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Acknowledging the Customer Hierarchy of Needs

Bibi Sofowote, CCXP

Whether or not you know this, there are a few factors that affect your decision-making as you evaluate the prospect of starting or continuing a commercial relationship. These factors evolve the longer you, the customer, and the merchant or provider, maintain that relationship. Your expectations as the customer, while perhaps simple and basic at first, begin to morph into higher and higher requirements that consciously or subconsciously affect whether, how much, and how often you spend with the business.

Let’s talk about it.

You’re no doubt familiar with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, and I’ve mentioned it in at least one previous article. The Customer Hierarchy of Needs is an exercise that transposes the concept of evolving human needs into a business setting, with the customer at its center. This hierarchy not only highlights customers’ fundamental requirements, but also underscores their more nuanced desires. By understanding and intentionally focusing on ascending and meeting this ladder of needs, organizations can foster a deeper connection with their customers, leading to real value and benefit for both parties.

Years ago, a company called Uber burst onto our collective consciousness, promising a new way to get around. Suddenly, here was an app that could summon a car to your doorstep and take you where you needed to go. What a great function! And that’s where we begin: At the base of the pyramid, are Functional Needs. These are the basic utilities that customers expect a service or product to provide. When you request a ride on the app, will a car show up? Will it tell you when the car is close by? Will you get where you’re going? Basic stuff. You say you can do this? Well, do it.

But wait. Does the app work every time I open it? Are there cars around my location whenever I need a ride? Or is the app constantly glitching or crashing, and so it’s a bit of a gamble to not make other arrangements for transportation? Wonderful! Here I am stuck on the Vegas Strip, on a humid August afternoon. My ice cream slowly turning into soup, because I’ve been standing out here for the past 15 minutes, waiting for the Uber that was supposed to pick me up… and the app screen has been replaced by something that looks like Candy Crush. Reliability Needs are next on the pyramid. Once the functional needs are met, for example, you’ve proven that you can send a car to my location and get me to my destination, customers seek reliability. They demand products and services that not only serve their purpose but do so consistently. The reliability of a product or service, like an app that doesn’t crash, builds a foundation of trust between the customer and the business.

Convenience Needs. It is difficult to overstate just how much humans crave convenience. There are very few things we wouldn’t give up if it meant access to greater convenience. At the risk of sounding a little like a dark genie, some historical examples include privacy, morality, better judgment, the climate… I’d better rein it in.

Let’s just say, in a world where time is of the essence, convenience is a prized attribute. Customers value effortless access to products and services, whether through user-friendly interfaces, quick delivery, or pretty much any other feature that helps them make the least amount of effort. So much of modern life is built around reducing inconvenience. Amazon knows that. Netflix knows that. Peloton and Uber know that. Does your business know that?

Next, we’ve got Personalized Needs. Customers seek tailored experiences that resonate with their individual preferences and values. By deploying personalized marketing, product recommendations, and customer service, companies can foster a deeper bond with their customers, making them feel valued and understood. Customers don’t want to have to remind you at every engagement who they are and what their preferences are. My Netflix profile looks nothing like my wife’s. I’m grateful for that... and so is my wife!

Finally, we arrive at the pinnacle with Emotional Needs. Customers yearn for a connection that transcends the transactional, lifeless nature of business. Companies or brands that evoke a positive emotional response - be it through compelling storytelling, ethical practices, or community engagement - not only secure customer loyalty but also help customers fulfill that yearning within most of us, that drives us to wish to be a part of something bigger, something more meaningful. It’s why all your favorite brands are so keen to broadcast their partnership with, or sponsorship of, local teams, social justice initiatives, health and climate advocacy, etc.

Prioritizing the Customer Hierarchy of Needs is an endeavor that requires a combination of analytics, empathy, and innovation. By paying attention to the voice of the customer and adapting to their evolving needs, companies can craft experiences that not only satisfy customers but also leave them spellbound. In a fiercely competitive fast-paced market, mastering the art of fulfilling the multi-layered needs of customers can be the compass guiding businesses toward lasting success and a revered brand legacy.

Each level on this hierarchy is an opportunity for businesses to deepen their understanding, enhance their offerings, and ultimately, build an unbreakable bond with their customers. The Customer Hierarchy of Needs is not just a theoretical framework; it's a roadmap to cultivating relationships built on satisfaction, loyalty, and mutual respect.

Thanks for reading this article. How will you use this information to make your customer experience better today? What have you observed in your environment Reach out. Connect. I’ll be reading and responding. And learning.

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