We all know there is a transactional side to the customer relationship. Everyone loves a good deal—I know I do. But there’s also an emotional side, which can be even more important to your business in the long run. Customers feel loyal to the brands that they love just like they feel loyal to friends and family. Brand loyalty is rooted in emotion.
As business owners and marketers, our end game isn’t necessarily to make a quick sale, but rather to establish an emotional connection with customers by marketing to them in a personal, caring way. That connection is what leads to lasting brand loyalty.
So, how do you get there? One strategy is to develop empathy. Empathy, the ability to understand and share the feelings of another, helps us connect with customers on an emotional level.
Consider this: How can you meet your customers’ wants and needs if you don’t truly understand them? By taking an empathetic approach to marketing, you can achieve a deeper level of understanding with customers, which helps elicit the information you require to meet their wants and needs. And that can have an enormously positive impact on your business.
Here are 4 tactics to develop empathy with customers:
1. Share customer insights
Between social media, product reviews, and customer service emails, we have a wealth of data at our fingertips. When you compile data from these sources and others, you can analyze and share it with your company to find ways to improve the customer experience. Surveys are one of the most efficient ways to gather customer insights. Polling customers via social media and email allows you to determine what your customers like and don’t like, and what else they need from your business.
Eryn Erickson, MailChimp customer and founder of the lifestyle apparel brand So Worth Loving, has experienced first-hand the benefits of customer insights and how dramatically they can impact your business. “We do surveys to engage the community and find out what it is they want from our brand,” she says. Read more about how Erin leverages customer insights.
2. Conduct customer research
Research is another great way to develop empathy with customers. At MailChimp, we have an entire team dedicated to customer research. They travel near and far to conduct one-on-one interviews, engaging with customers to build relationships and gather candid, honest feedback. They then share their data with the rest of the company, and our departments—Product, Operations, Marketing, and more—leverage the findings to create a better customer experience.
If you’re not able to interview your customers face-to-face, you can still conduct research over the phone. For example, MailChimp customer IGIGI calls customers twice a week to learn who they are, what they want, and what their experience buying clothes is like. These phone interviews not only influence their product, but also how IGIGI designs their website and markets to their customers.
For a current, relevant example of a large-scale customer research project, take a look at the New Face of Strength by Special K. This global piece of research aims to build empathy with customers by “better understanding inner strength and what it means for women.”
3. Create a culture of empathy
Culture starts at the top. If you want your employees to be good to your customers, then you have to be good to your employees. When you instill a culture of empathy and understanding among your employees, it will trickle down to your customers.
One simple way to do this through your customer service team. Whether your team is 1 person or 100 people, it’s critical to set the tone for customer communication. At MailChimp, we coach our support team to use empathetic phrases such as, “I’m so sorry you’re experiencing that problem” or “I know how frustrating that can be.” These phrases convey understanding and communicate to your customers that you understand what they’re going through.
4. Become the customer
Sometimes, the best way to understand your customers is to actually become a customer. We recently employed this tactic at MailChimp via our What’s in Store project. In order to better market to e-commerce customers, the MailChimp Marketing team decided to try an experiment. In the words of CMO Tom Klein, “What better way to connect with e-commerce customers than to open our own online store?”
In May 2016, MailChimp launched Freddie and Co., an online store that sold a series of limited-edition custom products in collaboration with MailChimp customers including Odd Pears, Baron Fig, Pintrill, Baggu, and Poketo. We offered products like socks, pins, and accessories, and then donated the proceeds to our charity partners re:imagine/ATL, Literacy Action, and Lost-n-Found Youth.
When we started putting together our business plan, we knew it was crucial to maintain the authenticity of the project. After all, the goal wasn’t to sell product, but to put ourselves in our customers’ shoes and see what they go through on a daily basis as online business owners. That meant that we needed someone with little or no experience to run Freddie and Co.; someone who had never owned a business or run a website.
We selected Meg, a Marketing Associate on our team with tons of personality but zero e-commerce experience. Each week, Meg shared her learnings in a behind-the-scenes email newsletter called What’s in Store, tackling a different topic—everything from setting up her MailChimp account to developing a mission statement to dealing with shipping delays. She relayed her experiences in first person so that customers could connect and empathize with her. She ran Freddie and Co. 24/7, just like any other e-commerce business, and then chronicled all of her problems, solutions, and successes through What’s in Store.
Not only did Meg received tons of fan mail, we also saw a notable increase in positive customer sentiment via MailChimp social media channels. The overwhelming majority of customers were just excited that someone out there knew what they were going through. The authenticity of the project resonated with them; they appreciated that Meg was talking about the good and the bad.
Freddie and Co. has since closed for business, but What’s in Store lives on. Now, instead of sharing our own e-commerce experiences, we share those of MailChimp customers. Each week, we cover a new company and a new topic in order to pass along tips, tricks, and advice that they’ve picked up along the way.
The project has evolved, but the objective remains the same: to achieve a deeper level of understanding with customers and build a lasting emotional connection.