Empathy as a Business Tool: Thinking From the Customer’s Perspective
One of the biggest mistakes companies make during new customer onboarding is putting themselves and what’s best for their team ahead of the customer and their ideal experience. These companies make the working relationship more transactional than a partnership, which increases risks to the business: Customers are less tolerant of bugs, less willing to go to bat for the company, and more likely to be swooned by a competitor or churn. You don't want to go back to square one.
Putting the company first isn’t (or shouldn’t be) intentional. Of course, you care about your customers—but often it feels easier to optimize for yourself than to constantly put on customer-colored glasses. However, when companies use empathy as a business tool, the working relationship is set up for success in ways that a “company first, customer second” mentality simply can’t replicate.
You Only Think You Know What Empathy Is
Researchers define empathy as “the ability to sense other people’s emotions, coupled with the ability to imagine what someone else might be thinking or feeling.” Listening with the intent to understand, prioritizing time to value, and allowing for a naturally unfolding onboarding process can work in your company’s favor—and create a foundation of trust and understanding that’s critical to any working relationship.
Picture this: You’re working with a customer who needs onboarding timing to work around their schedule, even though you have it all planned out differently.
Perfect time to have empathy and perspective!
Ask customers how soon they want to start and their ideal time frame. Gather all key upcoming dates you need to be aware of (like if they want to go live before their trip to the Maldives in eight weeks), compare them to your current workload, and provide realistic expectations. You don’t want to burn yourself out or promise a turnaround time that you can't deliver on.
Customers should feel like you want them to win and that you consider their success your success. When the process can unfold in a more organic way, they feel more supported and less like just another item on your daily task list.
Realigning the Onboarding Process to Empathize With Customers
Here are four ways you can infuse empathy into your customer onboarding process:
1. When in Rome... You don’t go to Italy and expect people to be fluent in English, do you? Don’t expect customers to understand your company or industry lingo, either! Relating to customers begins with speaking their language. Use words and phrases they’ll understand, like their specific industry jargon, shorthand, and acronyms. And adopt the formality or informality of their tone.
2. Two words: effective communication. Regardless of who you’re working with, you should regularly provide consolidated updates about the status of the project, including a timeline to value; any delays that might be taking place; and any other pertinent information. This is especially critical if the customer point of contact you’re working with isn’t the buyer or head decision maker. They’ll relay your information to leadership as clearly—or not—as you present it to them.
3. Don’t make them go hunting. If customers have 20 minutes between meetings, they can’t use 10 of them to sift through three long, concurrent email chains for the bits of info they need. Your onboarding to-do list for them should be clear, consolidated, and easily accessible. Use whatever tools make it easier for them (and you, for that matter) to have information all in one place.
4. Clearly identify roles. During onboarding, introduce all the members of your team and identify what each person’s roles and responsibilities are. It’s an awesome feeling of autonomy and responsibility for the customer when they know who they’re working with, who to reach out to for specific information, and when they should make contact.
Onboarding should be clear, engaging, and consultative. See the relationship from their perspective, and even challenge them where needed when it serves the goals you’ve set together. By approaching the relationship with respect and genuine empathy, the whole team wins.
Paul Holder is the cofounder and CEO of OnRamp, a customer onboarding platform for SaaS customer success teams that helps guide customers through a simple, personalized journey that keeps onboarding milestones on track. Holder is a veteran customer success leader and a master at developing robust implementation plans for software customers.