Heart or head first? Which is more important in driving great Customer Experiences?


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head or heart

One of my Fathers most memorable quotes when I was a young boy was ‘engage your brain before opening your mouth!’ – I am unlikely to be the only adult who was given this type of advice in their youth! Talking from the heart; saying what I want to say; saying what I believe in; has always been hard-wired in to the way my brain works. There are those who will not always agree with what comes out of our mouths (my Dad included!) – that is a healthy certainty. However, I have always believed that as long as I talk from the heart; as long as I do what I believe to be the ‘right thing’, then my head and heart will work harmoniously together.

During my working life, this principle has been challenged on many occasions. Heartfelt passion; a distinct belief in something; is often misconstrued by those who do not feel the same about a subject. I have been described as being ’emotionally immature’ by a previous boss of mine – this boss used this description as he could not understand why I was making a decision based on my principles – based on my beliefs – a decision led from the heart.

In the corporate world, too often we – people – are expected to make decisions using our heads and our heads alone. Our heads are filled up with rules and regulations that must be adhered to. Whilst many rules and regulations are fundamentally necessary, the intense drive to do everything based on ‘what the head says’ leads to many decisions being made by people whose ‘hearts’ strongly disagree with the decision.


Let me give you an example – have you ever interacted with an employee of an organisation who has said something along the lines of:

I completely agree with you – I have no idea why we do things this way, but that is how things have always been done!

So many organisations are unable to enable their people to ‘do what is right’ – to EMPOWER them; rather than just do what it says in the rule book. Empowering people to use their hearts AND their heads, can have an immensely powerful effect on not just the employee – it also has an immense effect on the experience that customers will have in interacting with them.

Empowerment is based on the idea that giving employees skills, resources, authority, opportunity, motivation, as well holding them responsible and accountable for outcomes of their actions, will contribute to their competence and satisfaction.

This important definition of a word that business leaders often find difficult to comprehend, brings to life why understanding how to balance the heart and the head is so critical. I strongly believe that if you allow people to use both (not necessarily in equal balance), then the experiences that they will deliver to all customers (internal and external) will be greatly improved. To describe what I mean, allow me to share two examples with you.


The man seated at the very front of this picture is Kingdom Thenga. Kingdom is co-owner of a wonderful restaurant in my home city – Chester. Last year, I awarded this particular restaurant – at the hollows – the highest score to date in my independent Customer Experience Review process. You can read the full review here.

Last weekend, Naomi and I took two of our dearest friends, Steve and Sasha, to the restaurant for the first time. Steve has owned his own bar and restaurant in the past and is a real stickler for Customer Experience. I was fascinated to see if

  1. the experience would be as good as the first time (when I wrote my review)
  2. Steve and Sasha would feel the same way Naomi and I did

I can confirm that in both cases – we were not disappointed. The overall experience was just as good as the first time – if not even better. However, the purpose of this blog post is not to re-write the review I have already written. The reason why I am mentioning this fabulous restaurant again is in context with the title of the post.

During our visit to ‘at the hollows’, Kingdom was ever-present. Seamlessly interacting with colleagues and customers, he attended to his restaurant in the same way that a green fingered horticulturist attends to their land. Seemingly as happy clearing tables as he was sharing a drink with regulars, it was unbelievably apparent that Kingdom Thenga is a man who LOVES what he does.

I will regularly say to people that Customer Experience is ‘in your heart’ – Kingdom epitomises that theory. In fact, when Steve and I told him what we thought of him and his restaurant, Kingdom admitted that his principal motivation for doing what he does is not ‘to make money’. ‘This is my passion’, Kingdom said. Monetary reward is not the motivation. The reality is that ‘at the hollows’ will be a successful thriving business making lots of money for many many years whilst this man  continues to pour his heart and his head into doing what he believes in.

pizza express

Now for my second example – another food themed one. At first glance, you may wonder why I am sharing a picture of an empty table in a restaurant! If you look past the table to the kitchen, you can just about make out a person wearing a hairnet. This picture was taken last week inside a Pizza Express restaurant. The person in the hairnet is the restaurant manager. At the point I took the photo, she had donned an apron (as well as the hairnet), to help her pizza chefs. Even though the restaurant was not full, they were struggling to get orders out to customers quickly enough.

We have visited this Pizza Express many times – I have noticed this manager before. Unlike Kingdom, she does not own her restaurant. This lady is an employee of a large business. However, every single time I have observed her at work, she has been as engaged and connected to what she is doing – to her staff and her customers – as any restaurant manager I have ever seen.

To see her only to willing to jump straight into the kitchen to help out was incredibly refreshing – she could have seen this as something beneath her – many managers would have remained on the shop floor ‘barking orders’. Not this lady. I believe that she used her heart AND her head to do what was right.

The result of her actions was customers getting their Pizzas on time and her team remaining happy and in control. Most customers would not have even noticed – an even greater reflection of her ability as a leader. If she simply stuck to ‘the head’, I think it is unlikely that she would have done what she did – I have never observed this happening before – even when the restaurant has been busier and service slower.

I will be featuring an exclusive interview with Joseph in an upcoming blog post - watch out for it!

I will be featuring an exclusive interview with Joseph in an upcoming blog post – watch out for it!

So when it comes to driving great Customer Experiences, which is more important – the heart or the head? Joseph Michelli is perhaps one of the longest standing and most inspiring Customer Experience Professionals in the world An American psychologist, speaker, author, and radio personality, Joseph started his career as a psychologist in 1988 and began writing business books in 2004, including The Starbucks ExperienceI recently asked Joseph this very question – which is more important, the heart or the head? The answer – as far as he is concerned – is that Customer Experience is more about the HEART than the head. If you can get people to BELIEVE that they are part of something great, you will enable their hearts to be ‘revved up’ to serve people in the best way possible.

So there you have it – in the Customer Experience battle of heart versus head….. heart wins…… although we must always ensure that we are engaging our heads to use what the heart tells us to be as effective as possible (thanks Dad!).

Heart wins!

Heart wins!

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Ian Golding, CCXP
A highly influential freelance CX consultant, Ian advises leading companies on CX strategy, measurement, improvement and employee advocacy techniques and solutions. Ian has worked globally across multiple industries including retail, financial services, logistics, manufacturing, telecoms and pharmaceuticals deploying CX tools and methodologies. An internationally renowned speaker and blogger on the subject of CX, Ian was also the first to become a CCXP (Certified Customer Experience Professional) Authorised Resource & Training Provider.


  1. Great post, Ian. I completely agree with you (and Joseph). While there needs to be a head component in how great customer service is designed, delivered and managed, where the service encounter meets the customer is largely about the heart.

    The fundamental nature of product is tangible form; the fundamental nature of service is emotional feeling. As my co-author and business partner the late Ron Zemke wrote in his best-selling classic, Service America, unlike product, a service experience cannot be stockpiled nor inventoried. It happens in the moment and is co-created by the customer. I do not go to the factory and help Lexus make the vehicle I drive, but help create the experience with the service tech when I take it in for service. It happens through an emotional encounter and a relationship–all about the heart.

    Granted there are quantitative components to my service experience–was service work done on time, was there grease on the seat when I got my car back, was my bill accurate, etc. But, in the end my decision to come back or advocate for the Lexus dealership comes largely from my emotional encounter more than my logical and rational assessment of the facts.

  2. If, in customer decision-making and customer experience, heads = tangible, rational and functional and hearts = emotional, and the memory derived from emotion, then emotion will invariably dominate. We’ve seen this again and again in our customer experience design work with clients, and irrespective of b2c or b2b sector.

    As reported in a number of white papers and blogs, even in functional elements as basic as product/service reliability and consistency, there is an underpinning of emotion. Much of this has to do with earned and sustained trust, which drives other emotions.

  3. I think we are trying to differentiate between changing attitudes and mind-sets, because they are longer lasting. Changing mind-sets to coincide with the heart to the extent possible is the first step. The second step is making it from the head (that is the attitude changes this to become the policy, or from the head)

    You cannot run a company with all people leading from the heart

  4. If ‘heart’ is a proxy for all things emotional, and ‘head’ is for all things empirical and intellectual, then I think your question presents a false choice in a business context. Both are important.

    That’s embedded in Michelli’s comment, “Customer Experience is more about the HEART than the head.” His use of the comparative, more, doesn’t exclude either, and he leaves proportion (51/49?, 80/20?, 99/1?) enigmatic.

    We’re inundated with stories, platitudes, and hype about people loving their customers, loving what they do, and worrying less about revenue – or not worrying about revenue at all. We’re told how wonderful all this is, and we regularly have examples shoved at us about businesses that “think this way” and how they have achieved fame and fortune through selfless dedication to customers.

    Though greatly overplayed, I think they make interesting stories. I don’t question for one moment that Kingdom Thenga doesn’t love what he does. But I think it’s easier to write that ‘money is not a motivator,’ than it is to prove. I don’t know Kingdom, and I’ve never eaten at his restaurant, but I’ll wager he rabidly monitors his business’s financial performance.

    As a practical matter, all businesses have finite resources through which they can deliver value. And when expenses exceed revenue, there’s no safety net for them in most countries (not all). “You’re belly-up, Pal.” So, not to throw cold water on a wonderful customer-love story, but that Pizza Express restaurant manager still is accountable to her boss for her store’s P&L.

    This is the ‘head’ part of your dichotomy: She’s accountable for profit, and if the ink is red, her job is threatened. There’s no way to avoid it. Which supports Michelli’s use of the comparative, more.

    But what happens when ‘head/heart’ skews in the opposite – that is, what happens when ‘heads’ prevail? Answer: numbers rule, and ethics go out the window. In executive decision making, the overarching question that must be asked repeatedly is ‘what is the right thing to do?’ – a question that can only be answered from the heart.

    An article that I recently wrote, Announcing the 2015 Sales Ethics Hall of Shame showcases companies that notoriously fell victim to critical decisions that were made without the heart being involved. If you read the article, I think you will see that every company is susceptible.


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