3. Understanding Your Customer’s Compass – Lead With Your Customer, 2nd Edition:Transform Culture and Brand into World-Class Excellence


Understanding Your Customer’s Compass

To enable you to more completely understand and satisfy your customers, we have developed the World Class Excellence Model to demonstrate the relationships between the various crucial components that bridge the corporate culture and the organizational brand (Figure 3-1). This model, which uses the traditional image of the sailor’s compass rose, offers unique insights for helping leaders attain excellence within their organizations, particularly in building compelling customer brands and creating high-performing employee cultures. By showing how to unify your efforts for maximum efficiency and effectiveness, this groundbreaking tool will help you understand established, big-picture business strategy as well as proven best practice tactics. Other key parts of the World Class Excellence Model will be explored in the next chapter, but our focus here is on the outlying compass rose feature of the model.

Figure 3-1. The World Class Excellence Model

Understanding Your Customers

Any organization wanting to stay in business will find ways to gather relevant, meaningful information about their customers. They gather a representative variety of facts and figures—age, gender, income, purchase patterns, and the like—a mix of qualitative and quantitative data. They focus on knowing the “what” about their customers.

What do world-class organizations do differently and better? Along with collecting demographic information, they focus their primary efforts on gathering psychographic information, which helps them go beyond merely knowing about their customers to understanding them.

Just as the value of a compass rests on its directional points of north, east, south, and west, so does your Customer Compass, whose four points are needs, expectations, styles, and walk. These are tools and approaches we’ll study in this chapter for effectively understanding the “why” of your customers. And they are concepts that can be applied to connecting with both internal and external customers. They are as follows:

Needs: Beyond the basics of food, water, and shelter, people have a variety of needs for what you offer. In fact, you could provide excellent products and services and still not meet their needs. Our focus is on those relevant but often hidden needs internal and external customers have.

Expectations: These are not about the perceptions and assumptions that you have of your customers. Instead, they target the preconceived notions that customers have of your industry, company, role, products, and services. Until you know what their expectations are, you cannot hope to exceed them.

Styles: People respond to your products and services based on their individual styles or preferences. This point on the compass includes four key styles that affect how the customer interprets and values the service experience.

Walk: Perhaps the most powerful opportunity for understanding others is to walk in their shoes. By considering the experiences of another person, you can learn how to direct your business choices toward what matters to that customer—and what ultimately results in a superior experience and a more profitable bottom line.

When everyone in an organization uses the Customer Compass to understand its customers and then consistently responds accordingly, a tremendous and special connection is created—with not only external customers but also internal customers. To see how this works, let’s look at each of the four points in more detail.


Finding true north allows any navigator to accurately travel in whatever direction they need to go. North is the most critical and consistent of all directional points. The same could be said of the first point of the Customer Compass, N, for needs. Of all the four points, understanding the customer’s needs is the most important.

When referring to needs, we are not talking about the products or services for which customers are asking. These needs go much deeper than that—they’re about what motivates them to want what you have to offer.

For example, at a pharmacy, the obvious reason a customer is there is to have a prescription filled. But consider the deeper question of “what are the circumstances surrounding the need for this prescription?” To save the life of a loved one? At a delivery service, transacting a letter-mailing process is simple, but the meaning behind that letter (a love letter? a late, important bill payment?) may add an entirely new dimension to the experience. By considering these personally relevant aspects—being empathetic, but not intrusive—anyone can do a better job of connecting with and serving a customer.

Certain common elements of the human condition span culture, race, gender, and any other method used to categorize the people of this world. In the pursuit of better understanding human nature, experts from all fields of study have conducted research about people throughout history. In an effort to bring together the key findings from these previous investigations, we have assembled a targeted list of humanity’s strongest and most fundamental motivators. Pondering these universal needs is the first step in really understanding your customers:

• the need to be heard and understood

• the need to belong and contribute

• the need to feel stable and in control

• the need to feel significant and special

• the need to be successful and reach your potential.

The goal is to consider these five needs so that you can learn to better understand your customers (both external and internal) and leverage this awareness to more personally serve them and exceed their expectations. Let’s examine each need in more detail.

The Need to Be Heard and Understood

The first of the essential customer needs is an umbrella concept that encompasses all the others. To provide great service to your customers, you must first understand them. A vital component to connecting with another individual is communicating in a meaningful way.

If we don’t understand each other, we probably won’t comprehend how the remaining real needs apply. Well-meaning organizations often develop services and products for their customers that are not well received simply because the customers sense that the company doesn’t care enough to make the effort to hear and understand them.

Successful companies have discovered that the most effective approach is to first focus on others. This concept is explained very well in the classic book by Stephen R. Covey (1989), The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Habit number 5 is “Seek first to understand and then to be understood.”

Having a true understanding of another person means more than gaining a thorough knowledge of their concerns. In fact, this is a common misunderstanding, because it’s human nature to stop really listening to someone once we assume we understand their key points. Even if you’re correct in understanding the content of a conversation, you haven’t always paid close attention to the other crucial dimensions of the communication—enabling the other person to feel heard and understood. This involves empathy, paying attention to the associated emotions involved with that person and the topic you’re discussing. This doesn’t mean you have to cry along with the person or act angry if they’re behaving angrily. But it does mean more than an occasional nod in agreement or parroting back what they have just said. Helping someone feel heard requires making the effort to ask open-ended questions, look for examples, and align your emotional response with what is really being said—even between the lines.

Amazing things happen when people sense that you really hear and understand them. Emotional walls come down, and healthy relationships bloom. By attending to this human need, you set the stage for trust, engagement, and long-term loyalty—the holy grail of every organizational operation. Shelby Scarbrough (2009), past board president of the internationally acclaimed Entrepreneurs’ Organization, suggests that successful organizations focus on deep understanding: “Healthy (work, client, employer-employee) relationships that begin with courtesy and end with mutual respect and trust are deep and lasting and loyal.”

The Need to Belong and Contribute

As the classic American Express slogan states, “Membership has its privileges.” Another fundamental human need is belonging and having an opportunity to contribute in a meaningful way.

Human beings are social creatures. Throughout recorded history, people have gravitated toward living in groups. Friendships, families, communities, and even national pride are reflections of our common need to belong. It’s easy to observe everyday behaviors that reflect this innate need:

• cheering not for the team most likely to win but for your hometown team

• choosing sides in the soda wars between Coca-Cola and Pepsi

• “buying American” by purchasing only Ford, Chrysler, or GM cars and trucks

• joining social organizations such as the Rotary and Kiwanis clubs, or online social networks like Facebook and LinkedIn.

Pop culture in general is a manifestation of our individual need to feel like part of a greater whole and to contribute to it. Even people who hate going along with the crowd often do so, knowing that they will join with others who feel the same. For instance, Virgin and Harley-Davidson have built their brands by targeting those who want to stay in touch with their anti-establishment leanings.

Feeling as if they belong and are contributing gives people the courage to do things they might not do on their own. Conversely, it may cause them to behave in foolish ways that they would have never considered on their own. Understanding individuals’ need to belong and contribute gives us a perspective from which to better address their wishes through the products and services we offer.

The Need to Feel Stable and in Control

When observing how people react in difficult times, it is easy to understand how much people value feeling stable and in control of their circumstances. Providing much-desired stability as part of a professional business relationship can be accomplished in many ways. Consider the following:

• The slogan “You’re in good hands with Allstate” is really about using an insurance policy as a tool for obtaining peace of mind.

• Old bank buildings for institutions such as Bank of America and JP Morgan were formidable structures constructed of stone and large columns to suggest a solid, stable structure that would protect your money.

• For many years, the Walmart tagline was “Always low prices.” This assurance communicated confidence that you could shop and still control your budget.

• Being able to select from among a range of 31 ice cream flavors made Baskin-Robbins a favorite among consumers who wanted more choices.

• “Have it your way” was one of the most successful ad campaigns used by fast-food giant Burger King, because people wanted control and choice in their meal, despite quick service limitations.

In our work in the public sector, it’s hard to find organizations that aren’t dedicated to helping the public feel secure in times of need. The military, FEMA, HUD, and Social Security are just a few of the agencies dedicated to making people feel as if their world isn’t going to fall apart, either collectively or individually. And yet, that is the common problem of federal, state, and local agencies—providing that peace of mind and assurance. It might come in the form of hurricane relief. It might come in wake of possible war with a rogue nation-state. But what good is it to spend resources if you’re not offering assurance along the way?

In one situation, we were doing a program with a federal agency whose role was to provide financial support to fallen police officers, wherever they may be serving. One cool October morning, we were discussing an incident that had occurred the night before—two police officers had been ambushed and killed in the Midwest. We asked about the manner for compensating the officers’ families. The matter-of-fact response: “Given our current processes, they should be getting a check from the federal government some time next August.”

Of course, compensation of any kind goes a long way to support a family. But their bureaucracy was leaving an enormous need for assurance and peace of mind that would come with that financial assistance. The families needed stability and support now—not nine months from now. We spent much of the morning considering the impact on the families, and what could be done to provide greater support sooner, not only financially but also emotionally.

This example brings up an important aspect related to these five needs. Is it possible you might provide a solid offering of products and services, but still not meet someone’s underlying emotional needs?

The Need to Feel Significant and Special

Another fundamental human need is to feel as if we matter. What are some ways in which world-class companies accomplish this? When you review all the variables, it comes down to taking time to understand your customer and making an effort. Here are just a few examples:

• taking additional time to hear someone’s concern, which is connected to the first need described earlier—feeling heard and understood

• arranging for exceptions to policies and procedures to take care of higher-priority individual needs

• rewarding an individual’s contribution in a customized way that’s meaningful to them

• sacrificing your will or opinion on a particular matter for the benefit of another person.

Here’s an example. One time, in an attempt to make an employee feel special for successfully achieving perfect attendance over a 10-year period, a fellow manager thought to surprise him with a special trophy in front of the rest of the department during an all-hands meeting. The employee was shocked at the surprise and sheepishly accepted the prize. The manager was stunned to hear that a mere two weeks later, that same employee called in sick to work. When the employee returned from his one-day absence, the manager approached the employee to ask if he was feeling better, noting that it was ironic that he fell ill immediately after getting the award. The manager noticed that the employee acted awkwardly; after some gentle encouraging, the employee shared with the manager that he was very embarrassed receiving the award in front of all his peers. It turned out that, in his culture, if a person is identified as “better” than the group in any way, they “lose face,” meaning they lose respect for drawing attention to themselves in certain social situations.

When attempting to make people feel significant and special, it is important to keep in mind the difference between the Golden Rule and the Platinum Rule. The Golden Rule is about treating others the way you would want to be treated. But the most successful companies abide by the more effective Platinum Rule: Treat people the way they want to be treated.

The Need to Feel Successful and Reach Your Potential

There is one goal that millions of adults undertake: a degree. They spend years and thousands upon thousands of dollars to earn it. But why do people go out and get a degree? Because they see it as a path to success in life.

It is human nature to want to succeed. With today’s relentless pressure to achieve, the thought of not living up to your potential can become frustrating, and even paralyzing.

What factors support someone in reaching their potential? Consider these:

• having the courage to try new things

• being dissatisfied with the status quo

• enjoying the rush that comes with achieving goals.

Conversely, what are obstacles to reaching their potential? Consider these:

• undermining circumstances

• having previously experienced defeat

• being naive or uninformed

• the perceived risk of blame, disappointment, or other negative consequences

• a lack of support or encouragement.

We all have the responsibility to help people reach their potential. World-class organizations strive to optimize every person’s ability to leverage every opportunity—every day.

The Essential Customer Needs—Summing Up

The degree to which an organization succeeds in understanding and meeting these essential customer needs is the degree to which it succeeds in fulfilling its purpose. On those occasions when an organization has failed to meet your expectations, it’s because it has failed to pay attention to one or more of these five needs. This can be true of any company or organization—whether it’s a hospital, bank, or retail store. Creating a great customer experience is about more than providing products and services. It’s about addressing the real needs of the people you serve. You simply must understand your customers to grasp what they really need.

Again, we must ask the question: Is it possible to provide great products and services and still not meet people’s needs?

Case Study: The Walt Disney World Resort

In recent years, the Walt Disney World Resort spent nearly $1 billion to overhaul guests’ digital experience. Known as MyMagic+ or My Disney Experience, this initiative would entail a wide variety of IT infrastructure activities, from unlocking your hotel room door to making food and retail purchases; from capturing special photos to getting front-of-the-queue entry into attractions. It centered around a mobile device app and a special MagicBand, an electronic RFID wristband guests would wear throughout their stay. The result played off many needs guests had:

The need to feel heard and understood. Through My Disney Experience, management responded to some of the most disappointing aspects of the vacationing experience. This especially relates to the number 1 frustration of guests—having to wait in long lines.

The need to belong and contribute. The MagicBand links you to your friends and family, so you can plan park experiences together and share photos taken with one another at Disney. Even the park’s turnstiles were replaced with electronic posts for entering, all in an effort to make guests feel more welcome and included.

The need to feel stable and in control. By staying on property and using My Disney Experience, you are able to secure and monitor FastPass+ selections, dining reservations, and other needs well before you arrive. After all, with the investment of time and money, guests want greater confidence that their resort experience will go as planned.

The need to feel significant and special. Many children show off their MagicBands at school in advance of their vacation. Additionally, some people have found the bands Instagram worthy, taking a picture of them alongside their Pandora bracelets (a park sponsor) in front of Cinderella Castle.

The need to feel successful and reach your potential. In the new Star Wars–themed area established at both Disneyland and Walt Disney World resorts, high-tech options lead to high-touch, or personal, experiences that engage people and help them achieve their vacation goals: “Did you do well on your first attempt to fly the Millennium Falcon?”

As a result of these investments, the company experienced the following:

Greater revenues. Wearing a band instead of pulling out your wallet is like using chips instead of coins at the gaming table. By removing the extra steps to making a purchase, the MagicBand encourages more spending.

Data mining to make park improvements. Disney uses guest-behavior insights gleaned from the My Disney Experience program to suggest new opportunities for the entire operation, including park attractions, specialty retail, resort dining, and transportation.

Advance reservations. By incentivizing guests to book ahead in order to use the My Disney Experience program, the company is capturing dollars and the interest on those dollars well in advance. As a result, they are better able to predict revenue and use resources more effectively.

This major focus on exceeding guest needs through an entire IT infrastructure effort was a risk—definitely something that a legacy company, or one that prioritizes stability and reinforcing existing products, had not done before, leading to “constructive discomfort” for many of the staff. Still, Steve Jobs—Disney’s largest shareholder at the time of his death, noted, “I love what you guys are doing…. You won’t get everything right, but doing what you’ve been doing and believing that will remain the model for the next 20 years is also not right” (Carr 2015).


The second Customer Compass point is E, for expectations. Typically, when referring to customer expectations, the concern is about organizations’ perspectives on and stereotypes of their customers. But world-class businesses take a completely different view of this issue. This real need focuses on the preconceived notions that customers have of you—your industry, your company, your role, and even you as an individual. Customers have differing expectations about different industries and businesses. For example, consider these experiences:

• purchasing a time-share

• buying a used car

• being sold a product or service by telemarketers

• going on rides at a traveling carnival.

Generally speaking, the public’s expectations of these experiences tend to be negative—even when a person hasn’t done it themselves. Now consider the expectations you might have of these experiences:

• attending Yale or Harvard

• purchasing a Mercedes-Benz

• shopping at Tiffany’s

• staying at a Ritz-Carlton.

Though some might worry about the cost of these experiences, people’s expectations are usually positive.

In this vein, try an imaginary exercise: Suppose for a moment that you arrive at a beautiful Ritz-Carlton hotel. No one appears at the front desk, so you ring the bell. Out comes an employee in a wrinkled, dirty suit, talking to someone on his cell phone. “Whadya want?” he mumbles to you. You inquire about checking in. He responds with, “Hold your horses, can’t you see I’m on the phone?” After loudly continuing his phone conversation about placing a bet on the next horse race, he turns to you and tries to up-sell you to a more expensive room than you reserved.

Would you expect this experience to occur at a Ritz-Carlton? Probably not. It’s completely out of alignment with their motto, “Ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen.” Rather, this type of negative experience is probably more associated with the stereotypical process of purchasing a used car. As painful as it is for sellers of used cars to hear, when people are asked about the typical experience of buying a used car, the vast majority share stories about a group of men lined up outside the dealership, dressed in plaid suits, smoking cigarettes, readying themselves to swoop down on you like a vulture and sell you a lemon.

There is one key thing to understanding your customers’ expectations: You can’t exceed them until you really know what they are. This is why CarMax stands out so much from typical expectations about buying a used car. CarMax considered all the negative stereotypes associated with its industry and then did the opposite, leveraging them to its advantage. Its showrooms are clean, bright, and spacious. It has an enormous selection of vehicles, which go through a 100-point inspection process to ensure that they aren’t lemons. And its efforts to reverse expectations based on stereotypes also extend to its sales staff. They don’t haggle over price with you. In fact, the final price is clearly displayed on each car, and you can either accept it or not. Overall, the CarMax buying process is designed to be hassle-free, supportive, and simple. The staff is largely there to provide information about each car and assist you with test drives. CarMax doesn’t even refer to itself as a used car dealership, preferring the term previously owned vehicles. For every negative issue evoked by the thought of used car sales, CarMax aims to create a positive alternative.

Thus, even if you are considered part of a stereotypically bad industry, when you portray yourself as defying these kinds of expectations and instead deliver an exceptionally satisfying customer experience, you will set your organization apart from the competition. Organizations can become incredibly successful when they seek to understand the expectations of their potential customers and then use them to their advantage.

For another example, consider the experience of buying a time-share. The Disney Vacation Club understood the negative perceptions and viewed them as an opportunity to change an entire industry. However, Disney’s choice to enter the time-share industry did not come quickly or easily. The reputation of the time-share industry closely mirrored that of used car sales. So rather than using time-share, which was permanently tainted, Disney created the tern vacation ownership to take the focus away from the real estate product and place it on the customer’s vacation experience—the real reason most families choose to invest in a time-share. The “ownership” concept meets one of the essential customer needs—to be stable and in control. The differences between the typical time-share approach to business (and results) and Disney’s approach are shown in Table 3-1.

Table 3-1. The Typical Time-Share Approach and the Disney Approach

Time-Share Industry Approach Disney Vacation Club Approach
Real estate investment—you are buying a piece of property Points investment—you are buying access to a wide range of properties
Limited to particular week and location—use or lose each year Complete flexibility about date, location, and accommodations
Focus: the transaction (sell to customer) Focus: the interaction (help customer buy)
Bonus on sales and margins Bonus on satisfaction and sales
Customer given three days before contract becomes binding; 10 percent opt out Customer given 10 days before contract becomes binding; less than 1 percent opt out
Salesperson’s role ends with sale Salesperson continues to answer questions and support customer after sale
No interaction between sales and operations or marketing Weekly meetings and newsletters between sales, operations, and marketing
5 percent repeat purchasers More than 65 percent repeat purchasers
15 percent referrals (industry average) More than 80 percent referrals

Understanding the expectations of others and leveraging them for your—and your customers’—benefit can be a powerful way to follow the Customer Compass. It’s an essential element that separates struggling companies from consistently thriving ones. It also applies to the public sector.

Most government organizations don’t consider themselves as being in a competitive market—especially one whose work centers around intelligence; however, that is where the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) found itself. Thirty years ago, there were only two entities sending satellites into space—the United States and the Soviets. At that time there was only one source for satellite intelligence, but now there’s a satellite heading into space every few days. Could it be that commercial satellites are better at providing another agency the data they needed? That is where we came in. For several years, we worked in the trenches with NGA leadership to better understand and deliver to the expectations of their customers. A common example used to express this idea was that a soldier on the ground might obtain a more accurate map of the streets of Bahrain by purchasing a mobile device from a local vendor. Timely, accurate, and relevant information can mean the difference between life and death to some of the customers NGA serves. In the past, the agency’s main focus was to create an accurate map. Now it must anticipate a much wider range of needs. Attending to the expectations of customers isn’t just about being more service-centric, but about whether you think through and provide to the entire customer experience. In that light, it’s the ultimate indicator of whether any government agency remains relevant.

This same principle applies to your employees—your internal customers. Often someone’s choice to work in a particular trade or organization has much to do with their expectations. Many times, their expectations were first shaped as customers: “It was a fun place to visit; I thought it would be a fun place to work.” In truth, one of the biggest organizational challenges is dealing with employees who have been disappointed with the work experience at an organization where they had an earlier external customer experience. They often leave the organization feeling frustrated and disillusioned by it, especially if they grew up dreaming of working there.


The third Customer Compass point is styles. This refers to the individual and personal styles of how people respond to life around them. Recognizing that human beings are wonderfully diverse, it is helpful to identify the critically different styles in which people think and behave, and then adapt your products and services to their preferences. According to Pam Eyring (2009), president of the renowned Protocol School of Washington, “International protocol, etiquette, and image involve a wide range of things, but at their foundation, they are about social intelligence. We are always a reflection of our company—and even our country. Success in any interaction requires a real understanding of ourselves and others, and the ability to take the appropriate action to achieve the best results—from the perspective of our guests.”

There are numerous psychological instruments and personal inventories on the market today that assess personal styles. The Social Style assessment is among the most respected and the easiest to apply in a pragmatic organizational environment. Reid and David Merrill (1981) developed this assessment to showcase four social styles of individuals—analytical, driving, expressive, and amiable—that can be particularly useful. These four styles are based on two factors: assertiveness (or the effort a person makes to influence the thinking and action of others), and responsiveness (the extent to which a person reacts readily to influence or stimulation by displaying their feelings). Knowing the four social styles helps us understand others and their Customer Compass. Let’s briefly consider each one.

Analytical Individuals

Analytical individuals tend to be serious and exacting, and follow a more logical path to produce understanding. They prefer to take their time to think before declaring that they are right, but once they have declared their “rightness” in the matter, they are adamant based on their very thorough analysis. Those who are analytical tend to focus on data and other sources that require less personal interaction. Analytical types may appear overly cautious. As a result, others may view analytical people as being indecisive.

The analytical person of an earlier era loved to pop the hood to tinker with the engine. Today, the analytical person is both popping the hood and reading the black box computer via their mobile device. Analyticals are information addicts. They expect access to how things work. They want to see the logic, math, or whatever thinking is behind the answer, not just a rote “that’s how it is.”

Driving Individuals

Individuals with a driving style focus more on telling and less on asking. This reflects their ability to easily interact with others, their energy to share ideas, and the passion with which they take on projects. Driving individuals tend to be independent, formal, practical, and dominating. They seek to make things happen—and they do so by initiating action. They usually do better when they take the time to listen more carefully. When working with others to complete a task, they see themselves taking the lead simply to get matters moving. If necessary, they may choose to do it themselves, rather than waiting for others to get involved. If driving types are not careful, they can “burn bridges” to their colleagues.

The burden of delivering to every demanding “driver” is no easy task. Emerging technology seems like a dream come true for drivers because often it allows them to save time and be more efficient. For instance, counter-service restaurants in Disney parks offer mobile ordering, just as many fast food chains do. They save drivers and others the hassle of waiting in line. Still, technology, which offers more customized choices, can be frustrating to drivers when they can’t navigate through the options quickly enough. One of the authors observed this at a McDonald’s, where the queue for interactive touchscreens was three times slower than the individual behind the register. Drivers resent technology that might slow them down, especially when that technology is perceived to reduce labor needs. It’s better to offer drivers options.

Expressive Individuals

Expressive individuals gravitate toward interacting with others. They tend to be animated and impulsive. Though they can be seen as forceful, opinionated, and persuasive, they are usually less controlling. Some expressive people base their decisions on gut feelings without much outside validation. On the one hand, this sort of behavior can get others to cooperate with them because their expressiveness is inspiring. On the other hand, they will find it difficult to tolerate situations where there is little positive response or overt recognition. When expressive types are unhappy, they can often be your most outspoken critics.

Just as drivers resent waiting in line, expressives willingly do it when they believe they are in a “special” line, such as to purchase a new Apple product days before its official launch. Nike also appeals to expressives with its Snkrs (sneakers) line. Certain expressives, known as hypebeasts, will collect rare sneakers and streetwear. So for one launch, Nike used geofencing to ping only L.A.-based Snkrs users about the release of a rare and very expensive line of shoes. Fans who wanted a pair reserved them on the app and were invited to a downtown L.A. store the following day. The store hosted appearances throughout the weekend with stars like Kobe Bryant, Bella Hadid, and Spike Lee. Attendees could even get wristbands for an exclusive Kendrick Lamar performance. According to Adam Sussman, Nike’s first chief digital officer, “Mobile was becoming the main way people [in particular, expressives] were connecting with brands and shopping” (Ringen 2018).

Amiable Individuals

One clear strength of amiable people is that they tend to be very friendly. They also prefer to be flexible, dependable, supportive, and open. Amiable types are more focused on asking others than telling others. They also tend to be more emotive and less controlling. They value harmony and are careful not to disrupt the dynamics of the group. In terms of getting the job done, they do well in a cooperative setting. And if tension emerges, they prefer to deal with that problem and the feelings of others rather than moving on and ignoring them. They may have difficulty acting independently or taking a stand when the job demands it. Because amiable types are sensitive to the needs of others, they can help pull a team together.

Customer service call centers are synonymous with offering the one-to-one service that amiables prefer. But bots are now really doing much of the work that call center reps once did. Much of that is transactional work, which makes sense: Better to save a call center rep for more interactive conversations. Amiables get a better value for the time spent. However, amiables as well as others appreciate a bot that can seem more empathetic and understanding:

“Alexa, I’m feeling ill.”

“I’m sorry to hear that. Try having a cup of tea or taking a nap. I hope you feel better soon.”

People, especially amiables, may be somewhat enchanted by the anthropomorphism that bots like Alexa may display, in the same way they see those same behaviors from a pet or animal in the wild. Still, some people feel as if they’ve been “had” by some call center bots that are so believable they thought they were talking to a human all along. It’s a fine line: What is unacceptable to a Baby Boomer may feel very comfortable to a member of Generation Z.

Caveats on Styles

No one style accurately reflects an individual’s entire personality, but everyone tends to gravitate toward one style more than another. Our observation, based on numerous formal and informal surveys over the years, is that each of these four style types will make up about 25 percent of an organization’s staff—particularly in larger, more successful organizations. It appears that higher levels of diversity could possibly contribute to an organization being a more capable provider of superior results. Consider these observations about how style differences affect world-class service:

• You have key strengths that are valuable.

• Your team members offer different strengths than you do.

• You are able to understand customers with styles like yours better than those whose styles differ.

• Consider that about 75 percent of those with whom you interact are likely to have a style that’s different from yours.

• “A strength overdone becomes a weakness”—for example, confidence is a strength until it escalates into arrogance. Be certain that your strength is leveraged appropriately to the situation and complements the styles of those with whom you are interacting.

• Great leaders are adaptable to other styles, regardless of their personal preferences.

Understanding the styles of others is fundamental in seeking to provide products and services that surpass those of the competition. It will also give you direction in creating a high-performing culture. There is power in understanding the styles of your customers, and in incorporating the styles of your employees in addressing customers’ needs.


The fourth point of the Customer Compass—walk—focuses on a critical commitment that every world-class organization must demonstrate, at both the macro and micro levels. Here, walk means figuratively walking in the shoes of your customers—whether they are external customers or employees.

According to Kim Tudor (2009), CEO of the Barbados National Initiative for Service Excellence, “there is a need for all levels of employees—including the CEO—to go through the process that the customer experiences from start to finish at least twice a year. This firsthand experience, coupled with ongoing feedback from customers, will help in truly understanding the customer.”

World-class organizations are renowned for their practice of experiencing their products and services from the customer’s perspective. For example, J. Willard Marriott, the patriarch of the Marriott family, learned about the customer’s perspective as he walked around and explored. When he spotted a small, successful A&W Root Beer stand in Salt Lake City, he knew that it would be a success in Washington because he had lived there and knew how miserably hot its summers were. As the autumn leaves began to fall, he was reminded how bitterly cold the winter got in that area, so he quickly adapted to meet customer demand by opening a Hot Shoppes, which sold not only root beer but also tamales and chili—and became the foundation for what would become one of the largest restaurant chains in the eastern United States. And the lessons he learned from A&W would become the foundation for one of the world’s most successful hotel and hospitality service chains, Marriott.

In explaining J. Willard’s practice of managing by walking around, his son, Richard, said:

You cannot run a service business without walking around and seeing what’s going on in the operation. You can’t be in the office looking at the books all day and know what’s really happening with your customers. My father would go out and talk to the customers, talk to the employees, and inspect the units. He believed that you can’t expect what you don’t inspect. If you ask somebody to do something and never go back to check and see if it’s done, it might get done the first time, but it probably won’t get done thereafter. You’ve got to get out there, check and make sure your associates follow through on their commitments, and let them know you will be checking. Then you must show appreciation to people for doing a good job. If they’re not doing a good job, explain how to do the job properly and give them encouragement. (Marriott 2003, 7)

What are some additional ways that you can walk in the shoes of your customers? At the high-end architecture, interior and landscape design, and construction group Anthony Wilder Design/Build Inc., everyone in the 30-member office visits active job sites to witness how their extended team creates new homes for their clients. Everyone at the head office of Pret a Manger spends time in the stores making sandwiches for customers every quarter.

Of course, it’s difficult to walk in the shoes of everyone. Sometimes your employees are far away from the customers. But you can still do something. USAA primarily serves the military and its families. People in the corporate headquarters do not have the ability to work alongside deployed soldiers. But the company does many things to bring the customers’ experience to the forefront. On day one of their orientation, new employees are treated to lunch—in this case, MREs (meals ready to eat), which are packets of food rations that soldiers consume on the battlefront. Just add water! Additionally, USAA’s atrium design offers an almost museum-like showcase of the different branches of the military. The entire setting is a reminder of the people USAA serves. It’s the company’s way of helping its employees to walk in the shoes—or boots—of the customers they serve.

Summing Up

Using the Customer Compass is not an empty exercise or academic activity. It’s about being aware of the mindset of your internal and external customers, and understanding them so totally that your actions are in alignment with what they really want. The compass can help you keep these things in mind; in upcoming chapters, we’ll see how it completes our overall model for achieving excellence in satisfying customers.

World-class organizations understand that it’s not the customer’s job to articulate what will exceed their expectations—it’s the organization’s job to deliver the product or service that will exceed customer expectations. People don’t always know what they want until they see it. This explains what Henry Ford meant years ago when he said, “If I asked people what they wanted, they would have asked for a better horse.” We see that same mindset in Elon Musk. Referencing autonomous cars, Musk notes, “Owning a car that is not self-driving in the long term will be like owning a horse—you would own it and use it for sentimental reasons but not daily use” (Cellan-Jones 2016).

Past, present, or future, success depends on truly knowing your customers. At Apple, Steve Jobs felt much the same way Ford did, in that he wanted to understand his customers well enough to know what they needed before they knew it themselves.

That’s at the heart of understanding the Customer Compass. It’s relative to their needs, expectations, and styles, and it helps you walk in their shoes. When you work to understand your customers and honestly want them to have every need fulfilled and every expectation exceeded, you will have earned the right to be that trusted adviser who guides their buying decisions.

Next Steps for Understanding How to Better Understand Your Customers’ Compass:

Do you know the real needs of your customers?

Are you providing great products and services for your customers but still not meeting their real needs?

Do you know what your customers’ expectations are?

How can you build on the positive expectations of your customers?

How can you take those negative expectations of your customers and make them positive ones?

How are you delivering to the differing styles of your customers?

How do you walk in the shoes of your customers?

How are you considering the compass of your internal customers (employees) as well as your external customers?