Focus on your customersWhy is Understanding your Customer Important?

Customers buy your product or service with the expectation that it will solve a problem they have.  For example, no one buys a washing machine for its own sake. People buy clean clothes.

When you design your product or service, you may have a target customer in mind and how they might use your product, but unless you check with them, you may miss the problem they are really trying to solve.

If you cannot understand why your customer has acquired your product or service, you may talk to them in an unfamiliar language. You may not understand their problem. And you may make policy decisions that are inappropriate for the market you serve. You may service your product incorrectly. You may sell to the wrong audience with expectations you don’t satisfy.

The effect of these misunderstandings or poor policies or service will be customer dissatisfaction, negative word of mouth and loss of brand image, resulting in lower sales.

What is meant by understanding your customer?

1. What problem does your product or service solve for the customer?

2. What is the terminology is used by the customer to describe their problem?

3. Who are the stakeholders? Who uses the product? Who evaluates the product? Who recommends the product? Who pays for it.

4. What problems could the customer call in for? What is the impact of those problems?


IBM Customer Service

When I worked at IBM, a customer could have a hardware or software failure. It was easy to understand that it was a problem for a customer calling into the service department.

But IBM went further. It established a severity program to understand important the problem was. Does the whole computer stop working or just one feature?  What is the impact of the failure? In some cases, the impact was catastrophic. The online store could fail to take orders,  losing the company millions of dollars of sales every hour, or minute! A failure might mean that a company cannot pay their employees on time, resulting in massive employee dissatisfaction or worse. The operating rooms in a hospital might not be able to function leading to a loss of life. Clearly each of these examples are important to understand when a service department is engaged.

Cisco Customer Service

Another example is less dramatic but just as telling. I recently had to return a router under warranty to Cisco. It was used in my home. I had several computers attached to it and internet access was important to me and my family, not only for email but to complete homework assignments, pay bills and even post to this blog.

Cisco customer service offered to replace the defective router but we had to send it back at my expense and when they received it, they would send me a new one. That could take a week or more. Who can be without internet access for a week or more? Does Cisco understand its customer? Clearly not. It was not the fault of the customer service department. This was a policy decided at a different level within their organization. This was a management policy problem.

Apple Customer Service

Contrast this with Apple Customer Service. Given the same situation, as Cisco, Apple’s approach is to send a replacement unit immediately, while taking a credit card to pay for the unit if the defective one is not sent back. Apple allowed for a generous time period for the return, allowing full testing before the old defective unit had to be returned.


Customer service is not always the key to satisfying customers. Sometimes the policies of the organization impede the best customer service organization from delivering excellent customer support. Customer satisfaction is a system, including policies set by product designers, marketers and management and the execution of excellent customer support, with the urgency required by the customer. The system starts with understanding your customer.


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Adele Berenstein

Adele Berenstein is an Experienced Customer Satisfaction Executive, recently retired from a Large Global IT Organization after a long productive management career including Sales, Marketing, Services, teaching and education center management and most recently, 19 years in customer satisfaction management. She turned around divisions with customer satisfaction problems, implemented measurable improvements and management systems, and implemented programs to prevent problems from ever affecting customers.

2 Responses to “Customer Satisfaction Tip: Understand your Customer”

  1. Barry Clasper Says:

    We had an experience similar to the one you relate about Apple, but with a Keurig coffee maker. They, too, immediately sent a replacement unit, no questions asked. Of course, shipping something like a coffee maker back to them would be very expensive. Their remedy for that was to have us remove a small part, without which the coffee maker wouldn’t work, and ship only that small part back to them. They were willing to write off the broken coffee maker, but they protected themselves against getting scammed. Clever, I thought.

  2. Adele Says:

    Hi Barry

    Thanks for the comment.

    I had a similar experience with a warranty claim on a handbag. I sent back only a small part of the bag that rendered it useless and received my replacement. Unlike Apple and Keurig, they waited for my return before shipping a new handbag. But I do have more than one handbag in my wardrobe so it wasn’t a problem.

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