Customer empathy is a crucial part of the customer experience. Customer empathy essentially means that you truly care about the experience your customers have with your brand. This makes it possible for you to create strong emotional bonds with your customers – allowing you to create a unique competitive differentiator against the competition.
One of my first jobs ever was selling cell phones. Though we were primarily a retail location, people regularly brought in malfunctioning phones to see if it was something we could repair. At least once or twice a week someone would bring in a phone that wouldn’t turn on and all I’d do was press the power button, and wallah, the phone would boot on.
Most everyone in that situation had the same look of complete embarrassment on their faces. One day a co-worker pulled me aside and said, “when that happens tell them we see it all the time, and that it’s happened to you before.”
I was new and open to the advice of a more seasoned employee. So, the next time someone came in, I did just that. And guess what? That look of embarrassment faded quickly. The only way to arrive at that tactic is through customer empathy.
We’ve all needed empathy from an employee of a company at one time or another. Though getting a problem solved matters, so does feeling understood by the person we’re interacting with. There’s a simple reason for that: when someone addresses you from a place of empathy, it feels good. When they don’t, it feels bad. And there’s plenty of research to show that what we remember most is how someone made us feel.
So, how exactly does customer empathy impact the customer experience?
The relationship between customer empathy and customer experience
Empathy is a common term to hear in customer success, but it’s not always incredibly clear what empathy exactly is. According to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary:
“Empathy is the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner”
If you think back on your best experiences as a customer they probably all have one thing in common: you felt in-synch with the rep, or agent, you were working with. They understood your needs and you didn’t have to expend extra energy trying to explain the issue.
The main way to be in-synch with someone, and by extension provide a great customer experience, is through customer empathy. When you’re able to get to the core of what someone needs, you’re able to provide the best customer experience possible.
Benefits of using customer empathy
Did you know the Apple Genius Training Manual includes a basic guide to empathy? In some ways, that should come as no surprise. Apple’s customer experience is highly regarded and their focus on the details, like taking empathy into account, is a big reason for that.
Since empathy is a soft skill, there are those quick to write off its importance. And, in fairness, it’s easy to do that. There’s no objective measure of empathy. Though that may be true, that doesn’t mean that empathy’s impact can’t be felt in other ways.
Stronger customer bonds
As I mentioned earlier, I sold cell phones during college. The store I worked at happened to be close to a military base, and I grew up in a military family. It’s common for people in the military to move regularly, and sometimes the cell service they had previously didn’t work at the new base.
Anytime someone came in and I found out they were military and newly assigned to the local base, the first thing I’d ask was, “where did you PCS from?” For the uninitiated, “PCS” stands for permanent change of station and it’s the term military people use for “move.”
I knew that because it was a regular part of my childhood. Almost 100% of the time as soon as I said that they relaxed and things tended to go a lot smoother. We could chat about the different bases we’d both lived at. I understood them and they knew that. Though it’s a set of pretty specific circumstances, it’s a powerful lesson on empathy.
When we start talking with someone not as a rep-to-customer, but person-to-person, it’s powerful. No matter the case, there’s always a way to do it. For example, if a customer is struggling with a certain feature, you could talk about when you were first learning the product as a new employee.
Talking about that experience lets them know you get it. Research shows that we favor people similar to us. So, by showing your similarities you’re better able to bond with your customers and improve their overall experience. Also, when someone likes you, they’re more likely to default to seeing you in a positive light, which can be very powerful for the overall customer experience, too.
Solve problems faster
Wouldn’t it be great to have the ability to read customers’ minds? Things would go quicker and long back-and-forths could be eliminated. It would drastically improve the experience for everyone involved.
Though having empathy doesn’t imbue you with the power to read minds, it does get you on the right path. When you have empathy, you’re more able to understand where a customer is coming from, which should help you understand their problem quicker.
For example, I worked for a software company that built online surveys. It was very common for customers to reach out because they couldn’t easily reorder questions. Things would freeze and then they’d have to exit their browser and log back in. It wasn’t the best customer experience.
However, there was a trick to make reordering questions easier. You could collapse questions down, which stopped the freezing option and made things work smoothly. The collapse option wasn’t the most obvious solution, but once you learned it, it was straightforward.
Coming from a place of empathy, where you put yourself in their shoes and understand they may not know about the collapse option, it was a very simple issue to solve. Conversely, without empathy, you could go down a rabbit hole of asking about internet speed, or being condescending in your reply.
The net impact was you both saved time and both had a better experience. I believe that’s what’s called a win-win.
Did you know the better someone gets along with their doctor, the better health outcomes they have? On the surface, how well someone gets along with their doctor may seem trivial but if you think about it more, the more it makes sense.
The real reason it improves health outcomes is because the more someone likes and trusts their physician, the more likely they are to be open about any health issues they’re facing. Though most of us aren’t dealing with life and death situations, there’s still a lot of benefit to getting deeper insights from customers.
When you employ customer empathy, just like with physicians, you’re showing you’re trustworthy. It doesn’t take a grand gesture either. Asking specific questions about their life and relating your own experiences back to them is a great way to start.
Gaining more specific customer feedback means we can build better features and solve more of the issues that customers have. Both of which improve the overall customer experience.
Empathy leads to understanding
We all want to feel understood. Though that’s true, when you’re in the day-to-day trenches of helping out customers, it can be easy to forget. When we show customers empathy it not only benefits them, but us as well.
Empathy allows us to solve problems faster, build stronger bonds, and get better insights from customers. All of those add up to us being able to provide an overall better customer experience, which positively impacts us and our companies in many ways.