Let me start with a basic reality of life: people are self-centered. We all are.

Everyone has their own frame of reference, which heavily influences what they do and how they do it. Customers, for instance, care intensely about their own needs and desires but they don't generally know or care as much about how companies are organized.

Employees also have their individual frames of reference; which often includes a deeper understanding of products, company organization, and subject matter than do customers. The perspective of employees is also shaped by the culture of an organization, the structure and silos created within the organization, their peers and bosses, and the non-stop politics that affect every organization in some way. Given all those influences on the human psyche, it’s hard for any individual to break out from their own perspective.

If this self-centered bias is left unchecked, decisions made inside of companies will often reflect the frame of reference of employees, not customers. This problem is sometimes called self-referential design. We make decisions that satisfy our needs. That’s the problem that companies need to avoid. Customers very often have substantially different needs than the employees who are making decisions about how to satisfy them.

Seeing the Whole Picture

Customers have their own needs and perspectives. Once we recognize this situation, we can overcome the natural tendency of self-centeredness. We will also find out that our organizations are not the center of our customers’ universe. Often times, when they interact with us, it’s part of a larger objective that they are trying to achieve. When a traveler reaches out to book a flight on Expedia or Travelocity, they are not just trying to get a plane ticket. They are on a journey that includes a trip, which might be for a business meeting, family vacation or to enjoy a Cold Play concert with friends.

As customers go on their journeys, they may interact with use several times. For them, it’s part of one journey, while most companies deal with these as individual touchpoints. If a business traveler looks online for a flight and then calls an agent, the company treats those interactions separately, not recognizing that the customer may have already done some research online. The traveler may have a good interaction with a phone agent, but be upset based on a price that he saw earlier on the website.