The Case For Compassionate Empathy

One of the most sought after skills for a Customer Centric Professional is empathy. It’s easy to find article after article on how important it is the support world.

Empathy is the ability to imagine oneself in the shoes of another to see their perspective. It’s imagining as if you’re having the issue the person that your helping is having.

While empathy as a term is well liked, I don’t think it’s perfect for a Customer Centric Professional. It doesn’t convey action to resolve the situation.

To be in the right mindset for helping customers, we need to introduce compassion. Often empathy and compassion get mixed as if they’re synonyms. They’re related words.

Compassion is being consciousness of someone’s distress with a desire to ease it.

The difference between the two seems small at first. Zoom out to the bigger picture, and the differences are vast. Compassion is acknowledging the problem and working to resolve it!

Still, on its own, compassion isn’t enough. It has its flaws. It doesn’t put one in the position of another person.

Think of both words from the viewpoint of a Customer Centric Professional. It’s hard to create a connection with someone if you can’t imagine their situation. And it’s hard to create a feature if you don’t understand the customer’s problems. It’s also hard to solve a problem if you’re not driven to solve it.

Let’s improve empathy and compassion and use them together. This fusion creates a much more powerful skill: Compassionate Empathy.

The definition of Compassionate Empathy for a Customer Centric Professional is:

Acknowledging and valuing the position of the person that you’re helping and working to resolve their situation

When framed like this, the viewpoint becomes a super-power.

It means that when someone has a concern, you acknowledge it. You value the concern. When necessary, it’s okay to say you’re sorry. Or if you’ve been in that situation before, you can relate to the customer.

Your next step is working to resolve the concern. Because you have compassion, you’re driven to take care of the issue.

Compassionate empathy conveys action while understanding the position of the person you’re helping.

Compassionate empathy isn’t something one hires and has for the rest of their life. Like any other skill, it requires practice. It’s not set it and forget it. Somedays you’re able to channel more compassionate empathy and some days you’re not. If the pains of a customer base changes, it requires one to learn about those new pains.

Not every response requires a response filled with Compassion empathy. Sometimes all that’s needed is hospitality. That’s a friendly and warm response. Sometimes someone needs a reminder of their username, how to do a task, etc. These answers don’t require you to enter the position of the person or be sympathetic to their situation.

Reading and listening that formed these thoughts

Make it Happen

I recently finished Getting Things Done by David Allen. It’s a 269-page book on how to get things done. Which might seem like overkill but it’s full of good information on task-management.

In the book, Allen makes his case for a system that he’s designed to get things done. The root idea is to come up with a system to process all the “stuff” that comes up in life. Stuff is any to-do. From a rebranding project at work to getting your kitchen sink fixed. It’s all stuff that can float up in your mind at any given point in a day and interrupt and ruin your workflow.

The most value I took away is creating a to-do system to capture your ideas in a way that is actionable to you.

Here are three points that I’ll be incorporating into my routine:

  • A Weekly Review
  • Next Action Decisions
  • Focusing on the Outcome

The Weekly Review

For me, one of the most satisfying feelings is heading out on vacation with all the loose ends at work tied up. It feels so great to be on top of everything, right? Of course, a few days off doesn’t hurt either.

That feeling is the weekly review. Every week have an hour on your calendar where you cover what happened over the last week.

Over a week, things get messy, and you get pulled into unexpected directions. It’s good to close the loop on your tasks and review your to-do list.

After this hour, your to-do list is clean and clarified. If there’s a simple task lingering on your to-do list, finish it up during the review. Catch up on emails, support tickets, and other stuff. And finally, set what you need to do for the next 5-7 days.

The weekly review is critical to a well-working to-do system. Without it, the whole process falls apart. It clears your mind and sets you up for success.

Next Action Decisions

Straightforward and sweet. Next action decision is asking What’s next? It empowers you to be able to move actions, to-dos, and projects to the next step and keep things running.

Before reading Getting Things Done, on my to-do list I had:

Katie’s battery

What the heck does that mean? It’s not a to-do, nor does it show what action is necessary. In reality, that meant clear the corrosion off of Katie’s car battery. The next action was getting the supplies to clear off the corrosion.

Next action decisions take vague stuff into actionable items. This is valuable for many reasons. Maybe you’re groggy on a Monday morning and looking for a quick win to spark your week. Look at your to-do list for something with a simple next action and get it done! Or, maybe you’re towards the end of 1-hour meeting that you don’t remember the purpose of. Ask “What are the next action steps?” this sets ground rules and expectations for what’s to be accomplished after the meeting.

Focusing on the Outcome

It’s hard to create a task when you don’t know what the end product looks like. As the famous quote goes:

A vision without a task is but a dream. A task without a vision is drudgery. A vision and a task are the hope of the world.

By being able to focus on the outcome, you’re able to create the tasks to achieve the outcome.

Say you want to onboard a new support employee. Focus on the elements of what a successful onboarding would look like for that employee. Create tasks to achieve those elements.

The ideas behind these thoughts come from Getting Things Done. If you download a to-do app never to return to it, I suggest giving the book a read.

Support is the Home Team

While watching Game 1 of the Word Series, a thought hit me: Support is the home team.

In baseball, the home team has the advantage of batting at the bottom of each inning. They’re able to “answer” and have the last at-bat in a game.

Support teams are there to help solve mistakes. If your team has the last inning mindset, each case that comes in is an opportunity to win. No matter how dire a case might look at first.

When an issue comes in, the team should have all of the tools available to them to answer and resolve the issue. The team should also realize creative solutions are sometimes necessary. Or, if you screwed up, admit and be transparent in ways you’re working to avoid the mistake in the future.

For example:

A case might not be resolvable right away – Sometimes a case might require further investigation or escalation. Take the issue to “extra innings” and let them know what’s going on, keep your customer in the loop, and follow-up when you have an answer.

Shortly after signing up a customer decides they need to cancel their account and asks for a refund – Happily give them the refund, you never know when they might have a need for your service in the future.

If your DNS provider goes down – Find a way to provide your customers IP addresses to keep using your service for critical functions they use your service for.

By the way, I’ll take one ticket to the Cubs bandwagon 😀.