Sunday, November 7, 2010

A Customer Needs Model

This post is provided courtesy of Chuck Sander, president of Underdog Consultants, specialists in Six Sigma implementation at industrial companies. Underdog's website is

Several years ago I attended the Worldwide Lessons in Leadership (Wyncom, Inc. simulcast. My main reason for attending was to listen to one of my favorite motivational speakers, Stephen Covey.

Covey spoke about the leader’s need to “feed” the core elements of human nature: the Mind, Heart, Body, and Spirit. These are also the four basic human survival requirements. Covey maintains that the role of leadership is to ensure that these survival needs are satisfied. The leader must develop the Vision (Mind), Passion (Heart), and Alignment (Body) for the organization. These three items are then centered by the group's Conscience (Spirit). The Conscience is the compass needle that keeps everything on track. With today’s pace of change, a leader cannot tell his employees how to respond to every new situation. They must have the internal core principles to guide them (the Conscience).

I liked this leadership model so much that I wanted to take a moment to see if I could extend it to customers. Let’s call it a type of customer leadership model for the moment.

Today, unprecedented numbers of people have the freedom of choice. Through competition, technology and information, your customers have real choices. Like Covey, I maintain that your customers will base their behavior on the drive to satisfy these four basic human needs. It is your job as a supplier to fulfill these needs since an unmet need provides an opening for your competition. Let’s start again with the four basic human needs as Covey describes them: the Mind, Heart, Body, and Spirit.

The Mind represents the requirements or problems your customers are experiencing. Your ability to satisfy these requirements completes the customer’s need for alignment (Body). The degree of satisfaction your customer’s have with your products addresses their need for loyalty (Heart). All of these factors impact the customer’s inner compass (Spirit) or freedom of choice. I’ll call these the Customer (Survival) Needs: Customer Requirements (Mind), Performance (Body), Satisfaction (Heart), and Freedom of Choice (Spirit).

Covey believes that ignoring any of the four basic employee needs will be disastrous for a leader. If trust is not developed, employees begin to act in their own interest. They try to survive. Likewise for the customer. Ignore any of the components of the Customer Needs profile and the organization creates an unfulfilled customer. The customer will seek to fill this void, and may look to your competition to do so.

But how does you know if this is happening and how do you prevent it from happening?

Knowledge is power. Six Sigma provides the means of knowing when a customer’s needs are unmet and also helps determine how to correct this situation. Six Sigma focuses on three things: Customer, Process, and Performance. This focus aligns with the Customer Needs model extremely well.

The table below summarizes how Covey’s Leadership Model maps to the Customer Needs model and the Six Sigma methodology.


Customer Needs

Six Sigma Methodology


Customer Requirements

Voice of the Customer



Process Indicator



Process Sigma


Freedom of Choice

High-level indicators (market share, retention, etc.)

Through the application of the Voice of the Customer you develop an understanding of the Customer Requirements (Mind). Application of customer focused In-Process Indicators (Body) and calculations of Process Sigmas (Heart) determine the performance against both the customer requirements and estimates of customer satisfaction. This can be used to determine how and why a customer expresses their Freedom of Choice (Spirit).

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