All of us one way or another wear the hat of customer at some point. We talk with companies that offer products we want. At times, we have to call when there’s a problem. Other times, we are so happy with our customer experience.
With that in mind we should be able to relate to customer experiences, but sometimes we don’t when we are at work and when we are on the other side of the relationship.
“Sometimes we leave our own consumer experience behind,” said Priscilla McKinney, CEO at Little Bird Marketing. “Maybe we even leave a bit of our humanity behind. I sit at my desk and put my marketer hat on. ‘OK, the client needs this revenue and this message out so I’m doing this offer or this campaign.'”
But, she continues, the marketer can’t lose the connection to the consumer. And their own experiences on how people should be treated. That’s where customer empathy comes in. We can connect better with our customers when we truly feel what they need and how we can help.
What is customer empathy?
In the simplest terms, customer empathy means that employees can truly understand what customers are going through. That could be because they’ve gone through the same or a similar situation before themselves.
It’s not “ah, that’s not my problem” but more of “I hear you. Let me help.”
Customer empathy often has a negative connotation to it. We need to be empathetic to these customers that we are sending through this horrible phone tree.
But customer empathy can also be the positive. In a nutshell, it’s about the ability to share their feelings. Realistically, it often comes back to the areas that companies can and should improve on. When somebody is happy with an experience, you can certainly feel happy for them and it feels good. But when it’s a negative experience is when we need to jump in and figure out how to fix it.
How to be more empathetic with consumers
Stop just checking tasks off the list is one thing. Let’s stick with the marketer example. Getting their marketing done isn’t the same as being empathetic, making sure the customer experience is great nor is it good storytelling, said Priscilla.
Added Jenn Vogel, vice president of marketing at Voxpopme and host of “Reel Talk: The Customer Insights Show:” It’s human nature to change hats going from personal tasks to business tasks.
“But really one does benefit the other,” said Jenn. “Being able to tap into what’s important to us as consumers can help us in our work, too.”.
Making customer empathy an official program can also help. For example, Reckitt has an “Outside In” program that brings customer voices inside the company through video surveys.
“It’s that sense of what are people thinking and feeling?” Elisabeth said about the program.
Keep in mind that you aren’t necessarily the people that you serve, she said.
“The more we can give exposure to other ways of life, it can help us connect with a broader group of consumers,” Elisabeth said.
“I love everything about this program,” added Jenn in her chat with Elisabeth on Reel Talk. “Research tends to be very ad-hoc and this is something that is on-going and trying to understand what’s important to consumers.”
One reason, the program works for Reckitt, Elisabeth explained, is that it’s “light touch and easy.”
Research that gets close to customers used to be harder and more time-consuming, she said. But now, video surveys can be launched in moments and a survey can be done in hours with a geographical diverse audience.
Creating surveys with the customer in mind
Showing empathy also means that we create our questions, pick our wording and more with our customers in mind. Don’t send them a long survey that is hard to understand, for example.
“We are invested in the process,” said Annie Pettit, chief research officer at E2E Research on an episode of “Reel Talk.” “And we forget that on the other side we are talking to somebody who just got home from work, trying to cook dinner, there’s a five-year-old tugging on their pants. They got whatever to do. This is the life of real people. They are not doing questionnaires because it’s part of the job.”
How we think of respondents also can make a difference. Don’t think of them as “samples,” said Annie. Think of them as people. Shep Hyken, a customer experience thought leader, told us previously to even consider thinking of customers as neighbors. The wording matters.
Hearing and seeing your customers
It also can be easier to have empathy for people when we see and hear them. Email comes to my mind and how distant it can feel when I get one. I can’t see their emotions or their body language. Hoping on a video call or even watching somebody’s video survey response can help us understand where they are coming from.
Be empathetic to your ideal buyers
People should just be nice and helpful, in general. I’ve talked to a company before and I wasn’t their ideal buyer. And they weren’t my ideal vendor. The sales person was kind of rude letting me know about that fact. No need for that really.
But understanding your ideal customer profile can be helpful. Their opinions and their problems should be more relevant than the opinion of somebody who will never work with you or buy your product anyway.
“When you market to everybody you market to nobody,” said Priscilla. “That’s why you need to say on platforms like Voxpopme’s ‘I need to talk to a specific group. That group is going to get me the insights I need.”
Really listen to the stories and understand how consumers are using your product and why.
“Sometimes people will say during the research ‘well, they aren’t using the product right,'” Priscilla said. “Um, no. The user is using the product exactly the way the user needs to be using the product.”
“If they are buying it, who cares?” Priscilla said. They are finding the best use for themselves! With that, keep in mind that the ideal customer profile can evolve.
“There could be a whole new niche of customers but your own assumption might be keeping you from seeing them.
Where to be empathetic
Really, customer empathy should be part of all customer touchpoints and also throughout the product lifecycle. Empathy is a step in the design thinking process, which I explain in this article.
That also includes to immerse ourselves into the consumer environment, said Andy on an episode of “Reel Talk.”
“And then it’s how do we socialize that internally,” he added.
Importance of the right team
Customer empathy can be a hiring issue as well. Make sure the makeup of the team represents the customer base and has shared experiences to make customer empathy easier.
“Have a team as best as you can that represents the worldviews of the customers that you are serving,” said Jenn.
Share the customer stories with empathy
Certainly many company roles can and should listen to customers with empathy. Researchers as well. Once the insights have been gathered and analyzed, it’s also essential to share them with leadership and other stakeholders.
“Researchers shirk sometimes at the table and kind of present their thing without coming out bold,” Priscilla said. “The reality is that they are the people closest to the consumers. They should be that champion of the voice of the consumer.”
The role of automation
Automation also plays a role in acing customer empathy. For example, Priscilla recalled getting a fantastic email from a company that was clearly written by somebody who had the time, expertise and energy to produce the response.
“They are clearly in digital transformation,” she said. “All these other things are automated and that’s why they have the time to write this interesting email to me with all these options of what I could do since they were out of the product. It made me so loyal.”
Of course, to write personalized customer communications, we have to understand the person and their situation.
To truly understand and work for our customers, we do need to have customer empathy. And why not draw on our personal experiences when we are at work, too. Be human. It will make it easier to help other humans.