The Most Important Customer Need is Also the Most Overlooked

February 3, 2014

how to fulfill customer needs

Customers have two types of basic needs. Unfortunately, it’s the most important need that often gets overlooked when dealing with these customer needs.

The first need is rational. A rational need is the specific service a customer is requesting. For example, a customer might call a software company for technical support because they can’t get their software to work properly.

The second need is emotional. An emotional need is how the customer feels about the situation. They might be frustrated that the software isn’t working. Perhaps they’re anxious because the problem is preventing them from getting important work done.

Customer service reps are usually good at spotting rational needs, but emotional needs are easily missed. That’s because the rational need is connected to action. Helping the customer fix their software is what the technical support rep does. The rep doesn’t feel the customer’s emotions, so they’re more difficult to spot.

Here’s the rub

 It’s the emotional needs that can make or break the customer’s experience. If the technical support rep can successfully validate the customer’s frustration by empathizing with them and then reassure the customer that they can help them, the customer will likely feel better. On the other hand, the customer won’t be happy if their software gets fixed but they’re annoyed and frustrated by the process.

Research conducted by Bård Tronvoll at Hedmark University College in Norway reveals that 97 percent of service failures also result in negative emotions for customers.

These negative emotions must be addressed since it’s ultimately how customers feel about your service that determines whether or not they’ll come back. For example, a survey of airline passengers whose flights were cancelled showed that how the cancellation was handled had more than twice the impact on customer satisfaction as the cancellation itself.

Spotting and reacting to customers’ emotional needs can take a little practice. Here are three techniques that can help you develop your skills.

  1. Tune in. Many people miss their customers’ emotions because they’re just not looking for them. Try to be mindful of the emotions your customers’ might be feeling. Pay close attention to their body language and tone of voice to find clues that reveal their emotions.
  2. Prioritize emotional needs. How customers feel about your service is ultimately more important than the actual service you provide, so make emotions the top priority when serving customers. Let an angry customer vent before solving their problem. Reassure a confused customer before helping them out. Share a laugh with an upbeat, light-hearted customer before getting down to business.
  3. Refocus on solutions. When there is a problem that makes a customer angry, try to avoid focusing on blame. Dwelling on the source of negative emotions often makes them even worse. Acknowledge your customers’ emotions to validate their feelings and then refocus the conversation on finding a solution and making them feel better.

Identifying and taking care of your customer needs emotionally isn’t always easy, but it’s a skill that can help elevate your customer service and leave a lasting impression.

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About The Author

Jeff Toister is the author of Service Failure: The Real Reasons Employees Struggle with Customer Service and What You Can Do About It (, a book that reveals hidden obstacles to outstanding service. His company, Toister Performance Solutions, Inc. helps clients identify these obstacles so they can improve customer service. Jeff is a nationally recognized employee training expert and one of the first people to receive the Certified Professional in Learning and Performance (CPLP) credential from the American Society for Training and Development. In 2013, he joined the #CustomerService100, a list of the Top 100 customer service thought leaders on Twitter.

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