Empathy empathy empathy customer support empathy.

You’re going to get three things from this:

  1. Evidence that empathy pays off.
  2. The rationale for employing empathy.
  3. Techniques for communicating empathy.

Onward.


The evidence.

The app is amazing, but the customer service is absolutely top-notch.

This review was for Ken, one of my two support engineers. Locksmith is a 5-star app with a few thousand active merchants onboard; while it’s a technically excellent product, as I’m reading through the reviews here myself, it’s incredibly clear that our customers respond most to our support.

This is not an advertisement; it’s a lesson in loving on your customers. :) And I’m going to copy in a couple more reviews, because on reflection, I’m really insanely proud of how the love came off for these folks. Pay attention to what they’re calling out:

  • I received absolutely first class support from Isaac. Quick to respond and fix a problem that was caused by another app, Plus he’s a very pleasant chap.
  • I am still in the free trial phase (but will definitely use it going forward) yet Isaac has treated us like a long-time customer as we are working out an issue as to our specific site needs — can’t speak highly enough about Isaac and his support!
  • Although this app did not offer what we are looking for, Isaac was so great at listening and trying to see what he could do to help. Then when we come to a conclusion that this app is not suitable for our intentions, he went ahead and made several recommendations. I am beyond thrilled with his level of personalized dedication. Look forward to more apps from you!
  • Exceptional customer service! You can “feel” Isaac’s friendliness through the screen.

Here’s what I’m seeing:

  • Pleasant communication. Be nice. :)
  • Genuine interest and care, regardless of the customer’s history or status. Everyone loves their best customers, but undeserved love is the most remembered.
  • Effusive friendliness. Get your head and heart on straight, then show it. 💪

The rationale.

Skipping ahead, empathy is absolutely critical. Backing up, here’s why:

You’re the product expert, not the customer — you have more technical context than they do. Obviously. However, the customer has the emotional context, defining their needs in getting the problem resolved, and this is the more important half, because the customer can’t inhabit your technical context, but you can inhabit their emotional context.

Once you properly understand the customer’s feelings, you’ll be able to wield your technical tools with the greatest precision. Put another way, you’ll have the entire context at your disposal, in a way that the customer can’t hope to achieve themselves. This makes you the superhero that can act on your customer’s behalf.


The how.

Empathy is mission-critical, but it’s nothing if the customer can’t tell you care. And just as caring for a friend or partner involves self-awareness, caring for a customer requires awareness of how you communicate. In the course of understanding the customer’s headspace, you also need to respect their headspace, and make it easy for them to absorb your emotional and technical payload.

The list below is not about mustering empathy. There are no shortcuts to that exercise: you must take the time and energy to understand your customer, letting go of your pride (in yourself, in your product) enough to feel where they’re coming from, and to take on their reality as your own.

Once you’ve there, make sure your heart doesn’t get lost in translation:

Save your actionables for the end.

Don’t ask questions or make requests until the end — the customer can’t interrupt you to answer or clarify. In a verbal discussion, the customer can respond as you go, but here we’re in email and instant message territory: if you mix questions into your content, each question in your message stacks up, until the customer is left with a complicated response debt by the time they finish reading.

Keep simplifying.

Easy demonstration: reading a Trump speech is spectacularly more difficult than hearing one, because the guy uses verbal devices that don’t translate well into text. Add to this the fact that many folks have a harder time ingesting text than speech, and the conclusion is that simple-brief-clear wins over fluid-lengthy-scattered.

Use paragraphs.

Users always scan content. Make it really, really, really easy for them to follow what you’re saying. A large block of text is visually daunting, and has a higher cognitive processing cost than a series of short paragraphs, where themes are visually distinct.

Always return a question with a question.

… even if it’s simply “Does that help?”. Never assume that you’ve nailed it in one shot. As far as our job is concerned, it’s on us to understand the customer’s world, not for the customer to understand ours, and if you’re aiming for empathy, you should be constantly inviting the customer to share where they’re at.

Present one reality, not many.

Rarely is it appropriate to go into many hypotheticals. To put it another way, make sure you don’t accidentally monologue, developing your thoughts as you write, trying out different ideas as you go — to do so is wildly disrespectful of the customer’s bandwidth. Get all of your thoughts together, then write the response. And if you find your thoughts evolving as you write, re-edit everything until your message is one, single, well-organized unit that the customer can respond to simply.


The ideas here are not unique to customer support. Abe and I are constantly shaking our heads at how much everything is the same — the ideas I describe are the same ones I use in my product design, and even in writing this article. Go play with them, and see what they feel like in your hands. :)

❤️ 🆙

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