The Hidden Voice of the Customer

It turns out, it’s not so hidden if you bother to look


Last year, I discovered a very basic hierarchy of needs that I felt could be applied to any “experience” and then subsequently shared the idea with the CX community by writing the article: Introducing the Customer Experience Hierarchy of Needs. I then presented the idea at the 2017 CXPA Insights Exchange as part of a number of Show and Tell presentations.

Here is the hierarchy for reference:

The CX Hierarchy of Needs

The first level (ASSURED) is especially important, because most businesses don’t really measure or analyze this. To recap, here are some of the key attributes of those who do not make it to this first rung on the ladder:

  • Customer has heard such negative things about the potential experience that they sense danger or negativity.
  • Customer has been through the experience before and associates pain points so large that they discourage future engagement in the experience.
  • Customer observes another individual having such a bad experience they think that could be me and decide they do not want to engage in the experience.

So basically — here is a large group of people your business knows almost nothing about and all of whom could be actual customers.

But it gets worse….

If you make it to the first level and are ASSURED, but do not make it to the level above, known as INFORMED, you are still not completing your experience. The best example, and the one I always give, is when someone walks out of a store because they simply cannot find information that is critical to aiding their purchase.

So in this group of unknowns — those who do not complete an experience and thus are never recorded as customers — , we now have two key segments:

  • Those who are afraid to engage.
  • Those who engage but give up due to lack of information.

And this group of people could be huge and represent massive lost opportunity for your business.


Given that this group represents such huge opportunity, it makes a lot of sense to listen to their WHY. Why do they feel afraid? Why were they not able to get the information they needed?

But how do you survey or interview a Customer that you never had? Well, technically you can’t. But you can, by proxy. Let’s walk through this step-by-step:


Hostages are an interesting type of Customer. They are repeat buyers of your product or service (I don’t like the word ‘Loyal’ here) but they think it sucks.


I am actually in a hostage situation, myself, right now. I’m buying a product because I have no other options at the moment and therefore have no choice. It is too expensive and the business has recently changed some of the terms to be a little ludicrous. I plan to rate it 3 stars when I no longer have to buy it, plus share some gory details online so others know what they might be getting into. However I cannot really (or do no feel comfortable to) tell the business right now. Not, at least, until I am no longer a Hostage and become a Defector.


Once you are no longer tied to a business and their offering, it is much easier to give them feedback. However it can still be awkward. Let me give you two examples:

  • Employees leaving a very toxic company may be scared to lay it all out and name names in the exit interview due to fear of the business sabotaging their future career or providing bad references off the record.
  • People leaving a bad rental situation may be scared to tell the truth in-case they ever need to come back and for the references reason expressed above.

So this leads us to where I believe the solution lays:


All hail Glassdoor!!! This website serves as a way for both Hostages and Detractors to warn potential employees about a bad company. Pretty much everything you need to know is laid out there. When bad businesses try to write fake reviews to counter-balance the truth, it sticks out like a sore thumb.

I also happen to know it works. A business I am familiar with started treating its employees very badly. Soon, its HR department started panicking and reaching out to others in the HR world because nobody would apply for their jobs. When they asked why nobody was applying, they were simply told “read glassdoor.” Of course, reading it makes no difference unless you plan to act.

The same is true for Customers as well as Employees. Yelp provides crowd sourced reviews for businesses. If they did anything that makes someone say they are never coming back, you can bet the review is there. Facebook pages also contain these reviews, as do other sites. To be honest the hidden voice is actually there, in some form, on these review pages and on discussion forums. Here’s an example of one I wrote myself (I never went back to the business in question, despite frequenting the place before):

On the Hierarchy, I am now someone who would be classed as not even making the bottom level of ASSURED. My voice is there for the management to read, but at no point did they ever reach out to me to apologize or ask for further clarification. Other customers will see this and think they obviously don’t care. Once a customer’s unhappy experience makes it to a review board, the damage is done.

Your customers are screaming at you! Can’t you hear them?


Any business wishing to move potential Customers up the hierarchy, and from the status of potential to actual, need only reach out to detractors and read and respond to the reviews and then learn from them. We recently set up a Twitter handle where I work so we can actively engage with unhappy users. A lot of people may take their issues there before giving the business a lashing on a review board or forum.

They key to all of this, as simple as it seems, is that if someone has a problem — be it an employee or a customer — they will typically start making noises before taking their grievances to a review. You have to hear that voice: that in-the-moment, grumbling voice, and take action. Don’t wait for the survey or the online review. Then work to prevent the pain points from happening again.

Listen. Engage. Fix.