The 5th Habit of Customer Service: A Shout Out to Stephen Covey
Adam Toporek Keynote Speaker of Customers That Stick®

The 5th Habit of Customer Service: A Shout Out to Stephen Covey


The illustrious Stephen Covey passed away earlier this week. Covey was a legend in the business community. Author, speaker, and educator, Covey was most famous for his huge bestseller The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

5th Habit of Customer Service | Stephen Covey Head ShotThe 7 Habits had a major influence on my life. It was released when I was in business school, and I was lucky enough to be exposed to it at a still formative adult age. Though I lost touch with it for a few years, I soon rediscovered it’s simple message and difficult challenge.

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People:

  1. Be Proactive
  2. Begin with the End in Mind
  3. Put First Things First
  4. Think Win-Win
  5. Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood
  6. Synergize
  7. Sharpen the Saw

I could probably write a 3,000 word post about the genius of the habits above and their applicability to customer service. However, Habit 5 has always been the differentiator to me — the single habit that, if adopted, can change relationships, change organizations, and change the world (think about it for a moment).

The Power of Seeking First to Understand

Seeking first to understand our customers is the charge of customer service and has obvious implications in reactive customer service. Taking the time to listen to the customer’s challenge before attempting to tell your “side of the story” is a crucial technique in the successful resolution of customer issues. As we discussed in Want to Help You Customers? Then Just Shut Up:

“In the first scenario [offering answers without listening], we have started down the path of listing every reason or excuse in our playbook and hoping one of them sticks, instead of clarifying what it is the client feels or wants. Sure, we know they were aggrieved in some way by the cashier, but we have not delved into what that really means to them.

In the second scenario, we have given them a chance to be heard. We have shown that we care about what they feel — half the battle — and we are gaining valuable information on how to really address their needs in the process.”

Yet, Habit 5 does not only extend to reactive service. Habit 5 is also crucial to proactive service.

  • We must first understand our customer’s needs to fulfill them.
  • We must first understand our customer’s expectations to exceed them.
  • We must first understand our customer’s problems to solve them.

Whether it be in the pursuit of effectiveness in either proactive or reactive customer service, seeking first to understand is the cornerstone of great customer care, and if you believe in the wisdom of Stephen Covey, a great foundation of life as well.

Are you a fan of the 7 Habits? Which habit means the most to you?

About the Author Adam Toporek

By Adam Toporek. Adam Toporek is an internationally recognized customer service expert, keynote speaker, and workshop leader. He is the author of Be Your Customer's Hero: Real-World Tips & Techniques for the Service Front Lines (2015), as well as the founder of the popular Customers That Stick® blog and co-host of the Crack the Customer Code podcast.

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