December 9, 2023

Small Business Advice

Seeing from the customer's perspective

Jerry Osteryoung | 2/26/2017

"If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is, Infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro' narrow chinks of his cavern."

~ William Blake

When police interview eye witnesses to a crime, they frequently get conflicting accounts. I could speculate and give a million different reasons why this might be, but instead, I will just say that people see things differently and that is part of being human. Our viewpoints are clouded – or filtered – by our past experiences, so the way we see things is about much more than the events themselves.

For example, someone who has been the victim of a violent crime is going to see things a whole lot differently from a person who has never had that awful experience. Thomas Huxley said, “There are some people who see a great deal and some who see very little in the same things.” Then there is Oscar Wilde, who said, “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.”

What I am trying to say is that when you are serving customers, you must see things the way they do.

We were recently in a physician’s office for a 1:20 appointment. We waited an hour before being moved to a second waiting room, where we waited another hour and a half before finally seeing the doctor. While in the second waiting room, we heard so many complaints. Patients were really becoming angry with the long wait times.

After Ellie had seen the doctor, I asked him about the long waits (she did not want me to confront him before her visit). He never apologized, nor did he show any empathy for the 20 people still waiting at 4 o’clock to see him. He just said that three of his staff were out, which made no sense as everyone had already been seen by his staff. They were waiting to see him.

Then, when I asked why they did not scatter appointments throughout the afternoon rather than having people come in all at once, he just stared at me without any real reaction.

I considered asking the doctor if he had ever walked into the waiting room to observe what his patients were experiencing, but I knew the answer without needing to ask. If he had ever seen what people were going through in his office, there is no doubt in my mind he would have changed the system.

Though this example comes from a medical practice, many businesses fall into the same trap. Top management just does not understand what their customers are going through.

If top management put themselves in their customers’ shoes and took every step they have to, I think many things would be much different.

For example, when I call customer service, why do I have to repeat the same information to every individual I speak with (e.g. account number)? Why can I not just give it once?

Now go out and take a critical look at every customer interaction. Ask yourself how a customer would feel about each one and what might need to change to make it a better experience.

You can do this!

Dr. Osteryoung has directly has assisted over 3,000 firms. He is the Jim Moran Professor of Entrepreneurship (Emeritus) and Professor of Finance (Emeritus) at Florida State University. He was the founding Executive Director of The Jim Moran Institute and served in that position from 1995 through 2008. His newest book co-authored with Tim O'Brien, "If You Have Employees, You Really Need This Book," is a bestseller on He can be reached by e-mail at

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