Many organizations today are striving to increase their customer service or product quality levels. Legions of executives are declaring themselves "customer-focused" or "customer-centric." Yet customer service levels are slipping and many of us are frustrated by attitudes of indifference, navigating technological mazes ("press one to hear that your call is very important to us"), or being bounced around like we’re a major interruption to real work.

Fundamental to delivering high service/quality levels is starting with the customer’s perceptions of value. That outside-in view of weighting what’s most important must then drive the integration of the technical, processes/systems, and people interaction components that combine to create the customer’s overall experience.

Centuries ago the Greek Philosopher, Epictetus, declared, "what concerns me is not the way things are, but rather the way people think things are." Service/quality, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. To the question, "what is high (or low) ‘service/quality,’" the simple answer is "whatever the customer says it is." Defining service/quality means looking to the customers being served. Customer’s perceptions of the value they are receiving must become the common yardstick against which all activities of every operating and support department and team throughout the entire organization are measured.

But most organizations are organized by vertical departments, functions, or disciplines that toss the customer over the wall from one group to the next. Ask an engineer, clinician, or other technical professional what customers value most and they’ll focus on product or service specifications or requirements.

In a restaurant, for example, people in the kitchen or "back of the house" will be focused on food quality. "Front of the house" managers may be focused on getting people seated, order efficiency, delivering food accurately and on time, parking, operating hours, or other convenience factors. And the best servers will be looking for ways to tailor their services to individual customer preferences while relating to each person they serve with higher or lower degrees of warmth, humor, attentiveness, attuned to what that person wants.

Back in my days at The Achieve Group (now AchieveGlobal) we developed The Three Rings of Perceived Value to horizontally integrate all the vertical functions that need to come together to deliver high customer service/quality levels. This model was the beginning point for the system described in my book Firing on All Cylinders: The Service/Quality System for High-Powered Corporate Performance.


We’ve continued to evolve the Three Rings model for cross-functional, integrated customer focus. It’s used for a "systems thinking" approach to improving service/quality levels. That calls for pulling together those directly producing products or serving customers and those serving them.



First Ring
Basic Product or Service

Second Ring

Third Ring
Enhanced Service





Customer Concern

Does the product/service meet my needs/standards/ expectations?

Is the product/service convenient/efficient/easy to access or use?

How do they make me feel?

Key Elements

Technology/Technical expertise

Systems, processes, policies, and structure

Leadership and Culture

Controlled by

Technical specialists


Front line performers

Abilities Needed

Industry/Field/Trade/ Clinical Knowledge or Skills

Intellect and Reasoning (IQ)

Emotional Intelligence (EQ)

Quickie Service/Quality Quiz:

  • What’s your team, department, or organization’s Basic Product? What do your customers or internal partners say it is? Does everyone agree?
  • What core processes/systems cut across your team, department, or organization to provide Second Ring Support? Have you visually mapped them out through the eyes of — or even involving — the customers/internal partners you serve?
  • Do your First Ring technical experts ignore or discount "touchy-feely" customer/internal partner perceptions ("that’s just their perception, that’s not reality".)
  • How do you integrate all three rings so that each team or department understands the overall customer/internal partner experience and pull together to continuously improve it?