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Education competencies: Customer focus

This competency is one in a set of complete functional and behavioral qualities that, when fully realized, can help lead to professional success. View all competencies.


Commits to meeting the expectations and requirements of internal and external stakeholders; acts with stakeholders in mind; values importance of providing high-quality customer service.

Proficiency level

Level 1: Basic Level 2: Intermediate Level 3: Advanced Level 4: Expert
Seeks to meet the expectations and requirements of internal and external stakeholders Commits to meeting the expectations and requirements of internal and external stakeholders Dedicated to and openly communicates to staff that customer service to stakeholders comes first Strategically plans ways to demonstrate superior customer service for district stakeholders
Considers stakeholders’ needs to be important Gets firsthand stakeholder information and assesses it to measure stakeholder satisfaction Interacts regularly with stakeholders to gain feedback and to ascertain ways to improve services Investigates and analyzes external indicators to project stakeholders’ future needs
Establishes relationships with stakeholders and gets firsthand stakeholder information Builds and maintains effective relationships with stakeholders and gains their trust and respect Acts with stakeholders in mind and considers customer service of paramount importance Establishes and nurtures relationships with stakeholders, regularly inviting feedback and suggestions

Directs staff to ensure stakeholder trust and respect for the organization

Overdoing customer focus

  • May be overly responsive to customer demands
  • May be too willing to change established processes and timetables to respond to unreasonable customer requests
  • May make too many exceptions and not form consistent policies, practices, and processes for others to learn and follow
  • Sticks so close to current customer needs that breakthroughs are missed

Essential questions

To improve your proficiency, ask yourself the following questions on a regular basis:
  • What must I do today to follow through on a promise?
  • What have I failed to do that I said I would do, and can I redeem the situation even now?
  • Who can I touch base with today, just for the sake of keeping in contact with them?
  • What can I do to improve an existing process, even if it seems to function properly?
  • Can I listen to a complaint without becoming defensive?
  • In what specific way(s) can I exceed the expectations of someone today?
To avoid overdoing customer focus, ask yourself:
  • Am I inconsistent in setting policies or forming processes to try to please everyone?
  • Am I overreacting or overcompensating when dealing with a complaint?
  • Am I getting overwhelmed by negative comments?

Interview questions

  • Describe a time when you made meeting and exceeding customer requirements a driving force behind your activities and decisions. Who were the customers and how did you clarify the needs? To what extent did you involve others? What were the results?
  • Share a time when you actively gathered information to measure stakeholder satisfaction. How did you gather the information? How did you use it to improve customer service?
  • Describe specific methods you’ve used to build relationships and gain the trust and respect of key stakeholders.

Learning on the job

Learning on your own: These self-development remedies will help you build your skill(s).
  • Keep in touch: Keep in touch in various ways: phone, face-to-face, mail, email, etc. Ask customers what they need, want, and expect.
  • Be ready for the good news and the bad news: Listen and be responsive to legitimate criticism; make a note of the rest. Resist getting defensive and overwhelmed.
  • Anticipate customer needs: Meet on a regular basis to develop rapport, relationship, and understanding. Anticipate what they need before they do, and be ready to fill the gap.
  • Put yourself in their shoes: Gain perspective from the other side of the fence. Respond to communication in a timely way, and deliver what you promise.
  • Arrange and design what you do considering your customers’ point of view: Design and manage your interaction from them in, not from you out.
  • Create an environment of experimentation and learning: Drive for continuous improvement.
  • Look at your own personal work habits: Design your behavior for effectiveness and efficiency. There is always room for improvement.
  • Think of yourself as a dissatisfied customer: Do unto others as you want them to do unto you. Study ways your performance is less than stellar, and try to eliminate the cause of at least half of them.
  • Think of yourself as a satisfied customer: Consider the ways you perform with excellence, and reinforce or institutionalize them. Study what others do well and incorporate their methods.
  • Play detective: Study work flows and processes around you (airports, malls, restaurants). Note changes you would make or good points you see, and incorporate those principles into your activities.
Learning from develop-in-place assignments: These part-time develop-in-place assignments will help you build your skill(s).
  • Do a customer satisfaction survey.
  • Represent your organization at a conference, convention, or workshop.
  • Launch a new procedure, process, or curriculum.
  • Troubleshoot a performance or quality problem.
Learning more from your plan: These additional remedies will help make this development plan more effective for you.
  • Learning to learn better:
    • Monitor yourself more closely and get off your autopilot. Think freshly about each situation before acting.
    • Pre-sell an idea to a key stakeholder. Identify those whose support you need. Collect information needed to be persuasive and try to pre-sell your solutions.
    • Sell something to a tough group or audience. Understand opposing viewpoints; find common ground. Prepare yourself with your best data and arguments.
  • Learning from experience, feedback, and other people:
    • Use multiple models. Select role models of towering strengths (or glaring weaknesses). Learn from characteristics rather than from the whole person.
    • Learn from those in authority. Distance yourself from your feelings, and analyze what they do and do not do well. Choose to imitate the successful behavior.
    • Get feedback from those in authority. Communicate that you are open to constructive criticism and are willing to work on issues they view as important.
    • Be open to feedback. Ask for examples and detail; listen, take notes, and keep a journal.
  • Learning from courses:
    • Take a course to brush up on or refresh your job skills.
    • Take a course designed to offer feedback, such as how to develop negotiating skills or influence people.
    • Take a survey course designed to give a general overview of an area of interest.

Recommended readings

  • Bell, Chip R., and Billijack R Bell.Magnetic Service.San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc., 2003.
  • Blackwell, Roger, and Kristina Stephan.Customers Rule! Why the E-Commerce Honeymoon Is Over and Where Winning Businesses Go From Here.New York: Crown Business Publishing, 2001.
  • Branham, F. Leigh.Keeping the People Who Keep You in Business.New York: AMACOM, 2001.
  • Brock, Richard.Inside the Minds: Profitable Customer Relationships: The Keys to Maximizing Acquisitions, Retention, and Loyalty.Boston: Aspatore Books, 2003.
  • Buckingham, Richard A.Customer Once, Client Forever: 12 Tools for Building Lifetime Business Relationships.New York: Kiplinger Books, 2001.
  • Griffin, Jill, and Michael W. Lowenstein.Customer Winback.San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, Inc., 2001.
  • Gutek, Barbara A., and Theresa Welsh.The Brave New Service Strategy.New York: AMACOM, 2000.
  • Hall, Stacey, and Jan Brogniez.Attracting Perfect Customers: The Power of Strategic Synchronicity.San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc., 2001.
  • Heskett, James L., W. Earl Sasser, Jr., and Leonard A. Schlesinger.The Service Profit Chain: How Leading Companies Link Profit and Growth to Loyalty, Satisfaction, and Value.New York: The Free Press, 1997.
  • Johnson, Michael D., and Anders Gustafsson.Improving Customer Satisfaction, Loyalty and Profit.New York: Jossey-Bass, Inc., 2000.
  • Keller, Ed, and Jon Berry.The Influentials.New York: The Free Press, 2003.
  • Nykamp, Melinda.The Customer Differential.New York: AMACOM, 2001.
  • Prahalad, C.K., and Venkat Ramaswamy.The Future of Competition: Co-Creating Unique Value with Customers.Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 2004.
  • Reichheld, Frederick,Loyalty Rules.Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 2001.
  • Reichheld, Frederick F., with Thomas Teal.The Loyalty Effect: The Hidden Force Behind Growth, Profits and Lasting Value.Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 2001.
  • Seybold, Patricia B., Ronni T. Marshak, and Jeffrey M. Lewis.The Customer Revolution.New York: Crown Business Publishing, 2001.
  • Sobel, Andrew.Making Rain: The Secrets of Building Lifelong Client Loyalty.New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2003.
  • Solomon, Michael R.Conquering Consumerspace.New York: AMACOM, 2003.
  • Solomon, Robert.The Art of Client Service.Chicago, IL: Dearborn Financial Publishing, 2003.
  • Tate, Rick, and Josh Stroup.The Service Pro: Creating Better, Faster, and Different Customer Experiences.Amherst, MA: HRD Press, 2003.
  • Thompson, Harvey.The Customer-Centered Enterprise.New York; McGraw-Hill, Inc., 2000.
  • Zaltman, Gerald.How Customers Think.Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 2003.
  • Zemke, Ron, and Chip R. Bell.Service Magic: The Art of Amazing Your Customers.Chicago, IL: Dearborn Financial Publishing, 2003.

Next steps

Copyright © 1992, 1996, 2001-2003 by Robert W. Eichinger and Michael M. Lombardo. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. This work is derived from the LEADERSHIP ARCHITECT® Competency Library developed and copyrighted by Robert W. Eichinger and Michael M. Lombardo for Lominger Limited, Inc.

This competency is one in a set of complete functional and behavioral qualities that, when fully realized, can help lead to professional success.