Put on the shoes of the customer

Customer shoes

Hans / Pixabay

What can we do to understand what the customer really wants?


“In order to understand why people do what they do, we have to view the world through their eyes and understand how they make sense of things.” – Kurt Lewin


How to NOT do customer service

Lately I wanted to cancel my mobile contract, since I moved to Sweden. The contract was back from Germany and the service provider could not provide the same service in my new country of choice for the same costs. Although I was quite satisfied with the service provider in general I wrote an extraordinary notice of cancelation. So far quite straight forward, but now the trouble began. The company advertises on its website, that most of the service inquires can be managed online. How handy, I thought, only to find out that my request was not one of them. In a bureaucratic system I already expected the need to send a real letter with documents proving my move. So I send the letter and waited for a reply, and waited and waited.


Pro-activity and personal care are rare

After nearly two months I worried that my letter was lost. I decided to call the company. How naïve of me to think that I could actually talk to a real person to get my problem solved quickly. After searching their “user-friendly” website for half an hour for a hotline number I gave up, because wherever I looked I was redirected to the same pages. Needless to say that those did not contain the information I was looking for. Eventually I gave the chat function a try. The lady (or chat robot) pointed out to me that some documents are still missing. Good to know I said, but how could I know that if I never got a reply? This time I did not get an answer at all. Long story short, I handed in the additional documents and after more than three months finally got a letter back. It stated that I had to provide even more documents and agree to pay three months of basic fee. First of all, I have a contract which does not have a basic fee and second, since three months have already passed, does that mean I have already paid that fee?


The individual small customer is not worth the effort

The point of this example is that at no point an attempt was undertaken to understand my personal situation. The worst part is not that I received bad, impersonal service, but that it turned a quite satisfied customer into one that never wants to do business with that, how ironically, service provider again. That can’t and shouldn’t be the aim of your processes, or O2?

I understand that a leaving customer is not a favorable situation, but if the exit is made smoothly, chances are high that a customer will return if the situation allows it.


I believe all of these frustrating experiences could have been prevented. Simply by making an attempt for understanding the individual situation of a real person; by designing the process from the customer perspective.


What can an organization do to put itself in the shoes of the customer; to understand what a customer really wants?


1. Asking customers

Probably the easiest way to get to know what customers want is to simply ask them. The problem with this approach is, however, that we humans can only express what we already know. Henry Ford probably put it best, since horses where the dominant means of transportation at that time:

“If I had asked my customers what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse.” – Henry Ford


Identifying customer needs

The tricky part is to find out what the needs of the customers really are. By discovering the underlying motivation it will be possible to provide them with a product or service they do not know yet. What problem do they want to solve? What do they use the product for? Ford figured out that people needed to get quicker from point A to point B and needed to be able to carry more load. He made the car affordable for the middle-class American by actively listening to what people were actually saying.


Actively listening

We remember only around half of the information we hear, probably less. This should not surprise us with all the information we receive daily and the constant input through social media. But this is only one side of the problem. The other side is that we are not paying attention to what we actually hear. Instead we think about other topics or formulate a reply in our mind. While we do that, we miss out important information the other person is saying.

William Ury explains in his TEDx Talk genuine listening. When we look behind the words, we can discover the underlying feelings and needs of a human being.

Interstingly he states that before we are going to listen to others, we should listen to ourselves first. We need to get aware about how we feel and in what mood we are in currently. By reaching this clarity we can sort ourselves and focus on the talk we are about to have. In that way we can reach Ury’s dream of turning the age of communication into an age of listening.


What can we do to become a better listener?

  • First, we can pay attention to what our counterpart actually says. We can focus on the other person by making eye contact to reduce outside disturbance.
  • Second, we can show that we are listening by nodding our heads. In addition, we can provide feedback by repeating or paraphrasing what was said. We can also ask questions for our own clarification.
  • Last but not least, we can let the other person finish and not interrupt. Then we can formulate an appropriate response.


2. Customer observation

Another option is to identify what customers really want is to use observation. Whenever people are using a product we can observe them about how they actually use it. Testing a product in a real life setting can be a real advantage. For example Ford introduced the function to open the trunk with your foot after they have watched people with their hands full of shopping bags returning to their cars.

If no product exists then observation can lead to innovation by recognizing an opportunity.

The key is to let people interact in a real life setting without putting them on a spotlight. This ensures that they act naturally and it does not force any specific outcome.


3. Taking on the shoes of the customer

“Sadly, there aren’t many CEO’s of companies of any reasonable size who have daily contact with customers anymore.” – Simon Sinek

Just talking to customers in a store or observing how they make use of a product or service can often deliver valuable insights. Nevertheless, when we put ourselves in the shoes of the customer – when we actually use our own product or service – we gain the greatest insights. This will make us aware of what is working well, but it will also point out potential improvements. The above quote from Simon Sinek refers to the organizational distance in organizations which has made many managers or CEO’s distant to their own products. They have lost sight of what they are actually selling and why.


The Customer Journey

Sometimes it is not possible to put ourselves in the shoes of the customer. Then it is still possible to follow the path a customer takes when using our products or services. The Customer Journey is the result of mapping this out. There are interchangeable names for this concept like customer experience or user experience (UX). ‘The Customer Journey Consultancy’ describes it on point:

“Customer Journey describes the interactions people have with a company over time via all available channels (telephone, digital, in-branch, mail, broadcast media, face to face and so on). Customer Journey concerns itself with what people do, what they experience, what they expect and how they feel about those interactions and the company as a result of those interactions. It can focus on a specific task (say buying a product) or the entire customer lifecycle.”


Customer Journey Map

The website ‘The Heart of the customer’ has captured the top ten requirements for a customer journey map. The customer perspective provides the input for the whole experience. It covers the touch points with an organization and includes so called ‘moments of truth’. They define if a (potential) customer makes a decision in favor of the own business. The customer journey map includes customer goals and time measurements for each phase as well as a defined focus group.  Memorable quotes can support the goals or desires of a customer segment. The aim is to develop actionable tasks that are resulting from each step the customer takes. Comparing the experiences and actions of the customer to the brand promise in each step, shows if the expectations of the customer are met.


HumanBusiness User Journey example

In order to make things clear I have drawn up a simple user map for the example of this blog.

Customer Journey example

Customer Journey Map example for HumanBusiness

We see the journey of the focus group of the ‘social networker’, who is looking for interesting content on social media channels. The phases are according a classical AIDA (Attention, Interest, Desire, and Action) scheme. In a matter of seconds the user decides if a post is personally appealing or not. This already provides the first action, which is to create eye-catching posts or headlines. In each step it is possible for the user to step out of this ideal journey. The first ‘moment of truth’ is when the user makes the decision to click the link or not. That leads the user also to another platform, namely this website. After reading the content the user decides if it was interesting or not. That could lead to sharing the article, which might be positive side effect. However, in this example the user wants to stay updated about new content and therefore, enters the contact details in the subscription form.


Happy end?

So after almost half a year the termination of my contract was final. Sounds like a happy end, right? I found out that my contract was ended, because I realized that I did not have a network connection for two days. I started to wonder what was going on. When I eventually checked the online section on the website of my service provider I could not access it anymore. Instead a message appeared stating that my number was deactivated. I did not receive any notification confirming my cancelation or a warning when I will not be able to use my number anymore. It was simply shut down. What did I expect after all?


My contact was with Base, which is part of E-plus. In 2013 Telefonica acquired E-plus and merged it with O2 in Germany. The integration can cause delays and transfers of data that do not go as smoothly as planned. I am aware of the difficulty of such a huge project. Nevertheless, my experience shows that such a “quality” of service is the norm, not the exception and I have many other similar examples.


Have you made similar service experiences? Do you think seeing the situation from the customer perspective would improve the situation?




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About Businesshumanizer

My name is Jens and I write about organizational evolution to inspire a way of organizing work that is human-centric. Find me at www.humanbusiness.eu

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