Using Customer Empathy to Grow Your Ecommerce Business

6 Min Read Use this guide to improve your sales performance by better understanding the needs and goals your customers have.

Written by
Last Updated: June 2023

Quick Navigation

Whether or not we recognize it, empathy plays a crucial role in every transaction ever made.

At the very least, the seller needs to know:

  1. What the customer needs, and
  2. What will convince the customer to buy from them

Even in the most basic scenarios, the seller has to think outside themselves to figure out what makes the customer tick. Otherwise, they’ll just end up yelling into the void — and won’t end up making too many sales, either.

Of course, true customer empathy goes a lot deeper than this — and showcasing your empathy for your audience is a lot more complex. Factor in the inherently impersonal nature of the ecommerce experience, and it becomes even more difficult to show your customers how much you truly know and care for them.

But it’s not impossible — and it’s often the ecommerce brands that understand the importance of customer empathy that end up leagues ahead of their competition.

Here’s what you need to know.

What is Customer Empathy?

Having empathy for your customers means having the ability to fully put yourself in their situation, and to understand their situation from their perspective.

In the broadest sense, being empathetic requires taking three main factors into consideration:

  • Your customers’ persona, profile, and individual characteristics
  • Their needs and goals, along with the problems and challenges they face
  • The current state of their environment, the industry, and the global community

That said, there’s more to customer empathy than just “considering” these factors when making certain business decisions. What’s more, customer empathy doesn’t mean doing for your customers what you’d want to be done in their situation.

Rather, customer empathy means using the above data to drive decisions within your organization — knowing full well that’s what your customers want from your brand. It means not limiting your services or customer experiences based on what you would expect — but on what your customers do.

And it means continually going above and beyond for your customers on their terms, knowing that they’ll gladly return the favor in the future.

Why is Showing Empathy to Your Customers So Important?

Check out this recent tweet from a…less-than-satisfied Titleist customer:

We don’t love using trite phrases like “By today’s standards”, but…really?

There’s no way Titleist doesn’t know their customers expect this information upfront. The only explanation, unfortunately, is that the company truly doesn’t care what their customers want in this regard.

Or, at least, that’s how it seems from this customer’s perspective.

And that’s exactly the point:

Even if the product is received as expected and is exactly what the customer wanted, they still probably won’t be doing business with Titleist anytime soon.

Comparatively, the CEO of Sub70 Golf is well-known for personally handling customer service queries and other engagements — and for delivering top-quality products to his customers. On a personal note, can you guess who we usually recommend when friends are looking for new golf gear?

Let’s unpack these anecdotes a bit further to understand the true impact empathy has on your customers and your business.

Deliver Full Value to the Customer — and Get More in Return

Being empathetic to your customers’ needs allows you to provide for them in full.

As shown above, there’s more to “delivering full value” than just providing the high-quality product or service they paid for. You also need to provide various forms of structure and support to ensure your customers’ success.

Again, your customers essentially expect as much:

A full 90% of US consumers expect brands to exhibit empathy in their actions and customer engagements.

…and they’ll happily return the favor, in the form of ongoing revenues for your business.

In fact, 86% of consumers say customer empathy is the key to fostering loyalty. What’s more, 78% will forgive brands for minor mistakes — as long as the follow-up service measures up to their standards.

It’s all about reciprocity:

The more empathy you show your customers, the more likely they’ll be to return the favor — and then some.

Focus on the Right Initiatives

If you visit Titleist’s website, you’ll see the company offers a ton of informational, interactive, and overall engaging experiences for their customers.

It’s almost baffling that a massively successful brand provides all these extras…but fails to provide basic confirmation information on a custom order. Even if it was an anomaly, it only happened because the company’s priorities aren’t in-line with their customers’ needs.

With a truly empathetic approach, Titleist would know to cover these basic aspects of customer service first and foremost — and would know that their additional on-site experiences don’t matter much if these bases aren’t covered.

For small, growing ecommerce companies, customer empathy ensures you invest in what your customers need first — and that you invest in the right “extras” when the time comes.

Uncover Opportunities and Avoid Pitfalls

Practicing empathy is an ongoing process, requiring that you stay current with your customers’ evolving needs.

Because of this, you’ll inevitably uncover opportunities that your competitors have overlooked — which can ultimately develop as part of your brand’s unique selling proposition. While your competitors are busy following the latest industry trends and such, you’ll be giving your customers what they want — and be making a killing in the process.

Being empathetic also helps you navigate and avoid missteps as a brand. With a more complete understanding of your customer, you’ll be less likely to let them down, steer them wrong, or otherwise act in a way that damages their perception of your company.

And, as mentioned above, your customers will be more forgiving when you do make mistakes if it’s clear you were acting with empathy. While there are obviously limits to this, an empathetic approach will always trump a nonchalant attitude toward your customers.

Keys to Fully Empathizing With Your Customers

While there is an infinite amount of ways to show empathy to your customers, it all comes down to the following core tenets.

Listen to Your Customers

Listening — really listening — to your customers is an essential part of the “empathy equation”, so to speak.

In order to hear what they have to say, you need to know:

  • What information to look for
  • Where to look for it
  • How to elicit even more information from them

This is why it’s crucial to continuously collect customer data from a wide variety of sources:

  • Customer comments, product reviews, surveys, and other prompted and unprompted feedback directly from the customer
  • Brand mentions, user-generated content, and other media featuring your brand published on third-party channels
  • Industry reports and roundups discussing consumer trends and your competitive landscape

Before you can truly empathize with your customers, you need to see all the angles. Otherwise, you’ll always risk missing the mark when trying to connect with your audience.

Learn From, Understand, and Empower Your Customers

There’s more to knowing and empathizing with your customers than simply collecting this information, though.

The next step, then, is to put this information into context to fully understand the situation as a whole — and to understand your customers’ perspective of it all. Basically, you want to take the information you’ve gathered “on paper”, and bring it into the real world.

As you analyze this data, look for trends and commonalities between your customers’ responses, especially within similar contexts. Ultimately, your goal is to figure out what’s most important to your customers when engaging with your brand — and determine how to best give it to them.

Some questions to consider here include:

  • What critical moments in your customer’s journey require more empathy on your part?
  • How can you inject more empathetic touchpoints and engagements throughout your customer experience?
  • How can you amend your overall approach to become more naturally empathetic?

It’s important to include your customers in this process, for two reasons:

For one, empowering your customers to have a say in their experiences with their brand is an effective way to showcase your empathy, in itself. Again, even if your efforts occasionally miss the mark, your customers will at least see you trying to do what’s best for them.

Secondly, it gives them a chance to clarify feedback, dig deeper into certain topics, and otherwise provide a more clear picture of their side of things.

To this end, you’ll want to:

  • Train your employees to look and listen for opportunities to engage with customers
  • Create intentional, open lines of communication between your team and your customers
  • Facilitate engagement on both sides via intrinsic and extrinsic rewards

Enabling these more personal and personable engagements will reinforce the human element behind your customer data — in turn reinforcing your team’s sense of empathy toward every customer they serve.

Act on Your Newfound Empathy

Lastly — and most importantly — you need to act on your newfound and comprehensive understanding of your customers.

(After all, what good is knowing what they want if you aren’t looking to give it to them?)

That said, there are two things to know about empathy:

  1. You can’t fake it
  2. Surface-level empathy doesn’t cut it

Going back to our less-than-stellar example from Titleist, it works like this:

The fact that they failed to deliver such critical information to the customer shows a lack of empathy, without question. But, it will take more to repair the relationship with this customer — and their brand image as a whole — than merely making the requested surface-level improvement.

Yes, responding to the immediate situation is important.

But truly empathizing with your customers means working to ensure the negative experience they encountered — or anything like it — will never happen again.

To this end, you’ll need to invest in initiatives such as:

  • The creation of additional content and tools to help customers along their journey.
  • Development of customer journey maps detailing milestones and other crucial touchpoints.
  • Employee training, specifically focused on bringing a more empathetic and human touch to customer engagements,

Learn more about
Customer Experience