Episode 128: The Understander is always right.

Episode 128: The Understander is always right.

Interview with Tore von Würden, Country Director Denmark/Norway/Iceland for Amgen.


The idea that “the customer is always right” is outdated. The customer often does not know what they want. How many mobile phone users would have said that they wanted the iPhone before it was launched, just to take a famous example.

And to quote Steve Jobs: “It’s not the customer’s job to know what they want.”

But if it’s not the customer’s job, then whose job is it?

It’s the job of “The Understanders.”

I learned about “The Understanders” during a conversation with Tore von Würden, Country Director Denmark/Norway/Iceland for Amgen. (Amgen is, with its 33,000 employees, one of the largest independent biotechnology companies in the world.)

An Understander is a person within an organization who best understands the customers and their needs.

Understanders can be in sales, customer support, in the front-lines or in the back-office. It’s not a position, it’s a mindset and a skill.

A skill of being the best at understanding what the customer really wants. It could be argued that there are no more important people within an organisation than the Understanders.

Tore told me how they had identified a nurse within Amgen Denmark who was an Understander. Pernille, as she is called, has – according to Tore – this unique ability to connect with patients.

Because Pernille had worked both as a clinic manager as well as actively working with hematology patients for decades, and because of her personality of always wanting to connect with patients, Pernille came up with a way of compliantly changing how the patient’s treatment was conducted. Instead of the patients having to come into their doctor 2 times a week for 2-hour sessions each time, they now only need to come in once a week for a session that takes just one hour. Better treatment and a huge time saver for the patients.

I asked Tore to describe the traits that people like Pernille – the super Understanders – have. He said:

“First: They are great at focusing in on the customer. They somehow always find a way to spend time with the customers. They take the time. And they do not just listen to them, they are genuinely interested in customers, their lives, their problems and their ideas.

Second: They have the ability to rephrase what the customers are saying, what they are trying to say (and what they are not saying!) into a message that makes sense. They know how to synthesize the message.

Third: They also understand the company’s perspective. They know how to take the insights from the customers and put them into the context of procedures, processes and strategies of the company. Profound customer insights without deep understanding of the company is pretty useless.”

When I listened to Tore speak about the profound interest in the customer that Understanders have, I realized that the classical sales slogan of “ABC” should not stand for “Always Be Closing”; it should stand for “Always Be Closer”.

As in: always try to get closer to your customer.

Or as Tore put it: “That’s the beauty of the Understanders, they do not need to be doing any selling, they are so close to the customer that the sales come more or less by themselves.”

One of the most valuable aspects of Understanders is their ability to, in Tore’s words, “bring in the narrative of the customers.”

Understanders can tell a better story of the customer because they understand them better.

A great illustration of just how valuable Understanders are for a company is how Amgen’s competitors have three sales reps covering Denmark. Amgen has just one: Pernille.

Tore: “She can walk in at any hospital and instantly gets to talk to the right person. Because they want to talk to her. They feel that she understands them.”

That’s the magic of Understanders. They make people feel understood.

And that is more valuable than virtually anything else.

The Customer is not king.

The Understanders are kings and queens. Because they understand the customers even better than the customers understand themselves.

Who are the Understanders in your organization? Identify them. Support them. Promote them. Keep them.

Fredrik Haren, The Creativity Explorer

“Want to discover your full creative potential? Then watch more episodes on YouTube and do not forget to subscribe.If you prefer to get new inspiring episodes straight into your inbox then sign up for the newsletter below."




Follow us