Why Customer Service Begins with Empathy

How compassion became the secret sauce for my small business.

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I was in the business of delivering exceptional experiences.  That’s how I would keep my customers happy.

Five years ago, my business fell into my lap.

I was living in Chicago, working as a marketing consultant for a variety of clients. An old friend of mine who owned a fish market in Bath, Maine, said he wanted to sell live Maine lobsters and seafood online. I decided to do some research for him before he got into something that wasn’t viable or profitable.

Little did I know that this exchange would later become the inspiration behind GetMaineLobster.com

I soon realized that there was a real business opportunity here …if handled the right way. My friend lacked the resources and time to pursue this idea.

So I decided to give it a try.

[Also on Longitudes: Customer-Centric Delivery]

My Business Today

Fast forward to February 2011, one day after the Super Bowl. I’m in Las Vegas for a guys’ trip with friends. My phone starts ringing off the hook. Customers are trying to purchase lobster off my website but can’t check out.

Where did this demand come from?

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How would I grow my customer base and design an experience to meet their needs?

I placed a deal on Groupon — people from all over the country flocked to it. The problem? I was a one-man show. I needed to buckle down for my new customers.

That’s when I realized I was in the business of delivering exceptional experiences.  That’s how I would keep my customers happy.

That was my Eureka moment.

I knew what I needed to do, but didn’t know exactly how to do it.

Fifteen years earlier gave me a clue. I was working at LL Bean in the call center during the holiday season, my latest stop in the hospitality industry.

LL Bean is an exceptional company, one that makes bold promises and delivers on them. Most importantly, when they fail to do so, they always make it right. After working two holiday seasons, that mantra was forever ingrained in me.

[Also on Longitudes: When Should Companies Say Sorry?]

The Secret Sauce 

That’s when I discovered the power of empathy. That’s when I realized that many companies talk a big game about making their customers happy but do little to distinguish themselves in that area. That’s when I found my competitive advantage.

Now … back to the lobsters. How would I grow my customer base and design an experience to meet their needs?

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My competitive advantage: I have a team that is really empathetic.

For the first two years, I didn’t change anything at GetMaineLobster.com. I just tried to keep my head above water and treat every customer like a family member.

But that wasn’t enough — I knew that I had to make some changes. I just had one other person on my team. Lacking the best technology, we spent too much time on logistics.

I needed to think less about logistics and more about the customer experience. So I hired one more person, invested in logistics technology and started modernizing the business.

My new promise? To deliver an exceptional experience from the dock to your doorstep.

Sure, customers want to be treated fairly. But that’s not enough.

You can get all the technical details right, even ace the logistics. But you’ll still be missing something: heart.

My competitive advantage: I have a team that is really empathetic. They take it personally when something goes wrong with a customer and will do everything possible to fix it. There’s always something that’s going to come up – companies like UPS get that. My folks do the same for our customers.

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We treat every customer like one of our own.

Our fondest memories happen around the dinner table. Lobster is a food for celebration. It’s delicious, fun, messy and an adventure. If we do our job right, we’re delivering magical moments.

Our task seems simple. But you must have empathetic people to execute it. Empathy, by definition, means the ability to understand and share feelings of another. That’s not easy to do. We’re all motivated by self-interest.

So, what’s our secret sauce? A recent customer summed it up best.

Jeffrey in Buffalo explained, You guys treat me like a king.

This was tremendous validation. Here’s four reasons why I believe Jeffrey came to that conclusion.

1. Empathy

In understanding our customers’ needs, we make it personal.

2. Flexibility

We provide a number of purchasing platforms, including text, phone, email — carrier pigeon, whatever the customer wants.

3. Appreciation

We offer loyalty rewards for repeat customers.

4. Family

Finally, we treat every customer like one of our own.

In the end, we’re a customer-centric, e-commerce company that happens to sell lobster. But really, we’re in the business of selling empathy – and we’ll never run out of stock. goldbrown2

Click here to learn how UPS helps Black Point Seafood move live Maine lobsters from dock to dinner plate in one to two days.



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Mark Murrell is Founder & Chief Curator of Black Point Seafood. Mark focuses on delivering magical moments across the USA with Maine lobster and seafood, while building family-like business online. Visit his online stores at: GetMaineLobster.com | LobsterBoss.com (coming soon)

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