierarchy of needs in mind; if Apple’s products didn’t work efficiently and effectively, they would never have built the following they have.
Of course, not all Apple customers are satisfied or engaged, particularly those with support issues, but Apple are successful nonetheless because they have understood the ‘moments of truth’, the parts of the experience which drive engagement above all others, and focussed on delivering what the customers want in those moments of truth. The packaging, the finish of the product, the smooth controls of the interface, and the design of the retail outlets are all based on this approach.
Engagement operates along a scale, with very high levels of engagement producing dedicated brand advocates, ‘fanboys’ and collectors, and low levels of engagement leave people merely satisfied. This assumes, of course, that ‘satisfaction’ has been achieved – and when using this hierarchy it will have been, otherwise consideration of engagement would not be possible. The Customer Experience hierarchy of needs provides a clear framework for breaking down these different customer needs.
Using the Customer Experience hierarchy of needs
The Customer Experience hierarchy of needs can help with several aspects of Customer Experience measurement and management:
(1) It helps visualise Customer needs and simplify them for executive consumption.
(2) It can provide a structure for customer needs definition.
(3) It breaks down Customer Experience measurement into 4 distinct areas, each of which suits different measurement methods.
(4) It can be used to form the basis of a measurement framework.
(5) It helps prioritise Customer Experience improvement projects – the lower levels in the hierarchy should be achieved first before trying to increase satisfaction and engagement.
(6) It provides a framework for the analysis of Customer Experience data – for example, if a satisfaction problem is discovered, effectiveness and efficiency measures should initially be investigated for the explanation.