Do You Walk in Your Customers’ Shoes?


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How you engage your team in knowing and understanding the lives of your customers is one of the things that differentiates the “beloved” companies for the “everyday” companies.

New Hires at USAA Eat Like Soldiers
While new hires are not required to be from the military, they must understand the military. So new USAA employees wear the military helmet and feel the weight of the backpack and flak vest strapped to their backs. USAA serves new employees MREs (meals ready to eat) during orientation so they can better identify with military life. They get to know the people behind the uniform by reading letters from soldiers and their families.

USAA was the first bank to allow iPhone deposits and among the first to let customers initiate an insurance claim using their phones from the scene of an accident. In 2008, they rolled out a service allowing customers to get text messages about their account balances. They have mobile peer-to-peer payments, allowing customers to e-mail or text-message money to friends or family for immediate deposit.

While nimble technology may be part of the formula for meeting its customer’s needs, USAA knows that an empathetic and caring workforce that understands the unique lives of their customer base is fundamental to their ongoing success. That means walking in their customers shoes. Elizabeth D. Conklyn, EVP of People Services, says, “We want to cover the light moments, the heart-wrenching moments, what it’s like to be bored in the field. By walking in the shoes of its customers, USAA breaks down the barrier that often exists between companies and customers. As a result, USAA customers love and reward them with growth and validation. Its client retention rate? A near-perfect 97.8%.

Do You Walk in Your Customers Shoes

Decide to “Be Real”
Beloved companies work hard to make personal connections. They strive to ensure their “real” personality shines through in each interaction with the customer. In the beloved and prosperous companies:
• Leaders blend who they are as people with how they lead.
• Business decisions combine purpose and passion.
• Leaders give employees behaviors to model and permission to be “real.”
• Relationships are between people who share the same values.

These attitudes and actions embody what is behind beloved and prosperous companies. The action of empathy, walking a mile in the shoes of your customers, allows you to connect, establish rapport and create a trusting relationship. Once the customer realizes that you are on their side, they are more willing to work with you to fix the problem, or will allow you the time to resolve the issue. And they will stay with you and tell their friends about you. They will grow your business.

Republished with author's permission from original post.


  1. Jeanne’s insightful post inspires me to convey this memory….

    I am proud to say that USSA’s former chairman, Ret. Gen. Robert Herres was my mentor. He wrote the Foreword to the second edition of my book, Customer Loyalty. He deeply understood the importance of treating employees well so they, in turn, could treat customers well.

    Here’s an customer experience lesson he taught me:

    One evening, Gen. Herres was leaving the USSA campus in San Antonio. He stopped at the security gate. It was five minutes before the campus officially closed. Gen. Herres noticed that the security officers were closing down and the “farewell” he received was less than satisfying. This lack-luster experience bothered him. He told me, “These are the first people our employees see on arrival and, the last they see, on departure every day. Our employees deserve to be served by people who are focused on them, not distracted by the fact it’s time to close.” Next morning, Gen. Herres took steps to bring the security gate staffing in-house. He realized the importance of USAA delivering “warm welcomes” and “fond farewells” to USSA staff coming and going through the guard gates. Gen Herres said, “We expect our staff to offer stellar service. So we, in turn, must model that caliber of service to our staff.”


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