Rethinking Service Excellence: Why the “Half Full or Half Empty” Approach Falls Short

The traditional question of whether the glass (or cookie jar!) is half full or half empty might seem relevant for assessing optimism or pessimism. However, this metaphor is increasingly inadequate to meet the expectations of today’s clients and customers. A more pertinent question is, “Does the customer want the glass full or empty?” This shift from a passive to an active approach to customer needs marks a significant transformation in the delivery of service excellence. Even using the term “service excellence” instead of customer service is deliberate because it is both a description and a measure.

Understanding Customer Intentions

The old metaphor focuses on assessing situations using a generic lens of positivity or negativity, success or failure, which can be limiting. Businesses move toward active listening by asking if the customer wants the glass full or empty. This involves not just hearing the words that are said but also fully interpreting the message being communicated, including emotional undertones,  underlying desires, and the customer’s needs.

Active Listening and Tailored Solutions

Active listening leads directly to tailored solutions. For instance, if you run a bakery that makes the best oatmeal raisin cookies in town but is always running out of milk, it makes it hard to sell cookies and milk! What about your chocolate chip or sugar cookies? How about chocolate milk? Are you maximizing customer satisfaction and, therefore, profits? Are your customers loyal, or are they splitting their business with the bakery across town? Why?

In corporate contexts, if a client expresses concerns about cost, the business should reassure them about the service’s value and offer customized solutions that align with the client’s budget and goals. This might involve adjusting service packages or demonstrating flexibility in delivery, which can help maintain and grow the client relationship.

The Importance of Customer-Centricity

Asking whether the customer wants their glass full or empty emphasizes the need for customer-centricity, which puts the customer’s needs at the forefront of business operations. It’s about creating value that enhances the customer’s experience and satisfaction, fosters strong relationships, and improves customer retention.

Empathy and Understanding

This approach also requires empathy. Businesses must view situations from the customer’s perspective to truly understand their needs and expectations. Such understanding leads to more effective problem-solving and innovation in product and service development.

Strategic Questions and Data Utilization

Moreover, this question encourages businesses to strategically utilize data analytics and customer feedback. Companies can anticipate needs and craft personalized experiences by analyzing customer behavior and feedback. For example, e-commerce platforms can recommend products based on previous purchases and browsing history, effectively anticipating how full the customer wants their metaphorical glass before they even ask.

Transforming Challenges into Opportunities

Additionally, this proactive approach transforms customer challenges into growth opportunities. When customers present issues, viewing it as an opportunity to determine their exact needs turns potential negatives into chances for positive engagement and solution-finding. This shift enhances the dynamics of customer interactions from reactive to proactive, significantly improving the customer experience.


In conclusion, focusing on whether the customer wants the glass full or empty signifies a fundamental change in how businesses approach service excellence. It emphasizes active engagement, personalized services, empathy, and strategic use of data to meet customer needs effectively. This perspective helps businesses think beyond transactions, fostering meaningful interactions that build lasting relationships and drive success. Understanding and fulfilling customer desires is essential for sustainable business practice in modern service excellence.