How can large organizations build empathy at scale?


This year in particular has been one in which many people have needed empathy in trying circumstances.

Yet how can large organizations with thousands or even millions of customers express real empathy?

I interviewed Jo Allen, Customer Engagement Ambassador at enterprise software company Pega to explain how their clients are doing this.

In the video below Jo describes how companies can use the framework of “Listen, Understand, Balance” before acting, using the example of Australia’s Commonwealth Bank in how they have tailored their customer conversations to their situations, both in identifying financial hardship during the COVID crisis, and also the bushfires at the beginning of this year, putting into practice the concept of empathy of scale. Watch the video for the full story, or read the transcript of the conversation below the video.

Jo, welcome. Great to be talking to you.

Hi, and you.

Pega has this intriguing concept, empathy at scale. It sounds a bit counterintuitive, empathy is a very human thing. So tell me, how can you scale empathy?

That’s absolutely right. Empathy is something around how you interact with people and how you go about understanding and put yourself in their shoes.

That’s very straightforward to be able to do when you’re a small organization. You can replicate that friends and family feel by having a close conversation. I always talk about my hairdressers as having that great relationship, they very much interact with me, build that relationship and have that personal touch and show empathy.

So if I’m having a bad day, they’ll acknowledge it. It’s much harder to do at scale for organizations who might perhaps have 10 million customers. You can’t literally have that same personal conversation all the time, but you can get very close. I talk about that in three things that you need to think about.

Those three things are being able to listen, understand, balance and then act based on those three elements. So if you think about understanding, the way we listen to what’s happening is we are looking at the data that our customer is bread crumbing for us.

Where they have just been online, have they just called the call center, listening to their kind of current activity and what’s going on with them right now. Then you need to be able to understand what that means.

There are times when those bread crumbs might be red herrings or there might be real significant events that you need to be able to distinguish the difference between and understand what’s going on.

To give you an example of that, if a customer is browsing the website, that’s one thing, but if they are actually looking at a page in relation to leaving your organization, that’s far more significant and you need to be able to sort of have listened, seen that and understood that that’s more significant.

Then you need to think about how you might balance that with what else is going on. I’ve seen organizations in the past think the retention is really important and it’s one of the things that we need to focus on first.

But what if that customer is also looking at a new product which is more important and I need to be able to balance that for the customer and balance that for the organization so I can make a clear decision about what’s best for everyone involved and interact with that customer in a relevant way at that scale.

That’s really about replicating exactly what a brain does. Our brains help us process that information, listen to what’s going on, understand then act and we do that through a brain ourselves, which is the Pega customer decision hub.

So there’s a whole process behind that. To bring this alive, can you give an example of how a reliable organization is doing this as implementing empathy at scale?

There’s a fantastic example over in Australia, the Commonwealth bank of Australia, they’ve been using what they call the customer engagement engine which is the I’ll pay the customer decision, how there’s power in that and what they were able to do backs up fast and bring in that personal touch when it’s most important.

Very recently we’ve seen spikes in particularly in certain areas, Australia, they talk about Victoria as an example of seeing where from a COVID perspective, we’ve seen the number of cases start to really spike.

What they’re able to do within hours is changed the conversations that we’re having with those customers and reflect what was going on in terms of the local announcements.

Earlier on in the year, they made kind of 50 releases within a matter of weeks to change those conversations for customers who were going through financial challenges due to what was happening with COVID.

They were able to then tailor that conversation specifically, think about whether a customer had particular financial problems and address what they were engaged with about specifically based on that customer circumstances at that point in time, in a specific area of the country.

They’ve also did something very similar with the bushfires much earlier on where they were able to react very quickly and were tailoring conversations based on the postcode and as the fires move, they introduced new postcodes and we’re able to really get on board and tailor an emergency package for those individuals, particularly, which I think is awesome to be able to then you’re basically you’re using the data that you have available to the situation, the customers, current situation, combining that to have a truly wonderful engagement your customers and turn that situation around for them because you’re able to add that empathy and really think about what’s going on for a customer and respond.

That’s fantastic. Those situations you’re describing, it’s absolutely required. It’s great to hear that organizations do have some tools and platforms to be able to be empathetic and understand the context for people’s challenges.

Absolutely. When you have that data and you’re able to harness that, we talk about it as being able to operationalize your insight and your data. So you have that data.

Well, we know organizations have plenty of data scientists. They’re able to understand that data, but being able to put that into action and use it effectively is something completely different and that it’s quite aware of and to help our customers do that.

Indeed. Great, thanks so much for your insights Jo.

Thank you.