Charlotte Ward: You've Got This: Empathy is the Key to Customer Support in 2020

In this Inbound Speaks interview, we chat with Charlotte Ward about empathy, support teams, and the future importance of making space in our customer's day. She also shares a story and a couple of tips along the way.

You've Got This: Empathy is the Key to Customer Support in 2020

In a high-speed, high-tech, high-skill world, suddenly the thing that matters most in your Customer Support provision is empathy. In this session for Customer Support Leaders, I talk about how it is more important now than ever.

In my audio segment, I simply address how we can make space in people’s days by operating with empathy, and how important it is to give them that room to breathe.


About the Expert

Charlotte Ward

Charlotte Ward builds exemplary support experiences that your customers will want to tell their friends about. She has worked in high-tech organizations from startups to blue-chips for the last 25 years and has been leading virtual teams for the last 16 of those. She consults with other CS Leaders and helps them find support and community through her work at Customer Support Leaders. Charlotte leads workshops on career development in support, and runs CS Mastermind for Emerging Leaders event, giving instant mentoring to new and upcoming Customer Support Leaders. This year she started as Head of Support at Snowplow, a data dellivery platform that collects and operationalizes behavioral data, at scale. She believes customer support should be customer *care*.

Full Transcript

George Thomas 0:00
Hey, inbound attendees, it's your boy George B. Thomas. And we're back with another episode of inbound speaks where well we talk to inbound speakers about what they're speaking about inbound Anyway, you get it. And I don't know you either love that intro or you hate that intro, but the good thing is inbounds only once a year, you only hear at about 20 or 30 times these interviews, and then you can forget about it. But without further ado, let's go ahead and get into the good stuff. Let's roll that bumper. All right, so I'm super excited because first of all, we get to talk about a word that I love, which is empathy. I'm also excited because we have Charlotte with us, Charlotte, why don't we start at the very beginning here and just explain to the inbound attendees who you are and kind of what makes you tick.

Charlotte Ward 0:47
The beginning is always a good place to start, isn't it, George? Thanks. Yeah. So who am I? You might be able to tell by the accent that I'm British. I live over in the UK and I was supposed to Be in Boston this August, attending my very first inbound, right? My journey to what should have been attending Boston inbound was, has been a long journey of 25 years in customer support from the battle days of the mid 90s, right. Things have changed a little bit back then. Emphasis for for me was really on just knowing your stuff. That's all you had to know. And I've been on a real journey with supporting the twin in the last 25 years. I've been leading support teams for the last 16 or so of those and almost entirely remote in that time. And the teams that I've led have been really global, globally desperate, really scattered, different cultures, different customers, different, you know, like all of the challenges that go with handling remote teams and complex products in one go. And for me when I was going to buy I've been on a bit of a journey of like talking about empathy a lot more over the last few years. And I really wanted to come to Boston and talk about it. But here we are, we're doing, we're doing virtual inbound instead. And we're excited by this. Yeah, it's

George Thomas 2:15
gonna be interesting because I have attended normal inbounds. And now here's the digital virtual one. So we of course, are trying to make the best of it. And but it's different, right? It is different displaying or creating or delivering this experience, if you will, no pun intended to support the needs of people who need to be educated on running their business better, which leads me to my actual kind of second question, but first question, diving into the topic of you've got this empathy is the key to customer support in 2020. And that is who should be in the room during your session and why should they be in the room.

Charlotte Ward 2:58
I think that that are A couple of really distinct audiences. One is people who are like really embedded in figuring out how the hell you provide sorry, how the heck you provide customer support in in this day and age and this global climate and these stress times, it's the people who are delivering the service. And then there's everyone else should be in the room. Just because I, the way I've tackled this as a virtual segment is a little different to how I would have tackled it. In person in Boston. I, as I said that the customer support leaders of this world, the technical support leaders, the customer service leaders are finding times, like as challenging as everyone else right now. But we're also trying to help everyone else at the same time every day through our teams and through our service provisions. And I think that as simple as my messages in title, and as difficult as that is to deliver. I think it's worth inviting people to come and take a moment to To the importance of empathy and just getting through the day, I hope that everyone else will come because I think that there is. I hope they'll give them a little bit of space in an otherwise busy month.

George Thomas 4:12
Yeah, definitely. And I love this word, empathy, not only the word, but the action of it. And so I guess my question for you would be and again, not giving away the whole farm, because we're teasing people in to actually being at your session. When you think of empathy, just from a support standpoint, like, Where does your mind go? Obviously, in a little bit, I'll probably ask you like, what's a tip that people can start doing or what are hurdles that you've seen, but just give us kind of the icing on top of this cake of like, Look, there might be these things you have to have in place or you might not be doing this thing. So just overarching empathy and support teams. What would you like them pack

Charlotte Ward 5:00
So the thing I always say about support teams is, is no two of them are the same, that support is different in every organization for every product for every customer base, so I don't have the single answer that will tell any one of our listeners, what empathy should look like for them and how they should hire for it, or foster it in their teams, or, or live and breathe it as a as a culture, because that's going to look different in every single organization. But I think, for me, if I was to try and distill the theory behind this in into a few words, it would be about in your particular context in the particular context of the service you're providing to try and develop an understanding for your customers needs. And I mean, that really is almost a dictionary definition of empathy anyway, and it sounds in some kind of obvious to say that, but I think we kind of forget that we think that we've just got to say, We've just got to answer the questions. We've just got to solve the problems but, but actually, sometimes when customers are talking to you, they're telling you so much more than, and they're always, particularly in this world, experiencing so much more in their day. And for me, empathy is about that. Understanding, that's kind of it's it's not sympathy, we all know, empathy isn't sympathy, but it really isn't like getting emotionally caught up with them. But it's having a level of understanding of what they're going through, and being able to react appropriately, react appropriately to that and, frankly, sent them on their way, a little bit better for the experience.

George Thomas 6:42
I like that it's it's empathy is not sympathy, and it's being able to send them on their way better than when you receive them. I love those statements there. So let's do this because there might be a lot of folks who they're really anticipating waiting for inbound. They Can't wait for the session, but they want to start implementing empathy into their support teams. Now, what's just one tip out of maybe the many that you're going to share during your session that you could give people to leverage between now and your inbound 2020 session?

Charlotte Ward 7:14
I think it would be to, as I just said, think about the context of your customer. Think about how you can make their experience as frictionless as possible, and therefore make their lives just a little bit easier. And who could do with their life being a little bit easier right now. So that's like a really simple and high level statement. But for me, the key words there are as frictionless as possible.

George Thomas 7:41
It's interesting, because I love the fact that you simplified it. So maybe let's do this. Can you dive into a little bit of a story that kind of helps paint that picture? I can.

Charlotte Ward 7:51
Yeah, I actually tell a story in my session on what you believe is a very, very similar The story happened to me very recently. And the I won't tell the one that I tell in the session, but I will tell the related and very similar experience I had as a customer. One thing I actually want to always do just as a side tip, one thing I always do when I'm hiring for support is I always ask my cat, my interviewing candidates to put themselves in the shoes of a customer. Because we've all been customers, I always remind people about an interview. So I always ask them to tell me about a time they had a great customer experience as a customer. So a little side tip there for you. But I always think as a customer like what am I good experiences, and what Am I bad experiences? I tell a little story in my session about a bank. But this story I'll tell you very briefly. It's really simple. It's about an energy provider is is an energy provider that we discontinued our contract with a year and a half ago. And we went like so many people do to a cheaper energy provider. A simple close the account move on simplest piece of service you could imagine anyone being able to provide except that I gather some mistakes were made in closing our account and we received a letter in the post at the end of July. With bear in mind, I'm in a country that has a very advanced electronic banking system and we should be able to receive refunds instantly, almost straight to our bank account. I received in the post a paper check for one pound 26 so that's what like $1 60 or something that was right at the end of July Five days later, they demonstrated that they had miscalculated again, I got another pay per check in the post for 46 pence to rectify the previous miscalculation. So 60 cents ish, give or take and I Now I'm now in possession of to paper checks in an environment where I really don't want to be like on public transport, going to a bank to pay these into a bank in this environment, because, you know, we're all trying to behave a little a little bit more safely. We're all trying to socially distance. And frankly, I wouldn't walk down the street for something less than two pounds anyway, that's not going to buy me a coffee when I get into town to quench my thirst, right, so. So I think that the thing that I'm saying here is that that story I think just exemplifies not making your customers lives as frictionless as possible. And let's not forget, I'm not even their customer anymore. I'm telling that story though. So I think that just that's such a like a really good simple and everybody understands how painful that must feel right now to be in receipt of money that you you can't do anything with in an environment where it's just, it's just a pain to have, frankly, I wish they got that right a year ago, I wish they'd made it a frictionless experience a year ago,

George Thomas 11:10
right. And it's amazing because what I hear and what I think a lot of support teams might be battling with is, we're in this age where it can't be this is how we've always done it. Like any part of your business actually now is to the point where it's like, we have to rethink how we're doing business in these times with the scenarios that we're now running. So here's the thing. I love this. This has been a great tease for your session. I am curious because I always love to ask this question. The audience stands up, they give a raving round of applause. Obviously, we won't know they'll be in their bathroom, their living room, their kitchen somewhere applauding for the session. But my question for you. Yeah, yeah, there you go. My question for you is, what's the big takeaway? What's the thing that you Whoa, after people attend your session inbound 2020 that they just kind of pick up and run with as they move forward.

Charlotte Ward 12:07
It's making life a little easier. I think that's what we need to be doing. You know, I think life is hard enough. Life is harder this year than it has been most years recently. Let's make everyone's life a little easier. And that's my biggest takeaway, because I think if we can do that for our customers, as I said before, we're all customers. So if we all do that, imagine how just a little percentage or all of our lives would be in terms of ease.

George Thomas 12:36
That's it, I can't say it any better and look, make your customers lives better. make your life better implement empathy into that, think about how you can do that for your support teams. And while you're figuring all that out, and you're waiting for the next inbound 2020 session, we'll be here waiting for you in the next episode.