Shep Hyken\'s Customer Service Blog

Take Your Customers Where They Need to Go, Not Where They Want to Go

On a recent trip to Africa, I had the pleasure of meeting the Governor of Oyo State, Nigeria, the Honorable Abiola Ajimobi. He had a commanding presence and shared many insightful thoughts. I asked what made him successful, and he quickly responded with the following response: “Good leaders don’t take people where they want to go. They take them where they need to go.”

We continued the conversation about how he was elected to a second term as Governor, which was not that common. He always has his state and country in mind when he makes decisions. He knows what’s good for his people and Oyo State. He knows there could be some pain involved in giving them what they need, which often is different than what they want. This was a leader sharing his philosophy, and my mind was racing with ideas about how it applies to customer service and the customer experience.

It’s really quite simple. When we find out what our customers want if it’s not what they need, and we know it, are we willing to tell them? Here are a couple of examples to make the point:

Years ago, I was working on a project with an attorney. We were discussing different approaches to the problem, and I had an idea. He said, “If that’s what you want, I’ll do it.” I told him, “I don’t know if that is what I want. I’m just sharing an idea.” And, he followed up by saying, “As I said, I’ll be happy to do it.” His mindset was to do what his client asked for, not necessarily what was best for his client. And, that was the end of that relationship.

I went to my local Ace Hardware store. I came in with a special hinge for a swinging door. I asked if they had one in stock. The salesman could have simply said, “Yes,” and sold me what I asked for. But, that didn’t happen. Instead, he asked me about the kind of door I was going to use. He made a suggestion of another type of hinge, which was much less expensive. He said, “This is what you need. If you replace what you have, you’ll be back here in a year or so to replace it again.” Had he not asked me how I was using the hinge, he would have never known to sell me the other, less expensive hinge. He sold me what I needed versus what I thought I wanted.

The lesson is simple. Good customer service isn’t always giving a person what they want. It’s giving them what they need. It’s nice when they are the same, but that’s not always the case. Need versus want. And, the best people in customer service know how to do it with tact and diplomacy – in a way that gets the customer to want to come back.

Shep Hyken is a customer service expert, keynote speaker, and New York Times bestselling business author. For information, contact 314-692-2200 or For information on The Customer Focus™ customer service training programs, go to Follow on Twitter: @Hyken

(Copyright © MMXVIII, Shep Hyken)

  1. Hi Shep.
    I have recently signed and subscribed to your blog & newsletter a few weeks ago. I also have a blog/website ( that touches among many things, customer service, innovation in business and other topics related to them. Your post above is very interesting and insightful. coming from a customer service background myself I totally agree that great customer service comes from giving your client what they really need and this, in turn, can build a great relationship towards future business down the road. Service from the heart!!!

  2. As a Customer Service Trainer… this is one of my biggest struggles. I work in the Vacation industry and often times, our owners call in with what they “want” and it isn’t available. I have to train my agents on how to offer an alternative. I have to train that the “want” is a Vacation and due to the nature of the business, that vacation “want” may not be available. And what usually comes with the “want” not being available comes with an unhappy owner. Granted that owner may have called June 22nd to book our most popular resort for the July 4th holiday, (which books up a year in advance) and because of the time they called, it’s gone. We have to educate the owner that it’s popular, and the tricks to booking a popular vacation time. Which only works a small portion on the time. We still have unhappy owners that don’t understand that you have to plan as far out in advance for peak travel seasons/holidays.

    And then I train that we have to offer the “NEED” for a vacation and that “need” may be at another resort and destination. This is my struggle, because my agents have a hard time getting over the frustration of the owner, and don’t ask “discovery” questions to find out more about what the owner would be willing to experience. I guess this goes in hand with handling difficult calls, (did I mention this an Inbound Call Center?) and how to have a conversation when your client/owner is FUMING.

    I have several of your books… Moments of Magic being my all time favorite. What book, what chapter should I refer back to that may help me as a trainer to help my customer service agents get over these hurdles?

    Also… I actually use your Taxi Cab video during my training to reinforce 1st impressions aren’t always accurate and how to turn around what could be “moments of misery”.

    • Hi Ashley – Great question. Every situation will be a little different, but lets’ go back to Moments of Magic, where I write about handling complaints. I can’t remember the chapter, but it features the “card trick” where I ask questions and adjust what I say next based on the customer’s answer. So, the opening question after informing the owner his/her vacation request is not available might be something like, “Even though your location is not available, you still want to go on vacation, right?” They will respond, most likely, with a “Yes.” That’s when you say, “That’s right, and I’m going to find you an amazing alternative, that may be even better than the place you previously wanted to go.” Or something like that. You get the idea. That just shows your owner you want to take care of them. Then ask questions like, “What made you want to go this location in the first place?” From there you’re gathering info to find them something similar, if not even better. I don’t know your business like you do, but that’s just an idea to get you started. I remember when my favorite ice cream wasn’t available. The employee could have said, “Sorry, we’re out.” Instead, she asked if I’d ever had ____, and I tried it. Guess what? It became my new favorite flavor. Hope this was helpful.

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