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Fundamental #5: Walk Your Cutomers’ Shoes

Fundamental #5: Walk Your Cutomers’ Shoes


The 30 Fundamentals that make up the “ConnectSMART Way” describe how we want to run our business – the way we treat our clients, the way we work with each other, and even the way we relate to our vendors and suppliers.  They’re who we are and they’re the foundation of our success.  They drive everything we do, every day. Each week we focus on a different fundamental and discuss in depth.

Fundamental #5: Walk Your Cutomers’ Shoes

Understand your customers’ world. Know their challenges and frustrations. See the world from their perspective. The better you understand them, the more effectively you can anticipate and meet their needs.

The origins of the sayingCompany Fundamentals ‘Before you judge someone, walk a mile in their shoes’ goes back to an old Cherokee Indian proverb.  This inspired Harper Lee to have her character of Atticus Finch state in her book To Kill a Mockingbird “You never really know a man until you understand things from his point of view, until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” Usually we think we do tis pretty well.  How often have I heard myself saying to someone “yeah, I know how you feel”? Do we really?  We may have some shared experiences, but rarely do we really know how someone else feels.  The Cherokee said to walk a mile, Atticus Finch took it a bit further (and maybe a bit more macabre) to climb into someone else’s skin and walk around in it.  This is a great challenge for us. In the first case I hate walking a mile in my own shoes much less someone else’s! Think for a minute about what it means to be someone else for a minute.  Most of who you are is based on your experiences, the way you see the world, the way you react to different people, what you consider comfort food, what brings you in your mind to a place of contentment.  Much of our viewpoints on morality, justice, right and wrong are also based on those experiences.

I read a very interesting article the other day about the problems in voluntourism. Well-meaning people trying to help less fortunate people then themselves in third world countries.  The woman writing the article had been a volunteer in college and had seen the negative effects of how many of the orphans in the orphanages had families but had found that they were better off getting gifts from the volunteers rather than working.  Their only desire was to someday go to America where all the “stuff” was.  This reporter later spent a couple of months with a poor tribe untouched by first world help and she was speaking to the chief about why he would get upset if a gift was offered to him from an outsider.  She noted that everyone in the tribe was constantly giving each other things and that didn’t seem to be a problem.  The chief told her that you had to earn the right to give a gift by having a relationship first. To him a gift without knowing him or who he is was simply a bribe.  It struck me that most of what we do is completely self-centered.    Even a large amount of our charity is done more for ourselves then the ones we are trying to help if we are really honest with ourselves.  It makes us feel good about something.  I am not going to bash volunteering (on the contrary), but how much of volunteering is a photo opp?  Are we walking a mile in their shoes or simply giving them a new pair of shoes?

The core of this fundamental is empathy.  The lack of empathy is narcissism and in more extreme cases is psychopathy. Empathy isn’t about saying the right things.  Sometimes it is better not to say anything.  Are you and I willing to put aside being right to try to understand how someone else feels?  We have talked before about the phrase “The customer is always right” and that they aren’t, and we’ve talked about how someone’s perception is their reality.  Both of those tie into empathy.  Whether or not they are factually right it is our responsibility to understand how they FEEL.  In our technical world most people are more analytical and fact based.  This doesn’t negate the facts, but simply adds the dimension of perspective to those facts.  The ability to empathize with someone else is actually based on your capacity to identify, feel, and understand your own feelings. If you have actually read this far send me an email before end of business Monday for a prize. No cheating! Another aspect that empathy depends on is emotional intelligence.  This has nothing to do with mechanics or intellect but more in experience of emotions.  If you have a wide range of emotional experience it allows you to better project others emotions.

So how do we learn empathy?  First off, remove emotion! That is – your own.  Take your own emotion out of the situation and practice fundamentals #6 (check your ego at the door) and #20 (assume positive intent). Instead of getting angry with the person or Company Fundamentalssituation practice fundamentals #23 (listen generously) and #19 (be caring).  Don’t judge too hastily and get others opinions on your perspectives.  Empathy isn’t something that we are born with.  It is a learned skill, which becomes a character trait.

Pay attention to shoes this week.  What shoes are you wearing? What are the emotional shoes that our customers and each other wear? Are they work boots, cowboy boots, combat boots, high heels, slippers, wingtips, sneakers, clogs, mud boots? The list goes on. Just remember what the tribal chief said “If you don’t know me, how can you help me?”

Best Regards





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