Empathy detectives: On the importance of seeking and mining customer truth

Verint CMO Celia Fleischaker takes us through why empathy isn't just being in the shoes of the customer, but is a pathway to the actual customer truth in a very explicit, granular way.
Written by Paul Greenberg, Contributor

I've known Celia Fleischaker, Verint's CMO, for several years now -- in fact, since she started prior to Verint as the CMO at PROS -- and my admiration for the quality of leader she is and even more so for the person she is grows non-stop and I started with a real high bar. She is not only one of the people who's strategic judgment I trust but at the same time, she is one of those people I love hanging with -- because they live their lives consistently for the good of all in some fashion. What she speaks of below is also who she is as a person -- her personal empathy speaks volumes. She is also really well suited to take Verint to a different level -- in part because of Verint's really smart 2019 decision to sell off the parts of its business that weren't focused on its customer engagement platform.

Read what she has to say. Its interesting, important and...right. 

All yours, Celia!


I'm a fan of detective shows. And I've enjoyed a lot of them -- Broadchurch, Homeland, True Detective, even Veronica Mars, to name a few. I've spent many hours watching how characters from these series go to great lengths to pursue the truth; often using somewhat unconventional methods to uncover it.

Today, in our post-pandemic customer engagement landscape, I'd argue a similar approach must be taken -- a relentless search for the truth that involves going beyond the realms of our normal investigative techniques to press past the limits of our current understanding.

Since March 2020, we've seen a major disruption of our lives and for those brands that we rely on, the challenge has been to understand how and why the customer journey has been disrupted, and how we can best respond to customers with new and emerging needs. In our efforts to provide sage advice and answers, we must first understand their truth.

I believe the path to uncovering this truth begins and ends with empathy. Many experts in the field -- the Cognoscenti of Customer Engagement (and chief among them the "Godfather of CRM" Paul Greenberg) -- have spoken on the value of empathy for meaningful and effective customer engagement that not only benefits customers but is also paramount to brand success and benevolence in our world at large.

According to Shirzhad Charmin, lecturer and New York Times bestselling author of "Positive Intelligence," creative and effective problem solving in work and life involves leveraging our "Sage Superpowers" -- a process that starts with empathy to unlock the full potential of individuals and teams.  

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines empathy as: "the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner."

So, if empathy is key to creative problem solving and developing meaningful connections with customers, to find our customer's truths -- the emotional intent wavelength threaded into the customer journey -- we have to be empathy detectives. 

How do we empower those on the customer front lines to be empathy detectives in a customer engagement landscape that is characterized by a widening Engagement Capacity Gap brought about by new workforce dynamics, expanding customer engagement channels, and more consumer interactions -- all which must be managed with limited budget and resources?

This is a significant challenge, and even more so given the fact that there is evidence that empathy as a soft skill and human attribute is on the decline. Michele Borba, educational psychologist and author of "UnSelfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World," says over the past 30 years there has been a 40% drop in empathy among incoming college freshmen. She also maintains that cultural and environmental factors are further influencing a weakening of our empathy "muscles," noting that children who spend much of their time plugged into self-focused media are less likely to learn how to read emotional cues associated with face-to-face communication.

While this is sobering commentary on our empathic state of affairs, the good news is new developments in technology are coming to our aid to improve the empathy outlook.

To create empathy, you must have understanding, and really understand the mindset of your customer and what they're going through. In our search for this customer truth, we must first affirm where to look for evidence.

Today, speech and text analytics, and other technologies are used to assist our human comprehension of customer intent. However, experts in interpersonal communication have estimated that nonverbal communication constitutes approximately 70% of what is involved in communication.

This means that even the most diligent and well-trained customer service agent can only discern some 30% of the full context of the conversation. And, on the digital side of the house, even the most sophisticated digital feedback loops are, again, only picking up 30% of the customer communication equation. This scenario is akin to the old adage where only a small part of the actual iceberg is visible, while the greater mass resides hidden under sea-level.

By recognizing the sound of silence as a source of invaluable insights in the area of customer intent and by translating what goes unsaid in customer conversations, we can learn a lot, and in fact embolden ourselves with an extra sensory advantage.

As it turns out, there's a lot of meaning packed into the pregnant pauses. No words can mean a lot in a conversation -- it can mean the agent doesn't have the answer, or the customer is embarrassed or offended.
For customer service agents to be effective in solving for X -- uncovering the emotional quotient of the customer interaction -- the holistic context of interactions is needed, including verbal and nonverbal content. This is new ground for text analytics and Natural Language Processing (NLP) -- mining the white space -- all the things that go unsaid in between the words, that presents a new and exciting strategic imperative for organizations.

This data can also help detect key "coachable moments" to build empathetic connections. For example, coaching agents on behaviors that can be contrary to the overarching goal of an empathetic approach -- don't interrupt a customer, don't put someone on a long hold, don't make them wait for answers.

Part of building empathetic connections is really listening and being there for someone in their moment of need. And here is where the concept of real-time interaction experience improvement is very powerful. Using speech analytics, text analytics, and AI, agent desktop technologies can help with understanding what is being said and not said by mining the words and the white space, to fully understand intent.

This information and appropriate guidance is surfaced in real-time so agents can respond quickly and appropriately in a way that builds meaningful connections.

Technology that employs digital feedback loops to instrument the customer journey can also provide evidence as to how and where customers are struggling -- surfacing what was once unseen and unnoticed -- so that organizations can know what's in the customers' heart and mind. This is giving companies the means to predict and act on customer needs and wants, to proactively deliver service with due consideration -- consideration in the form of taking careful thought, and also consideration as payment or reward, as there's no doubt this kind of proactive customer service is deemed duly rewarding to both customers and brands. This is a closed-loop empathy and I would argue it's the new art and science of customer engagement.   

What companies are employing these types of initiatives? There are plenty of boardroom discussions, and also some definite leaders that are rewiring the organization to sense and respond to emotional queues.

Using the type of approach outlined previously, agents at Dutch mortgage lender Florius are able to analyze the content, context, and emotion of every conversation, and guide customer calls toward better outcomes in real-time. This not only helps consumers with faster resolution, it also frees agents to spend less time scrambling to search for answers and more time relating and responding to customers in an empathetic way. Within the first four months of the deployment, Florius noted the following improvements: NPS improved from +23 to +28 points, FCR increased from 83% to 88%, and CSAT improved from 8.4 to 8.6.

The window of opportunity for brands to recognize and respond to the need for empathetic interactions is closing fast -- especially when the ROI from these early adopters can be so powerful.

Now is the time to be true detectives and miners of customer truth. We need to use all the tools at our disposal to build our extra sensory perception to best serve customers by understanding, anticipating, and responding to their needs.


Okay, one final note. My new show "Engaged...with Paul Greenberg" is due to launch shortly after Labor Day.  Do me a favor, come to this site here (YouTube) and watch the Engaged teaser and subscribe to the show site. That would be wonderful -- and will keep you posted on when the show is going to launch.

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