Don’t Treat Me Like You Want to Be Treated

Excerpt from “Why Customers Leave (and How to Win Them Back)” by David Avrin (Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.).

The primary reason most people in business don’t know how to deliver a great customer experience is they’ve rarely experienced it for themselves. We generally engage in reasonable transactions and we sporadically deliv­er good service. But the experiences that are worth repeating and sharing are few and far between because we train merely for the transaction and the strong service delivery. To actually delight and connect with a customer requires a deeper understanding of them, and few companies know how to do that well.

A Case in Point

“You don’t understand,” the exasperated woman said to the customer service rep. “I have tried everything to get this Wi-Fi thing working, and I can’t get coverage in my own house!” 

“Are you near the unit?” Randy the tech-support rep asked. (You know what’s coming next.) “I need to you to un­plug the base unit, wait 30 seconds, and plug it back in.” 

“You are the third person I have talked to, and everyone tells me the same damn thing!” she exploded at the rep. “Of course, I have unplugged it and plugged it back in. I need to get this fixed! I’m sorry, but I’m very frustrated!” 

“Okay, I understand,” Randy continued. “So you’ve tried unplugging it. Hmm. How many devices are connected to the Wi-Fi?” 

“None! Zero! Nobody is connected! That’s why I am call­ing you!”

We can all empathize with this woman, right? The rep didn’t do anything wrong and is feeling the brunt of her frus­tration. The woman didn’t do anything wrong. She’s paying for service that she can’t seem to connect to. Both sides are justified in what they feel and say. What is missing in this interaction? 

What’s missing is “service empathy”—a real under­standing of the woman (a frazzled working mom of three kids) and the deeper root of her exasperation. From the rep’s perspective (single guy, goes to community college, works nights for the cable company), the woman is irrational and needs to calm down so they can go through the protocol to fix the problem.

What the support rep doesn’t know is that this single mom worked all day, picked up her son from daycare, got home an hour ago, and still hasn’t even taken off her jacket. Her 16-year-old daughter is freaking out because she has a term paper due in her sophomore history class and can’t get online. Her 6-year-old daughter just broke her new iPad after hitting it a dozen times trying to get the game to load, and her 3-year-old son has been in daycare all day and just wants some attention—and she hasn’t even started mak­ing dinner! 

While the problem still has to be resolved, the level of service empathy can be greatly enhanced with a better un­derstanding of the people on the other end of that phone, their lives, their days, and their needs. It’s more than getting the Wi-Fi to work, it’s the catalyst for everything that can—and is—going wrong for this amazing mom tonight. 

But how could Randy the rep possibly know all of this? Well, he could have had a good idea, if he would have been trained properly, and not just on technical aspects of his job, but on the behavioral, social, emotionally intelligent aspects of the job. It’s a matter of training and culture within the company—if leadership cares enough to make this a priority. These issue are knowable. This heightened level of understanding and empathy from active listening and problem solving could take the company far when it comes to customer retention—the lifeblood of business. 

Here is a revised scenario bolstered by a heightened level of service empathy: 

“Ms. Gelman, I know how frustrating this can be,” the service rep said with true understanding in his voice. “I promise you, we will get this resolved, and I will not leave you until it is fixed and working for everyone in your house. Okay?” 

“Okay. Thank you!” 

“Is that your child crying in the background? Do you need to tend to him? I am happy to wait on the line if you need to go help him. Take your time. Don’t worry. I am not going anywhere.” 

Both scenarios are likely to resolve the problem, but which approach fosters loyalty, connection, and a legitimate feeling of being served? Which one is going to diminish the likelihood that this busy mom will complain to her friends or her online connections about how much she hates her cable company? Did the second scenario cost the company more money? Of course, not. And it likely will result in increased revenue from bolstered loyalty. 

This is more than merely being understanding and pro­viding service. For many businesses, this is a matter of sur­vival. Especially when it comes to frustrated customers, how you resolve problems can make or break your company. 

My father used to caution us to be mindful in gift-giving. He would say that most people buy gifts for others that they would like to receive themselves, rather than what the other would want. That, of course, is true in romantic relationships, as well. Pity the hapless husband who buys his wife a tool or electronic gadget that he wants for herbirthday or Mother’s Day. Smart people buy their loved ones what they know they would want. It is the same in business. Give them the service they want—not the way you would want it. 

We often are taught in life to follow the Golden Rule and “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” But in business, we can’t assume our customers want what we want. To the contrary, most of our customers are not us. Not even close. Their lives are different, their needs are different, and their priorities are different. It’s only when we can truly walk in their shoes that we can adopt the right mindset, and create a customer experience journey to serve them as they wish to be served.

So when we ask our employees to treat our customers as we would want to be treated, there is often a disconnect. Your 16-year-old cashier might want to be treated in a way that demands very little of him. He may love the ideas of others finding him attractive or praising him for his sense of humor. He may love to banter with coworkers or customers. He may hate to feel rushed, or love to talk about his new car or count how many people liked his Instagram post. He is 16 years old, for crying out loud! 

Then again, your customer might be a 45-year-­old business consultant. She’s been traveling all day after be­ing delayed on her last of three flights and stopped in on the way home from the airport because she needs to grab food for her kids who got home four hours ago from school and have been texting her about being “starving” ever since. She’s dealing with exhaustion, mommy guilt, work pressure, and digestive issues. She wants to get her order and just get out of there. 

Of course, your front-line employees just see a disheveled, impatient woman in a wrinkly business suit who clearly is not interested in chitchat. Do you want your people to treat her like they want to be treated or to understand how she wants to be treated? If it were up to her, she would prefer to be treated with understanding and empathy, respect and kind­ness. Mostly, she wants speed and efficiency. 

If you train your people to understand the various pro­files of your customers, they can tailor their approach and add it to their foundational behaviors of kindness, efficiency, cheerfulness, and the rest. 

Reprinted with permission from Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC., from “Why Customers Leave (and How to Win Them Back)” by David Avrin and available wherever books are sold or from the publisher at or 800.423.7087.

David Avrin is the author of multiple books, including “Why Customers Leave (and How to Win Them Back)” (2019 Career Press). An international keynote speaker, CX consultant, and former Vistage CEO group leader, Avrin helps organizations creating meaningful competitive advantage by delivering envisioning, crafting, and delivering a superior customer experience. Learn more at

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