Scaling Empathy

Delivering amazing customer experiences to a growing customer base

If fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, and hate leads to suffering (ty Yoda)…

…then empathy leads to understanding, understanding leads to appreciation, and appreciation leads to [insert positive outcome].

The ability to empathize is integral to achieving customer success.

Not a ground-breaking, revolutionary, or next-level thought. A simple reiteration of how important emotional intelligence is in the realm of customer experience.

Empathy in the Early Days

I learned first-hand at HeyOrca how important it is to deliver exceptional experiences early and often (among other things, as outlined here in Year 1 at a startup). It can make all the difference in the world as you plug away in your search for product-market fit.

There are some major advantages for anybody working in a customer-facing role in the early days of a startup. You can quickly and easily get to know your customers and you’ve got the bandwidth to support the shit out of them.

At this stage, going above and beyond for customers can be a massive competitive differentiator. It builds up a bank of goodwill — which is a finite resource — and cultivates champions/superfans.

And what’s the common denominator for all customer-facing initiatives? Empathy. An obscene amount of empathy.

Level 2 and Beyond

But. There’s a big but here. You do run the risk of setting unrealistic expectations if you’re lucky enough to level up and scale your business.

At some point you’re not going to be able to work 23 hours a day and personally handle every customer inquiry. At some point you’ll grow your “Customer Support/Customer Success Team” from 1 to 2. At THAT point, you need to figure out how to scale empathy.

  • How do you ensure that your new team members can deliver amazing hand-crafted experiences for every single customer?
  • How do you ensure that every customer gets the “above and beyond” treatment when you hit 100, 500, or 1000 customers?

They’re great questions. Questions that I’m still working hard to fully answer. But here’s what I’ve found so far:

Finding the right technology and combination of well-thought-out processes is a given. Adapting those technologies and processes for growth is where it gets tricky. There’s no way around it. Eventually, technology and automation needs to be leveraged to allow a small team to deliver amazing experiences at scale. At HeyOrca we rely heavily on Intercom for delivering amazing support to a growing customer base. But tools need people to wield them.

The single most important resource to invest in is the same one you hear about time and time again: people.

If you don’t find people with emotional intelligence, their ability to empathize suffers. If you don’t find people who care deeply about customers, their ability to empathize suffers. If you don’t find people who crave continuous improvement and learning, their ability to empathize suffers.

At the end of the day, the right technology and processes will only take you so far. The people driving those technologies and processes will allow you to level up again. And things only get harder at level 3.


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