Empathy: The New Catalyst for Innovation

Technology must put people first for meaningful change

By Ken Tuchman

Until recently, it really didn’t matter how customers felt about brands. Customers didn’t have much choice or voice. They bought what they needed and put up with what they had to in order to get their problems solved. That scenario is over now. A little thing called social media and a little accelerant called mobile technology have shifted the balance of power from companies to customers, and we’re just beginning to see the effects.

Everything we do today is different. Tectonic shifts in how we get our news, buy things, listen to music, hang out with friends, hail a cab, fall in love, shop for cars and even monitor our health are creating new kinds of companies that put us — customers — at the center of everything we do. And now, with the ubiquity and always-on nature of mobile technology, we can do all of these things anywhere, at any time and across any channel we choose. Companies like Netflix, Uber, Apple, Amazon and Facebook are embracing these changes, reimagining industries and leaving their change-resistant counterparts in the dust.

In this very different world, companies need to behave differently. Customers are finally being recognized as the valuable individuals they are. They are gravitating toward brands that make things easy and enjoyable for them, and they don’t have patience for anything less. The power shift from companies to consumers is changing everything that businesses have ever done. More than a technology shift, it’s an entirely new philosophy that establishes the customer as True North and puts all else aside.

TeleTech was a pioneer in helping companies build relationships with customers more than 30 years ago. We’ve grown into a strategic customer-experience partner to some of the world’s most prestigious brands. Today, we manage billions of interactions annually across 80 countries and in more than 50 languages. We know firsthand how customers think, what they need and how they want to be treated. Simply put, we know that they want to be valued like human beings, not like transactions.

We also know that any company, with the desire, can achieve this kind of customer love. Companies can shift their strategy from managing customers as transactions to fostering emotional connections that sustain a great brand. With the right mindset and tools, they can behave less like rigid corporations with policies that make no sense to customers and more like people who care and understand what matters most to customers at any moment.

Brands that behave like people

Previous eras of business had a simple code for long-term success: Get big, achieve economies of scale, amass a large customer base, streamline costs and maximize profits. In this process, companies lost focus on their most important asset: the customer. Today, the value proposition has been flipped: It’s about providing great products and valuable services, and about shifting the focus away from transactions and toward a collection of experiences that matter and add value. It’s about creating experiences that people will share and enjoy. Don’t get me wrong; the new world hasn’t forgotten Business 101. It still values growth, just in a different way — by credibly and concretely supporting customers, by knowing who they are and what they need, by reducing their effort and genuinely caring.

So why isn’t every brand delivering amazing customer experiences every day?

Great organizations see the world through the eyes of every person who interacts with their brand.

No one wakes up in the morning aspiring to frustrate their customers. But fighting decades of legacy systems and broken processes against a rising tide of increasing expectations and technological advances requires fortitude and commitment. Many business have not designed the customer journey from their customer’s perspective, and therefore the current state delivers an exasperating mix of automated support, misrouted calls, interactions with people who don’t know how to solve problems, and reams and reams of self-service answers to questions that the customer didn’t ask. To make matters worse, new channels like social media, chat and texting are so disconnected that information is convoluted and lost by the time the customer finally gets to speak with a human being. Systems designed to save money have actually created more costs for businesses and done massive damage to the relationship with customers.

In this new era, the needs of the business can no longer trump the needs of the customer. It’s time to stop the madness.

The new driving principle: empathy

We believe that the most important value for business in this emerging era is empathy. Successful organizations will see the world through the eyes of every customer who interacts with their brand. They will walk in their customers’ shoes, with every interaction, on every device, across every channel, every time. This kind of empathy, as we see it, is the highest-order value for what it means to be human.

Creating and applying true humanity for business, at scale, can present monumental challenges. But the goal breaks down into a few core principles. First, companies need to philosophically commit to putting customers first; nothing else matters. Second, they need to think about building relationships with customers as they would with their own friends, not as faceless, nameless account numbers. Only then, finally, can companies harness the full potential of technology to personalize every interaction to create a truly human experience — one that anticipates needs, respects time, appreciates effort and values individuality.

We’ve created this book for two primary reasons. First, we want to engage business leaders in an important conversation (and likely, debate) about how companies can build empathy into their businesses. It’s a central theme of humanizing interactions and creating emotional connections between people and brands, and it’s at the heart of what we do as a company.

Second, we want to start an even bigger discussion (and more debate) around a question facing all of us as a community: If the previous era of technology was focused on automating processes, is the new era about tapping into technology’s potential to humanize those processes and interactions? We have explored this question through the eyes of deep thinkers — scientists, artists, influencers and technologists — and we’ve approached this subject with a great deal of optimism and diversity, with the idea that business leaders everywhere can benefit from the discussion to create better products and service, better companies and, most importantly, deeper and more emotionally connected relationships with their customers.

“The Technology of Us” is about people, companies, technology and the relationship that gives meaning to the word “us.”

Welcome to the conversation.

Ken Tuchman, TeleTech's chairman of the board of directors and chief executive officer, founded TeleTech to transform the way companies deliver the customer experience. With his innate understanding of the power of data and technology to connect customers directly with brands, Tuchman saw the customer experience revolution on the horizon and built a company to lead it.