Defining the Compass North for Your Customer Experience

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I was talking to a senior director of a large multinational. He told me that his company wanted to differentiate from its competitors through customer service. He rightly pointed out that it’s easy to copy products. The company, therefore, wanted to shift the competitive battleground to service.

So far, so good. I couldn’t fault the logic.

After briefing me, he asked, “So how would TMI  help us?”


I asked him a question that I ask all senior leaders seeking to develop their own unique brand of customer service:

“If I was going to ask each of the members of your senior management team, would I get a consistent response to this question – ‘What is the customer experience that you want your organisation to deliver to your customers?”

This is what I call my “Compass North” question.

This is a simple enough question. After all, if I was to ask the same senior management people what the sales targets were for the year, I am sure that they would be able to tell me.

And, seeing it is customers who are the ones who give us sales, and happy customers are the ones that build our businesses, surely there would be clarity around what the customer experience should be.

I asked the question – and there seemed to belong pause.  And then he gave me the same answer that I have become accustomed to when I ask this question. He said, “You won’t get a consistent answer from the senior team.”

In short, this company did not have a Compass North for its customer experience decision-making.

I could ask the same question to senior management teams around the country, and, in all but a few exceptional cases, I will get the same response – management is focused on sales, but it is not focused on the customer.

A company develops a clear “Compass North” when it has an agreed customer experience framework. Celebrated brands in the customer experience such as Starbucks, Amazon, the Ritz-Carlton, Disney, Zappos, Harley Davison and Netflix have developed their Compass North, i.e. clarity on the desired customer experience.

The impact is that all decision-making, all behaviours, all strategies, have a direct line of sight to the customer and their Compass North.


Amazon is a good example.   In an interview reported in, Florian Baumgartner, Director Consumables, Amazon Germany, said:

Amazon is a company driven by a relentless customer focus. We believe that customers always want something better, and it is our desire to delight them. This drives us to invent on their behalf. At Amazon, all of our actions, goals, projects, programs, and inventions begin and end with the customer in mind. We call this “working backwards”, a fundamental part of our innovation process. We start with customers and what they want and let that define and guide our efforts.

Amazon is a customer-obsessed company. It is clear on its Compass North – and it always starts with the customer.

Starbucks is another company that has achieved huge success by focusing on the customer experience.

There is the story of a senior team in the US seeking ways to cut costs. A cost-cutting proposal was to downgrade the quality of the toilet paper in its washrooms to single ply. This would have saved the company hundreds of thousands of dollars.

In theory, this sounds like a clever decision.

However, the company came to its customer-centric senses. It asked, ‘What impact will this have on the customer experience?”

The Starbucks experience is to give its customers affordable luxury. Single-ply toilet paper was definitely inconsistent with that experience.

The company felt that if it switched to the cheaper paper, it would be inconsistent with charging the premium that Starbucks does for its coffee. The idea was dropped.


Think of the discussions that take place in your organisation. Does decision-making revolve around customer-obsessed, Compass North questions: “What impact do our decisions have on the customer experience? What impact will they have on customer loyalty?”

And, at an operational level, if your senior management team is not clear on what brand of customer service should be delivered, your staff certainly won’t be able to deliver it.  And they won’t be clear on how systems and processes need to be aligned to deliver on it either.

Here in lies the root cause of issues of “lack of consistency in service delivery” that we often encounter with our clients. Without a clear Compass North on the service experience, employees and departments operate by their views of what Compass North should be. There might several Compasses North at play when really, there should only be one.

And, when there are cost cuts, a lack of a Compass North will most often mean that across the board, budget cuts will be implemented – without reference to the impact on the customer.

The first step, therefore, is for leadership in organisations to agree on their Compass North – the Customer Experience that they want their customers to receive.


Here is a little challenge for you. Ask those around you in your company these simple Compass North questions.

The first is, “If you were in front of an employee, how would you describe the customer experience that you want that employee to deliver to customers?” That is, have you identified, clarified and communicated your Compass  North?

The second is, “If you design systems and processes, how do you make the impact on the customer experience through your Compass North design?”

The third is, “When we make budget allocations and budget cuts, do we and how do we use our Compass North in considering the impact on the customer experience?”

And, the big one for leadership teams is, “When making decisions, do we and how do we use our Compass North in our decision making?”

The answers to your Compass North questions may give you a clue as to how customer-obsessed your organisation really is.

The good news is that you CAN develop your service Compass North. This is the customer experience that your senior team wants the organisation to deliver.

Once your senior team has defined your customer experience Compass North, you will have started the journey of creating what Jeff Bezos has popularised – a customer-obsessed company.


  1. We are here for our customers. They are the reason for our existence.
  2. Develop clarity on the customer experience that you want your organisation to deliver to your customers. This is your “Compass North”.
  3. Make your “Compass North” the reference point for all decisions,  behaviours, systems, processes and budget decisions.

Until next time.


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