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The Value of Empathy: When CX Goes to the Dogs

By Jane-Anne Mennella | August 22, 2019 | 0 Comments

Customer ExperienceMarketing Leadership and Strategy

Along with my passion for fried Oreos, user research and CX, my love for dogs is well known among my colleagues. One such wonderful colleague sent me a LinkedIn post in which a man shared his recent experience with a pet supply company. His dog had passed but he forgot to cancel his autoship order. When it arrived, he contacted the company to see if he could return it. Instead, they refunded his account and told him to donate the order to a local shelter. But they also asked that he send pictures of his furbaby so they could share them around the office and honor his pet. The man said in his post, “They’ve gotten a customer for life in me.”


$37.43 Can Get You a Loyal, Lifetime Customer

For $37.43, the cost of his order, the company gained at least one lifetime customer. I happen to use the same company, and I am not at all surprised at their generous, thoughtful response. Their obvious dedication to animals and that value always coming first in their business is what makes me use and recommend them. But still, I am immensely touched and impressed by their response — just like he, my colleague and the people who read his post are (some of who will become customers if they aren’t already).

It isn’t just the refund that drove his advocacy or has reinforced/attracted new customers. The man’s explicit “ask” was simple.  He wanted to know if he could return the order. However, the company also recognized and responded to the emotions and needs tied into his reason why. They showed empathy for him.

In their response, the company demonstrated that they understand the love people have for their pets and the pain in losing one. By asking for photos and his dog’s name, they became a friend/partner. And, instead of taking the return, they enabled him to further honor his dog’s memory by donating the order to animals in need.


When Words Are Not Enough

Conversely, I had an experience where one of my dogs passed recently and I had to cancel his microchip account. After searching on the site, I realized I had to call because there was no way to cancel the account online. I really didn’t want to. I couldn’t talk about him dying without getting upset. But I had to, so I did.

When I called and explained that I wanted to cancel the account, the representative went into a brief speech as to why it was important to keep your pet microchipped/keep up the account. She finished her speech with, “May I ask why you want to cancel the account?”  I responded that he had died. There was a pause and there was genuine sympathy in her voice when she said she was sorry. She also moved quickly to help me close the account.

That was my last interaction with the company. They have had my information for years, photos of my dog (you update them as the dog ages) and emailed me throughout the years with promotional reinforcement. But, beyond the rep’s “I’m so sorry” during our call, nothing else occurred. This is a company that deals with highly emotional situations: lost pets.  Yet, there was nothing beyond an “I’m sorry” and they assumed a reason for my cancellation versus asking me first.

Is their absence of them showing empathy beyond “I”m sorry” going to prevent me from working with them in the future? Yes. Not because I’m angry, but because I now feel like they are “in it” strictly to make money versus truly caring about helping me keep my dogs safe. I am now also a detractor for their brand when the topic arises. Considering I volunteer with many rescues, foster and serve as a source that friends and family turn to for dog advice, it’s a loss for them. Perhaps not a huge loss, but amplify that loss if other customers have the same experience and feel the way I do.

A lack of empathy for your customers is doggone inexcusable


What’s Your Flower?

Another colleague shared a story about her car breaking down in a school parking lot. She called a company who got the battery running and had her drive to the shop where they replaced it.  When she went to leave, a man at the front desk said, “I see your day isn’t going the way you probably thought it would, so I hope this brightens it up a bit” and handed her a flower. Not only has she continued to use and recommend that company, but when she shared this story at a recent CX event, a loud murmur went around the room. Everyone there recognized the added value of the flower.

If you want to earn true brand loyalty and advocacy, you must go beyond meeting tactical needs.  You must also demonstrate that you understand how your customers feel. Not just through words on your website or in your marketing and ad campaigns, but in your behavior, processes and policies.

Empathy doesn’t have to be grandiose or expensive. It can be as simple as asking for a photo and a name, or one flower delivered at the right time. But empathy must be genuine. So think about the values your company and customers share. Identify policies and processes to change and empower employees to show you understand. Showing empathy isn’t just good business, it’s the human thing to do.

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