Empathy – the “e” in eCommerce

About 100 years ago, if you needed to buy eggs, chances were you went to the local grocer (or, depending upon where you lived, the local farmer). The grocer knew you by name, knew your family and likely knew a lot about the details of your life – the good and the bad. When you walked into his store, he greeted you by name, inquired about your loved ones and shared some tidbits about his own life. Maybe he had just received a shipment of your favorite candy and he set some aside for you. The two of you would have likely had, on some level, a pretty personal relationship (at least in terms of doing business together).

Then things changed.

During the mid 20th century (think Don Draper and Mad Men) advertising companies took over the conversation. They told you what you wanted – you were just a demographic with a bank account to them, they did what they could to manipulate you to buy what they were selling. Communication was a one-way street – the information came to you, but you weren’t able to send any communications back (and if you did, no one was likely to listen).

Now things have changed again.

Empathy, Putting the “e” in eCommerce

Today – both online and offline – Empathy Marketing is becoming the way to sell. Ironically, despite the amazing technology that supports online commerce, it’s really not all that different from the selling done 100 years ago. To serve your customers with empathy, you need to know them well.

The first step – know their name. According to the Email Marketing Industry Census 2013 (April 2013), open rates for email increased 22.3% when the recipient was addressed by name in the Subject Line. When you’re starting a relationship with a new customer, ask them their name first – and find out what THEY need from YOU. When you communicate with them, call them by name – no more references to “Valued Customer” – if you don’t know their name, they’re not feeling like you’re valuing them all that much. Open rates for email marketing

Next step… have a real conversation with your customers. Ask them about the problems they’re having, and then honestly assess whether or not your products are a good fit for them. This works with both B2B and B2C (although I’ll address this more later when I talk about H2H sales). A good B2B salesperson knows about their prospects and knows what their day-to-day professional lives look like. A great B2B salesperson, if they don’t think their own product is a good fit for a prospect, will connect that prospect with a company that CAN solve their problem. A good B2C online sales experience will present products that may be a good fit for a prospect based on the products they’ve bought in the past. A great B2C online sales experience will give a customer an easy returns policy that’s clearly stated, a birthday discount and refer-a-friend loyalty programs. They’ll also answer the phones is a customer calls with a question or an issue.

If your products aren’t solving your customers problems then you shouldn’t be forcing the fit – it will eventually backfire on you. Just like if that grocer tried to keep selling a customer milk when they came in asking for eggs – they might reluctantly buy the first time, but after that they’l just go somewhere else.

One of the key tools in developing empathy for your customer is the Buyer Persona. The Buyer Personas go beyond a customer profile based on demographics. Personas paint the picture of a real person – down to their “name”. Personas include what this person’s day looks like and where they might have a “pain point” – are they constantly getting cold calls? are they having trouble managing the volume of email? Buyer Personas may include information about the likely car their drive – but will not just use the cost of the car to develop a financial picture. It will also extend it to how they may react to various charitable causes (for example, driving a Leaf would not only put this person in a higher salary bracket, but it also demonstrates awareness of environmental issues).

What Buyer Personas do is create a real person that you can then talk to. It’s difficult to have a relationship with a white male, 20-35, high school graduate, divorced, 1 kid. But it’s much easier to have a relationship with George – he’s 27 and works as a mid-level manager for a customer service call center. He’s constantly worried about his clients outsourcing their business to India but he just doesn’t have the time to train his US-based staff. As a marketer you know how to talk to George – because he’s someone that you may know, and because you know him, you want to help him, and your company’s products are just the products that will make his life easier.

All-in-all it just comes down to Empathy. As defined, empathy is “the psychological identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another.” When you sit down and try to live vicariously through your prospects and customers you eventually craft the messages that they respond to – and you not only build a company that’s financially successful, but has plenty of goodwill too.