Quality hierarchy of customer satisfaction

happy lady in car

The ISO standards for Quality Management Systems, the ISO 9001 series, have shifted over time from being very heavily focused on documented procedures to being more process focused and centred on the customer. With the new version; ISO 9001:2015, we see even less reliance on following ‘documented procedures’, and more emphasis on customer satisfaction – giving them what they want, when they want it. To help understand, we have outlined the hierarchy of customer satisfaction.

Most ‘systems’ people, especially those with knowledge of occupation health and safety (AS/NZS 4801 and OHSAS 18001), will be aware of the hierarchy of control. This outlines the order in which controls should be applied, or used to prevent injury or illness:

1. Eliminate
2. Substitute
3. Isolate
4. Engineer
5. Administrate
6. Personal Protective Equipment

But what about quality?

Whilst there are a number of quality hierarchies around, most seem to be viewed from an internal systems standpoint. Let’s look at it from the perspective of the customers. Most customers aren’t that interested in what management systems an organization has in place. They just want a good product and good service – but what do we mean by a good product and/or good service?
Dr. J. M. Juran introduced the term “Fitness for use” back in the 1950’s and we often also hear the term “Fit for purpose”. But these can be seen as given the bare minimum, “that’s all you asked for so that is all we’ve given you!”.

Quality Hierarchy of customer satisfaction

Hierarchy of Customer Satisfaction

We have come up with five levels of customer satisfaction; delight, exceed, meet, tolerate and finally disappoint. In order to be successful, organizations should be aiming for the first two, not the middle one and certainly not the last two.

1. Delight

When the overall experience was significantly better than was expected – good things happened that were not anticipated.

For example:

• You are at a restaurant and at the end of the meal you are offered free dessert and a coffee.
• You get upgraded from economy to business on a plane flight.
• You pick your car up from being serviced and not only have they cleaned it but they also give you two cinema tickets.

2. Exceed

When the goods purchased or the level of service was better than you expected.

For example:

• You purchase something online and the delivery time is quoted as being 10 days and it arrives in 4 days.
• You arrange for a person to do some electrical work in your home, and not only does the person turn up on time but they also clean up all their mess and leave your home tidy.
• You eat in a restaurant and two days later a thank you card arrives inviting you back.

3. Meet

When the level of service is as you have grown to accept, but it’s not good and you
 don’t feel any desire to return.

For example:

• You are in a supermarket and you are paying for your goods. The checkout person does not say please or thank you but the goods are exactly as priced and the correct change is given.
• You take your car for a service, and when you pick it up the outside has been washed and the bill is what you were quoted.
• You buy three items of clothing at a large retail store. When you get them home you notice one has a button missing. You take the item back to the store and they exchange it for another one.

4. Tolerate

When the goods or services are not at the level that you like, but you tolerate it because that is how most places are.

For example:

• You purchase a bag of six apples and when you get home and open the bag you realise that two have large bruises that have to be cut out.
• You turn up for an appointment at a hairdresser at 2pm and are not able to be seen until 2:30pm.
• You buy a pair of lace up shoes and after 2 months you have had to replace both laces because they broke.


When the level of goods or service is below what is reasonable to expect.

For example:

• You purchase some glass beakers online and when they arrive with the packaging intact two of them are broken.
• You take your car for a service. The bill is more expensive than you were quoted. The car is dirty with grease marks on the exterior paint work, and on interior surfaces. You pay the final bill anyway. A week later the car breaks down.
• You go for dinner and order a pizza – the pizza doesn’t arrive for 45 minutes and is not very good. When you complain the staff say it’s been a very busy night and the cook is new.

So what should organizations do?

Firstly, have a think about your organization and how you treat your customers. Do you “delight” them, or do you provide a service that they “tolerate”?

Secondly, when you’re conducting your customer analysis think about incorporating these terms into any feedback you conduct to determine where your organization sits on the hierarchy of customer satisfaction.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

“Well structured content, fantastic presentation by Miguel and loads learnt. The ISO 27001 training is helping me understand my clients’ needs better and make useful recommendations. Moreover, this was so much fun – thanks team!”

“Overall very valuable course. Balance of theory with practical workshops was excellent. Trainers stuck to the timetable very well.”

“To be honest, I wasn’t really looking forward to the training and wasn’t too sure what to expect. It turned out to be quite enjoyable and a really great experience which I put down to the facilitators, Pat and Tom and the group. Both Pat and Tom shared their breadth of knowledge and experiences and were really engaging.”

“Great presentation of the course, engaging facilitators and good use of group work. I found the course to be a great refresher for an audit course I did 10 years ago and now feel more motivated to go audits in a non-bow tie way!”

“Trainers’ knowledge was excellent, their knowledge made the training and learning easy.”