Experience the Experience: Walking in the Shoes of Your Customers and Employees

In this post, I continue to explore my tips to create a customer-centric culture. Experiencing both your employee AND customer journeys is a vital component that contributes to an organisation developing and sustaining everyone’s focus on the customer and each other.

Last year, I said the following on this subject (among other things):

“If a business wants to transform its culture, then it is vitally important that its people at all levels understand how it FEELS to be a customer and to be an employee. The over used phrase of ‘walking in the customers’ shoes’ is one that must not just be said – it must be one that is genuinely and authentically applied.”

Be honest – when was the last time you met and chatted to a customer of your organisation? If you can honestly answer positively to the question, I take my hat off to you. As with so many elements of Customer Experience ‘theory’, the very fact that I am asking the question seems almost ridiculous.

Yet, in reality, many business people may well stare uncomfortably at the floor or ceiling when reading this. I personally have met countless people who have NEVER met a customer of their company – NEVER!! Astonishing – or maybe not. In a world where so many are focused on completing tasks and processes, it is all too easy to lose sight of the fact that a customer actually exists.

If you never take the time to meet, talk to and listen to customers, it is very difficult, if not impossible, to have any comprehension of how your company and the experience it delivers, actually makes the customer feel. Allow me to give you an example.

An Example of What NOT to Do

I recently visited a very well-known hotel and golf resort in the UK on business. Invited by a client of mine, they asked me to check in to my room at 3pm while they continued their meeting to discuss confidential business. When I asked to check in at reception, I was greeted by an emotionless, unsmiling lady, who simply barked ‘NO’ at me. I kid you not!! ‘Your group is not due to check in until 5pm’, she continued to say in flat monotone. I asked if the room was already vacant and ready for use – the lady repeated her previous statement – ‘your group is not due to check in until 5pm’. Shocking!

With my tail between my legs, I had no option to retreat to the safety of the hotel lounge. I all my years of traveling on business, I have never experienced anything like it. I guarantee that the management team of this hotel have not either. At 4:50pm, I tried again — same lady, same brick wall. Looking at her watch, she asked me to come back in 10 minutes. I was too amused/appalled to argue. At 5pm on the dot, I was literally handed my room key. However, this is not the only example of what can happen if employees do not know what it is like to be a customer of their own business. In this example, things got even worse.

Having received my key, I went about the simple task of finding my room….. or what SHOULD have been a simple task. I could not for the life of me locate it. The hotel was akin to a maze — with awful signage. I wandered around like a lost sheep for thirty minutes!! Eventually, a member of the housekeeping staff bumped in to me. She asked if she could help – I begged her to help me find my room. She laughed and said, ‘Guests get lost around here all the time!’ – I kid you not!

This kind of customer experience is not uncommon – but it should NEVER happen. If employees experience exactly what customers are expected to experience, they would know what it feels like to be unable to find a room. They would be able to put themselves in their customers’ shoes – literally!

Customer Face Time

One of my clients, an Indian pharmaceutical business, recognised that they needed to spend more time ‘face to face’ with customers. Selling ‘over the counter’ products, they realised that they had never actually walked in their customer’s shoes. The leadership team did not meet customers, nor did they really understand the actual customer journey.

What they decided to do is as committed an approach to addressing the issue that I have ever seen. One day a month, each member of their leadership team spends a day in the home of one of their customers. One day a month!! They observe what their customer does in every aspect of their lives. Amazing. Their decision making is now completely driven by their understanding of what the business wants AND what their customer wants.

I and many other customer experience commentators also believe that it is just important for colleagues to experience what it is like to be each other. So often we live in the little bubble of our function, or job. Failing to understand what our colleagues do in other parts of the customer journey leads to a lack of appreciation for each other, as well as a lack of understanding of what the customer is going through across the end to end journey.

Experience the Experience

To drive a customer centric culture, I strongly encourage the following:

  1. Encourage all employees to experience your products and services as a customer would — even if you are in a B2B environment.
  2. Encourage employees to share stories of the good, the bad and the ugly things they experience as customers themselves.
  3. Leaders should be speaking to customers at least once a month.
  4. Invite customers to meet senior leaders and describe recent experiences throughout the year.
  5. Encourage all leaders to ‘do what their teams do’ throughout the year – you need to be prepared to roll your sleeves up!
  6. Encourage teams to talk to and shadow each other – cross functional collaboration is key to driving a customer centric culture. Getting teams to experience what their colleagues do daily will greatly enable this to become a reality.

It is too easy for us to hide behind the walls of our ivory towers and our computer screens. Doing so will never enable the organisations we work for to become sustainably customer centric. Get out there and start talking and listening. It may not be completely comfortable, but it will be the most rewarding this you have ever done.


This post was originally written exclusively for my column on CustomerThink – a global online community of business leaders striving to create profitable customer-centric enterprises. The site serves 80,000+ visitors per month from 200 countries.

You can read my column here!

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2 comments on “Experience the Experience: Walking in the Shoes of Your Customers and Employees”

  1. Chris Humphrey Reply

    Completely agree with talking and listening to customers, but a consistent and sustained focus on creating customer value also requires an overarching framework and a strategic human resources team to permeate a customer-led ethos throughout the organisation.

  2. Brooke Harper Reply

    I could not agree more! Only by walking in your customers shoes will you be able to understand them. This is the point where you develop true empathy towards your customers. This will lead your interaction to your customers in a more personal level further earning their trust and loyalty.

    I really like #6 of your “Experience the Experience.” I have seen the reality show “Undercover Boss” where the CEO of the company go undercover and spend time shadowing employees in various positions of his organization. It gave the CEO front view experience on how their employees do their jobs and how they interact with their customers. It helps in improving their team and the service they provide to their customers.

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