Empathy is Underrated
Our most recent hire, Brandon Ancier, said something at our last meeting that I had never considered before: “What I like about working here is that everyone one this team has business sense.” And as flattering as that is, I have to concede that he is right :) Looking back on how much our team has been able to achieve, the most important skill all of us have gained so far has been this “business sense”, which I define as the ability to identify optimal business decisions in a ambiguous, unknown environment. What are some of the perplexing decisions our team has to make on a day to day basis?
- What product features should I build next?
- Should the feature be self-service or custom built?
- How should I phrase the value-add on this product tour page?
- Should I answer the support emails first or the sales emails?
When questions like this come up, a good business sense allows us to come up with answers such as:
- Let’s write a feature story and send a survey out to the customers that would use this feature.
- Depends on what the survey says.
- Let’s get the Sales Team’s input on this. What language has worked for them in their pitches?
- Probably sales emails first, but let’s make it a priority to answer every email promptly even if we don’t know the answer. Let’s make sure they know we care.
See the pattern? The answer lies in empathy, being able to perceive the world though other people’s perspectives. If there were a single largest mistake I’ve seen cripple teams and throw wrenches in business processes, it’s lack of empathy.
The paradox is that in order to have [emotional] influence, you have to be influenced - The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
Simply put, there’s no way of providing for a customers correctly without getting their input. Although Steve Jobs may have famously said, “Customers don’t know what they want”, consider that most of Apple’s products redefined entire product categories, and that’s not the domain of most businesses. If you’re like any regular business, you will want to constantly improve on your empathy. How?
What we do to improve customer empathy:
Give out your Cell Phone Number
Put your personal phone number in your communications with your most important customers. Encourage them to give you a ring! We’ve found great success in giving our largest customers multiple avenues to reach us. Although this might not scale in the future, we think it’s worth it.
Add customers to your instant messanger
Add your customers via gchat or skype and build a relationship. We do this with a few of our agencies, and it makes it incredibly easy to get instant feedback on something when you think to yourself, “I wish I could ask a customer right now!” Having customers know your company on a first name basis starts with knowing your customers on a first name basis.
Send nicely-crafted surveys
I’m surprised at how few companies can put together a survey that is nicely-crafted in that it asks the right questions and establishes a personal connection.
When we write surveys, we write it with the intention of nurturing a relationship with the customer who is gracious enough to give us feedback and we frequently follow up on our survey participants to go deeper into their needs. The people who are going to fill out your surveys are going to be your most vocal customers, a fantastic opportunity to nurture your business’ brand!
No one cares how much you know, until they know how much you care - Theodore Roosevelt
The best teams have highly attuned senses of empathy. The empathy concept goes beyond customer-facing decisions.
When it comes to building a positive workplace and striving for better employee retention, seeing decisions from your co-workers’ perspective is essential. Open communication is the only way to build lasting, meaningful work relationships. Teams that can overcome the emotional roller coaster of building a business need to trust that everyone stands behind each other. And empathy is the foundation upon all communication and trust rests. How does Team Tint do this?
What we do to improve team empathy:
All of our compensation structure is made public within the company so that everyone can have a full picture and make sure that they feel that all team members are being compensated fairly in relation to each other. Making salaries public fosters empathy because it forces other people to consider the perspective of others when discussing compensation.
Encourage Sales/Engineering cross communication
Ever since the beginnings of the sales team (with the hiring of Zen, our Director of Sales), the development team (which was Nik and I) have always strived to make sure communication between Sales and Development was tight. We want to make sure that either team is 100% comfortable talking to the other team, and this communication fosters inter-departmental empathy that manifests itself in a number of positive ways including:
- Less animosity between teams (fewer salespeople annoyed at bugs in the product and fewer developers annoyed of salespeople making promises the developers can’t fulfill)
- Practical ideas from Sales being implemented by the Devs, such as automating key parts of their workflow
- Efficient prioritization of inter-departmental tasks made possible by openly communicated cost/benefit.
We have each other’s backs
We understand that anyone can make a mistake, even our own teammates. By discouraging a blame-based culture, we build stronger bonds as well as encouraging people to speak the truth, to admit things that they feel are going wrong, and to work together to find solutions to inadequacies. Sure, blaming someone might be easier, but in the long run, a team that blames among itself is not a team, but rather a collection of disgruntled individuals.
In the end, cultivating empathy within yourself and among a team takes time, focus, and effort and often can’t be quantified. In an environment full of deadlines, it can be easy to be lazy and not think about the customers or teammates carrying you forward. We hope that sharing our steps to improve empathy can inspire you to improve your business and make choices to spend the resources to cultivate empathy. Let me know if you agree/disagree in the comments :)