The Customer Satisfaction Pyramid

Sept. 1, 2011
If I’m doing something wrong that may cause me to lose business, I want to know about it. I believe the merchants that I do business with want to know about it too, provided they’re good business people.

Editor's Note: This article is based on Frank Besednjak's presentation at HVAC Comfortech 2010 conference. Please check out for a run down of the 2011 program in Indianapolis and register online today.

Have you ever had a problem in a restaurant, and later when asked how everything went, you say, fine? You do this because it's not worth the hassle to say anything. On the way home, you ponder whether you'll ever go back to that restaurant again. The staff at the restaurant is oblivious to your dissatisfaction and probably believes they did a good job. Unfortunately for my wife, when I go to a restaurant and things don't go well, I'm the guy who writes a list of everything that went wrong. While my wife waits in the car, I go through the list with a manager before I leave. I especially do this with businesses that I like. Why? Because I want them to do well so they stay in business and our relationship may continue.

If I'm doing something wrong that may cause me to lose business, I want to know about it. I believe the merchants that I do business with want to know about it too, provided they're good business people.

Understanding overall customer satisfaction is a bit more complicated than saying that there are no complaints or having an A+ rating by the Better Business Bureau. Did you know that for every customer who called and complained about a service, there are 26 more who will say nothing? (That was revealed in a study performed by the University of North Dakota) The customer just disappears and is never heard from again.

During my marketing and leadership workshops, I use Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs as a point of discussion on what causes people to work harder or buy things. Herman Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs claims that your decisions and motivations in life are primarily driven and dependent on the level of needs you have already completed or are striving for. Your decisions and actions are driven to attain the next level and you should want to achieve more and go beyond what you're currently experiencing. Based on his theory, you can not move up in the pyramid of needs until your essential needs are met. I took Mr. Maslow's concept and applied to what I believe is the "Customer Satisfaction Pyramid".

Level One: The Basics
As illustrated in the "Customer Satisfaction Pyramid," the lowest level of satisfaction is trust, reliability, and value. These are the key elements to why someone makes a selection as to whom to do business with. This is meeting the minimum requirement, showing up, and doing what the customer paid you to do. If you were to perform at this level alone, you would probably have satisfied customers, but rarely would anyone rave or brag about what a great company you are. In fact, they'll probably forget your company name within a day or two because the experience was nothing special.

I remember having an online debate with a group of HVAC service professionals who were arguing about what's more important: technical skills or interpersonal skills. If you look at the Customer Satisfaction Pyramid you won't see the word technical anywhere. The technical part of the job is the most basic minimum requirement. It goes along with trust, reliability and value. You're paid because you have certain technical skills, and for these skills you provided a valuable service at a fair price. It's like going to a restaurant and asking what's more important, the food or the service? Well you have to at least get food. You wouldn't hang around waiting to see how they handled everything else if they didn't have food to give you. No matter how nice the place is or how friendly the staff is, you go there to get food. If that main objective isn't met, you leave dissatisfied.

Level Two:Courtesy Counts
Level two includes the words timeliness, knowledgeable, and responsible. This includes showing up when promised, returning phone calls, giving solid intelligent choices and recommendations, and taking responsibility should something go awry. I decided to check out some of the complaints on Google regarding contractors and saw a reoccurring theme:

  • "They never called to tell me he was running late"
  • "I waited over four hours - no call and no show"
  • "He never returned my phone calls"
  • "He was not only late, I was charged overtime."

Another area not typically discussed, is confidence and consistency. Anyone who has contact with a customer should have a script. Don't be afraid to practice, rehearse and role-play, to make sure the intended message is communicated with confidence and consistency.

If you show up during the time promised, return phone calls, and communicate often, you're way ahead of the competition.

Level Three: Emotion
Want a customer for life? Connect to the customer emotionally. Level three consists of the words caring, concerned and helpful. These are not just words, but emotions. This is when your customer sincerely believes, based on your words and actions that you do indeed care. Ask questions, give the customer choices, explain what you're doing, clean up after yourself, and don't smell like you just changed out an engine in a hot attic, or slept in an ashtray. Make intelligent recommendations based on the needs of the customer, not yours. Little things like backing away from the door when the customer opens it, wearing a uniform and name tag, driving a professional, clean, well maintained vehicle with signage, being sincere and asking questions regarding allergies or IAQ, and discussing energy saving options openly and honestly.

At the Top: A Customer for Life
Let's take a look at the top of the pyramid. Fun, friendly, enjoyable and entertaining. This doesn't mean you bring in a group of entertainers that stay with the customer while you work. What I'm talking about is something so rare and unusual that the customer is so overwhelmed they can't wait to tell someone about the great experience they had. Whether you're a plumber, electrician, or HVAC service professional, your services, communication, appearance and interaction isn't just compared to others in your field, but to every interactive experience that person has in their lifetime. I know of one contractor who will bring helium filled balloons and comic books whenever there are children in the home. The lady of the house just thinks it's the greatest thing that he cares about her children. He just created a customer for life by making that experience fun and enjoyable.

During a recent trip, my wife and I were getting ready to go out to a show while we had the television on with no volume. My wife pointed to the television and said, "That's the plumbing company that I would hire." The commercial showed a clean-cut, smiling, uniformed man, putting on shoe covers. I asked her why he caught her attention. She replied "he looks professional, very happy, friendly, courteous, confident and clean. I can also tell he cares about keeping the home clean." This was her conclusion, based on what she saw during the ten to fifteen seconds that we happened to watch the commercial. During those seconds, a conclusion about the professionalism and perceived experience were made simply on that first impression.

First impressions mean everything. Your customers will compare your interaction with every interaction they've had. Whether it's with someone in their doctor's office, someone who they met at the store, the teller at the bank, and so on. Don't focus on just meeting their basic needs, focus on being the best by overwhelming them with an unbelievably, enjoyable experience. You may see hundreds of people every year, but the customer may only see one or maybe two service professionals all year. It may be a routine service visit to you, but it’s not routine to the customer. Make it a once in a lifetime experience by taking them to the top of the pyramid of service.

Keep in mind; the higher up you go on the pyramid, the better the value for the customer. You can charge more if you create a great experience, it's just that simple. People don't mind spending money provided they can look back at the overall experience and say, "It was well worth it."

Frank Besednjak is a motivational speaker, consultant and business coach. In the last 16 years Frank has presented workshops to over 12,000 contractors and service professionals and still schedules at least 50 public sessions and 20 private classes per year in various locations around the U.S. Prior to starting his own business 16 years ago, he spent over 20 years successfully managing field service and customer support operations for Sony, RCA and General Electric. He is also founder and president of Customer Care Plus, and Training Source, Inc. He can be reached at 888-538-5383 or [email protected] . Please check out his personal website at