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Do You Walk in Your Customers Shoes? Build Your Customer Empathy Engine. Watch Your Business Grow.

How you engage your team in knowing and understanding the lives of your customers, and what they may have been through before they engage with you is one of the things that differentiates the “beloved” companies for the “everyday” companies.

Learn what USAA does to make sure all of their calls are handled with care from the customers’ point of view, how they prepare their teams to achieve results of 98% customer renewals every year! It’s an essential skill that should be at the heart of everyone’s service plan in the company, especially the frontline.

At USAA, new hires eat like soldiers
While new hires are not required to be from the military, they must understand the military. New USAA employees wear the military helmet and feel the weight of the backpack and flak vest strapped to their backs. USAA serves new employees MREs (meals ready to eat) during orientation so they can better identify with military life. They get to know the people behind the uniform by reading letters from soldiers and their families.

USAA was the first organization to offer iPhone deposits to its banking customers and among the first to let its insurance customers initiate a claim using their phones from the scene of an accident. In 2008, they rolled out a service allowing customers to get text messages about their account balances. They have mobile peer-to-peer payments, allowing customers to email or text-message money to friends or family for immediate deposit.

While nimble technology may be part of the formula for meeting its customer’s needs, USAA knows that an empathetic and caring workforce that understands the unique lives of their customer base is fundamental to their ongoing success. That means walking in their customers shoes.
Elizabeth D. Conklyn, EVP of People Services, says, “We want to cover the light moments, the heart-wrenching moments, what it’s like to be bored in the field. By walking in the shoes of its customers, USAA breaks down the barrier that often exists between companies and customers. As a result, USAA customers love and reward them with growth and validation. Its client retention rate? A near-perfect 97.8 percent.

Decide to “Be Real”
Companies that customers love work hard to make personal connections. They strive to ensure their “real” personality shines through in each interaction with the customer.

In the beloved and prosperous companies:
Leaders blend who they are as people with how they lead.
Business decisions combine purpose and passion.
Leaders give employees behaviors to model and permission to be “real.”
Relationships are between people who share the same values.

These attitudes and actions embody what is behind beloved and prosperous companies. The action of empathy, walking a mile in the shoes of your customers, allows you to connect, establish rapport and create a trusting relationship. Once the customer realizes that you are on their side, they are more willing to work with you to fix the problem, or will allow you the time to resolve the issue. And they will stay with you and tell their friends about you. They will grow your business.

Go Try This
Here are a few questions to evaluate how real you are with customers. Pose this to your team.
How would we rate our intent and ability to walk in our customers shoes?
How would our customers say we are doing?
Do customers rave about how well we understand them?
Do our decisions for understanding the lives we serve earn us “beloved” status today?

Can we decide to be real? Consider:
What do we need to do different to move toward earning the rave of customers and employees?
Let’s identify our version of wearing a flak jacket so we can recreate our customers’ lives during our employee orientation.

Here’s your challenge question from my book, “I Love You More than My Dog: Five Decisions for Extreme Customer Loyalty in Good Times and Bad.” (


About the author


John is a copywriter at Intradiem. He has a background in print and broadcast journalism and digital marketing with emphasis on technology.

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