Delivering an excellent customer experience is of the utmost important in the current business environment. In fact, according to recent research carried out by Podium, 68 percent of consumers are willing to pay 15 percent more for the exact same product if they can guarantee a better experience in the process.

It is no longer enough to simply compete based on products and price. Instead, customer experience is one of the biggest competitive differentiators, which is why companies prioritise developing the customer service skills of their teams through techniques like customer service coaching and training.

One of the best ways to ensure the customer experience is positive is to adopt a strategy based on solving problems for customers and placing customer needs front and centre. Here, we take a look at the ‘working backwards’ method for customer experience and explain how it can be of benefit to your business and its reputation.

Defining ‘Working Backwards’

In simple terms, the ‘working backwards’ method can be described as starting with a customer want, need or problem and providing a solution through a product, service or experience. The alternative involves starting with a product, feature or solution and trying to find an audience for it.

The most famous proponent of the ‘working backwards’ method was Steve Jobs. In 1997, at the Apple World Wide Developers Conference, Jobs used the basic theory to respond to an insult from an audience member, who accused him of not fully understanding the technology he was discussing.

“One of the things I’ve always found is that you’ve got to start with the customer experience and work backwards to the technology,” Jobs said, outlining his vision. “You can’t start with the technology and try to figure out where you’re going to try to sell it. Some mistakes will be made along the way…and we’ll fix them.”

This quote sums up the basic philosophy behind the method. By starting with the problem or need, you can work backwards to find a solution and then offer it to customers. This does not need to be limited solely to the products or services you sell. Think about customer needs, wants and expectations at every stage of their buying journey. What do they need from your website? What do they want from an in-store visit? Then think of the solution.

Adopting the Strategy

One of the most important aspects of actually implementing a ‘working backwards’ method is identifying exactly what is wanted from the customer experience. You should not rely on guesswork for this. Instead, you should speak to customers regularly, find out what they want, learn about their challenges and identify specific needs.

As Dave Bailey points out in an article for, it is also essential that, when communicating with customers, you lead with the need. What this means is, when you describe a product, or a service, or a particular feature, you start by explaining what need it addresses and then explain how it does this. It is important to take the time to do this, even if this means contextualising the need itself first, which is often the case.

Additionally, your business should continuously seek out feedback from customers and measure performance against customer expectations. This information should also be used to inform customer service coaching efforts.

“Measure the customer experience by collecting quantitative and qualitative information directly from customers,” says Seleste Lunsford, the Managing Director at CSO Insights, in a blog post on delivering a world-class customer experience. “Don’t just make assumptions on whether you are living up to what you promise. Ask.”

Understanding the Benefits

A key benefit of this method is that it allows customer service skills, marketing messages and sales information to be based around the needs being addressed, rather than the products or features being sold, making it more immediately relevant to customers. As a consequence, customers feel they are being served, rather than sold to.

This, in turn, helps to create a sense that your business actually wants to help customers. Moreover, it makes it easier to communicate the actual real-world value of the product or service being discussed, rather than trying to emphasise aspects that may require technical knowledge.

Finally, the ‘working backwards’ method also demonstrates a certain level of empathy and suggests your business has actually thought about how customers or clients feel and what their concerns are.

“It can ultimately increase loyalty and retention,” says Nikki Gilliland, writing for Econsultancy. “By showing greater awareness of the customer’s needs and pain points, brands are able to create an emotional connection with an audience rather than a purely transactional or functional one.”


The ‘working backwards’ approach to customer experience, advocated by the likes of Steve Jobs, involves using customer needs and wants as the starting point and then working backwards to deliver solutions to problems. As a result, it can make your products, services and other sales functions more relevant to customers.

From there, customers are more likely to develop an affinity for your business, feel as if you have their interests at heart and benefit from a positive overall customer experience.

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