Share the Love: Increase Your Empathy for the Customer Experience / Customers / Last Modified: February 22, 2017

When you empathize with your customers, you’re that much more likely to keep them. Here's how to apply it at your place of business.

Sure, everybody likes convenience.

It’s why we put up with self-checkouts at the supermarket, automated voice-system prompts, assemble-it-yourself furniture ordered from IKEA catalogs, and chat-bots.

But there’s more to winning and retaining customers than just making it easy (as important as that is).

It’s providing a good customer experience. And the key to a good customer experience is demonstrating how your company empathizes with customer needs, wants and desires.

How exactly do you empathize with customers, particularly during interactions such as phone calls, emails and chats that can easily become routine and impersonal?

First, let’s step back and define exactly what we mean by customer experience (sometimes abbreviated as CX).

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As Bruce Temkin, a self-described “customer experience transformist,” puts it, “One of the key problems with customer experience is that it’s not an official discipline like engineering and accounting. So it lacks a lot of rigor around processes and definitions.”

While precise definitions vary, generally speaking the customer experience involves multiple touchpoints, encompassing interactions customers have with the ordering process, responsiveness to queries and service requests, actual product use and satisfaction.

However, as noted in the Harvard Business Review, “Narrow focus on maximizing satisfaction at those moments can create a distorted picture, suggesting that customers are happier with the company than they actually are." This is in part because, according the White House Office of Consumer Affairs, for every customer who makes a complaint, there are 26 others who are equally dissatisfied, but who haven’t bothered to actually complain about it. Thus, it’s easy to get the impression that you are doing better than you actually are.

The Customer Journey

What’s missing from this view is the holistic “end-to-end journey” customers take in evaluating, getting information about, ordering, receiving, and using a product.

It’s easy to fall into the trap that properly managing pieces of that experience, (i.e., improved delivery times, customer agent responses, and the like) necessarily translates into a good customer experience.

These components are obviously important. But it’s not the merely the sum of the parts that make the difference, rather, the seamless passage among these touchpoints in the overall experience.

Perhaps most importantly, as Enron Roman emphasizes in Direct Marketing, “The focus of the customer experience must be on engaging, not managing customers.” Managing implies manipulating customers to meet your business needs — engaging means connecting with customers on an emotional level.

Which brings us to the importance of increasing empathy for your customers. To empathize with your customers is to provide a personalized experience suited to their specific needs.

Today’s digital technologies enable us to collect, sort and reconfigure vast quantities of customer data collections. Data provides us with considerable insight into customer behavior. But the trick is to look at data from a human perspective.

What’s Good for the Customer Is Good for the Business, Not the Other Way Round

To illustrate, let’s consider the banking industry, where it is standard practice to charge an overdraft fee of as much as $35 for bounced checks. The banks make over $30 billion annually on overdraft fees.

The data shows that those most prone to incurring overdrafts are Gen Y adults who, while tech-savvy, are less so at managing their money.

To help these customers avoid overdrafts, PNC created a “virtual wallet,” which provides a calendar view of future cash flow based on when they got paid and when bills come due.

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It also highlights “Danger Days” when future payment obligations may imperil available cash, allowing customers to reschedule payment dates to more favorable days, when salaries are deposited.

The result is an easy-to-follow roadmap for better spending

At first glance, this seems like shooting yourself in the foot. Why would a bank purposely deny itself a hefty revenue source?

Because it empathized with the needs of its customers. And it paid off with greater deposit growth resulting from better financial planning by its customers.

It also increased customer loyalty and retention, not just because it made customers less likely to switch to other banks that don’t have a similar product, but because PNC provided a customer experience that better matched consumer needs.

Better Customer Rapport Has a Higher Payoff Than Increased Efficiency

The best opportunity to empathize with customers is during actual human interaction, yet perhaps one of the biggest sources of customer complaints is about the poor quality of call-center responses.

Even though customers are talking to another human being, that human being is often poorly trained, reading off a canned script, and/or focused primarily on how best to end this call and take the next one in order to improve efficiency ratings.

The problem, Joshua Feast of Customer Think believes, is that most companies “haven’t produced a way to teach and measure empathy and rapport, to train agents how to genuinely demonstrate that they care about customers and then objectively measure agents’, and customers’, level of care and experience.”

Feast thinks the answer lies in part with voice-analysis technology that enables call agents to see how customers are reacting to them and respond accordingly.

For example, if the agent is speaking too quickly, an alert lets them know to slow things down. If a customer’s vocal patterns indicate stress, another alert lets the call agent know to handle with care and attempt to discover the cause of the stress.

Arguably, anyone with good people skills could pick up on these sort of indicators without need of any software.

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But for those who don’t have the skills, this is a great way to help teach them. Moreover, it provides supervisors with metrics than can be used not just to tell agents what they’re doing wrong, but to train them to better empathize with varying and often challenging customer perspectives.

Keep the Customer Satisfied

Gavin Harris of Business Review Europe points out that it costs five times more to acquire a new customer than it does to keep an existing one.

The truth is simple: When you empathize with your customers, you’re that much more likely to keep them.

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