What It Means to "Walk in the Customer's Shoes"


I spent 20 minutes of my life on the phone recently with a customer service rep of a well-known electronics store because there was an errant charge on my credit card. Not only couldn’t they help me, which was bad enough, but they passed me off to another number. Then, the number they connected me to was out of service. As a customer, I was a little upset to say the least.

I just moved into a new role within GE’s Intelligent Platforms’ Professional Services organization after 20+ years in Product Development. In my last six-plus years of Product Development, I had been in Product Management so meeting with customers is nothing new. My role was to meet with customers, understand their challenges, and find the right solutions.  

In my new role as a Project Manager, I welcome the continuous contact with customers. On the services side, we connect with customers on a different angle. Customers already own the products they have installed, and these solutions enable their operations. I am continually listening, but in a place much closer to production.

Personally, I can speak from the consumer side as well as from the provider side of the customer relationship. When I first came into this role, I wanted to see what was on the customer’s mind. What was working, what wasn't? I wanted to create a benchmark we could work from. Enter the NPS (Net Promoter Score) survey. From there, we could gauge what we should focus on. Having that regular communication with the customer is important here because things change. 

Some years ago as a computer engineering major, I needed an elective and took a course called Introduction to Management. One of the main tenets of that class was to "think of yourself in the customer’s shoes." Even though the first part of my career has been in an engineering role, that phrase has always stuck with me. 

Tonight, I was reading some articles on customer responsiveness and a few of those articles highlighted that phrase. One Inc.com article, “8 Steps to Squash a Customer’s Complaint,” even referenced, appropriately enough, Zappos.com, which has been legendary in its customer service. Customer complaints are inevitable no matter how great your company. 

The way to separate yourself is by how you react and service the customer. Listening comes first, followed by understanding. What is the main cause of the issue, and how can I rectify it? Learning is the last step. GE is a learning organization. As you fix issues, how can you make the process better?

Another article from StrategyExpert.com, "How to Effectively Manage Client Expectations," listed a few sources of pain that customers experience such as lack of empathy, poor or no communication, poor or no follow through, and lack of problem resolution skills. As a consumer, I don’t want to hear something can't be done, and I'm always thinking of ways we can address our customers’ needs.

So, the list of behaviors that customers are counting on in their service relationships as triangulated from various sources are:

  • Respect
  • Communication
  • Feedback
  • Honesty
  • Professionalism
  • Empathy
  • Active Listening
  • Follow Through

This list is consistent with the articles that I’ve read, and it resonates with my experience. And maintaining these in the back of my mind as I “walk in the customer’s shoes” in our service engagements will help me to provide the best service available from GE to our customers.

As a service provider, I pride myself in maintaining and improving customer satisfaction. What matters to you as a service consumer?

Paul Adams

Paul has spent more than 20 years in manufacturing with GE’s Intelligent Platforms business, focusing on product development. His deep industry experience comes from countless calls, meetings and visits to manufacturers around the globe to help solve their business challenges. Today, he works in Global Professional Services, which allows him to continue working with GE’s manufacturing customers at a more downstream function. Wonder what challenges he’s helping manufacturers solve today? Connect with Paul on LinkedIn.

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Nice perspective Paul. Enhancing customer experience at every touch point is critical in this modern world and to do that you need to "Walk in the Customer's Shoes" first.

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