Understanding the Customer

Read this article on how to understand a customer's needs and wants. Be sure to take careful notes to help study for the unit quiz and final exam. Spend 30 minutes visiting the featured customer workplace for examples of effective customer service tactics. If you can find employment listings of interest to you on that website, you may want to investigate those.

What the Customer Wants

Perhaps the most effective way to find out what customers want is simply to ask them. Customers have been asked in surveys what it is they are looking for, and their responses are not surprising. The primary response from customers is they want to receive polite, helpful service. They are not expecting extra special treatment, or to be overwhelmed with multiple offers of assistance—in fact, some customers may find excessive attention to be intrusive or offensive.

Nonetheless, they do report wanting to feel appreciated as a customer, and they want a pleasant attitude from their service provider, even if it may not necessarily be sincere. What does send them out the door to a competitor is an attitude of indifference. Even worse is when a customer service worker (CSW) treats a customer with hostility, for whatever reason.

A customer typically wants to complete a transaction as quickly as possible, minimizing the amount of time and energy it takes to serve a need or resolve a problem. Toward that end, you might look at the customer more as your partner in the transaction: how can we best help one another accomplish our immediate goal, so we can get to the next thing on our list?

Of course, some customers may want more from an interaction; perhaps they live alone and you are their only human connection that day. In this case, if you are able to offer an extra bit of time to the contact, you may not only gain a loyal customer, but you may also help a lonely person live just a bit happier. If you follow the model of listen, empathize, and take control, there is often some room to connect with a customer a little beyond the call of duty, before you slip into the control mode to complete the interaction.

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It may well be a supervisor is watching your interaction with a customer. At some point, you can be sure someone is observing and assessing your performance. Even though there will always be pressure to accomplish as much as possible within a reasonable amount of time, a good supervisor should appreciate your dedication to excellent customer service, and you will be recognized for your commitment to the customer as well as to the success of your company. By committing yourself to the best service you can provide within the constraints of your position, you might ultimately be recognized both professionally and personally.

What the Customer Needs

Along with understanding what a customer wants, it also is important to address what it is a customer needs. Often customers are not sure exactly what they need to do, only that they have a problem: it is your job to help find a resolution. It may be they simply need to better understand their purchased service or product. In that case, they may need to be educated with a simple and clear explanation.

Other times a customer may need to have a defective item replaced with one that works or better suits their particular needs. If you understand your customer’s requirements as well as your company’s offerings, this is usually an easy fix.

Sometimes, the customer may simply need to return an item or cancel a service. If you handle this need well, they may purchase a replacement item right then, or return later since you’ve won their loyalty with considerate service.

As a CSW, it is your job to help your customers find the solutions that best serve their needs, clearly explain the options, make a best recommendation, and then take control to implement an agreed upon action. Handled conscientiously, everyone comes out a winner.

Serving a Customer’s Needs and Wants

It is up to you as a CSW to understand the needs of your customers, the particulars of your company’s services or products, and the options you may be able to present to your customer. Maintain focus on what you are able to do for your customer (rather than what you are not able to do). Assume ownership of the customer’s needs or problem. Be clear and specific as you ask questions and make suggestions. Offer a clear resolution to the problem. Keep the interaction cordial and respectful. Make sure your customers feel respected and appreciated for bringing their business to you.

There is a saying: before I care what you know, I want to know that you care. Once customers feel you are on their side and that your mission is to help them find satisfaction, your job is half way done.


  • Most customers say they simply want polite and helpful service.
  • A good customer service strategy is to work with your customers as partners in the quick, smooth, satisfactory completion of a transaction.
  • Some customers may need a little more attention to satisfy their particular needs.
  • You may never know when you are being observed by a supervisor. The best practice is to always give you top effort to create a satisfied customer.
  • A CSW must also help identify a customer’s needs, even if the customer is not able to articulate what these needs are.
  • Customer needs might include explanations on how a product or service works; replacement of a product; and return or cancellation of a product or service.
  • A good CSW assumes ownership of a customer’s issue until it is resolved.

Source: Steven R. Van Hook and Saylor Academy
Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Last modified: Thursday, January 9, 2020, 8:43 AM