Forget Customer Service: Here’s Why Customer Empathy Is Better


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Every business advisor will tell you about the importance of customer service. Lately, they have discovered customer engagement. But almost no one talks about customer empathy. This is the mental discipline of putting one’s self in the customers place throughout the entire sales experience.

This state of mind cannot be artificially manufactured. There is no department in a company called Customer Empathy into which you can pour money, and make your problems go away. There is no single company policy you can enact to address it. But when it becomes a part of your company culture, everything changes.

Empathy is not a business thing. It is a human thing. And when businesses start behaving like humans, customers take notice. Companies that have revolutionized their industries have done so by practicing customer empathy at the root level. Here are a few examples of companies that have embraced customer empathy, and what we can learn from them.

Apple: Painting the Back of the Fence

It is no accident that the company most successful at customer empathy is also the most valuable company in the world by almost any metric. Apple could have been mentioned in this piece for a number of their initiatives.

Tim Cook famously told a shareholder at a shareholder meeting that making their products accessible by the blind had nothing to do with the bloody ROI, and invited that shareholder to pull out of Apple stock and place their money elsewhere.

But take it back to Steve Jobs, and we will find the real magic behind Apple’s success. It was Steve Jobs who was raised with the ethic of painting the back of the fence though it would be visible to no one. This is the truest expression of customer commitment. It is about laboring over the details that the customer may never see or appreciate, but demonstrates your commitment to doing things right.

If you are a restaurant, your “back of the fence” may include using only the highest quality bar supplies, and not just the ones the customer will see. It is understanding that the customer wants an experience with no second-rate parts or efforts. The fit and finish has to go beyond the box, all the way into the most obscure manufacturing processes. “Back of the fence” thinking is customer empathy at the highest level.

Amazon: The Customer-first Company

Some companies are quality-first. Some are mobile-first. Some are developer-first. Amazon is the embodiment of customer-first. And that customer-first focus has made Amazon a retail giant, the likes of which, the world has never seen.

Amazon is not about customer service, though they have the best customer service in retail. Even the CEO works the customer service line 2 days a year. Amazon’s business is empathizing with the customer from product need, to search, to fulfillment.

Amazon’s relationship with the customer does not end when the product is delivered. They follow up to ensure that all is well. If there is a problem, they never make the customer feel it is their fault. At Amazon, customer service is a department. Customer empathy is their business.

Zappos: Talking to the Customer is a Privilege

Call almost any organization in the world and it will become very clear, very fast that they aren’t 100% interested in talking to you. They send you through a call tree. They press their automated option on you. And they want you to give up. If you do get a real person, you often wish you hadn’t.

Zappos is just the opposite. Zappos goes to extremes for customers. They are one of the few companies that would prefer to talk to the customer rather than electronically chat or email. Zappos answers the phone quickly, eagerly, and purposefully.

They don’t want to just solve your problem as quickly as possible. They want to form a relationship with you that matters. They love the phone. And they stand as one of the only companies in the world that does.

Customer empathy is about painting the back of the fence, putting the customer first, and having meaningful customer contact. Anything less is just a customer service department.

Ganesh Mukundan
I'm a content marketer at Hiver. I've been writing about customer experience for the past 5 years. I'm passionate about narrating delightful customer stories, researching CX trends, and deep-diving into concepts such as VoC and Customer Journey Mapping.


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