While ‘empathy at scale’ is a beautiful tagline, it's a difficult problem to solve. Why? Customer success is all about ensuring that your customers succeed at using the products that you build.

Every customer success professional should be committed to ensuring not only that their customers are able to get through the onboarding process successfully – but that they enjoy a fruitful relationship with your org for a long time.

But that’s the most difficult task: how do you stay committed not only to your new customers but to those that you have been with for a long time?

It’s a tricky topic, so here’s a breakdown of our main talking points:

But before we dive in, here’s a little bit of background on myself and how we handle customer success at PayPal.

What is customer empathy?

Customer empathy is best thought of as the ability of customer success professionals to understand and share the feelings of their customers. It practice, involves striving to see a situation from the customer's perspective and understand why they feel or react in a certain way.

For customer success teams, empathy is a critical skill. By putting ourselves in the shoes of our customers, customer success managers can better understand frustrations or roadblocks customers may be facing when using a product or service. They can pinpoint pain points in the customer journey and work cross-functionally to improve experiences.

The benefit of building a more empathetic customer success team is that it will be more attuned to signs that a customer is unhappy or at risk of churn. Ultimately, empathy allows customer success teams to build deeper, more loyal relationships with customers by making them feel heard, understood, and valued. This drives retention and growth over the long term. As I've seen on countless occasions, empathetic engagement is a hallmark of world-class customer success teams.

Customer empathy in practice: the PayPal approach

I’m privileged in my role to lead the customer success platform at PayPal. In that role, I serve many colleagues around the world. We're building technology to do exactly what the tagline says: deliver empathy at scale.

For many people, PayPal is a button on our website. When they think about us, they think about a yellow button with ‘PayPal’ on it.  But we’re much more than that. Our presence as a global financial service FinTech behemoth extends across various sectors: in-store, contextual commerce and eCommerce loyalty. You name it, we’re there.

When it comes to online payments, PayPal has a huge global presence - we serve over 400 million customers around the world.

Why is customer success so important to us?

Of course, one of the principal goals of any organization is to grow and expand, and there are always plenty of opportunities for things to go wrong. With so many different customers depending on us, all with varying levels of needs, there’s a lot of potential for misunderstanding and miscommunication.

For us, it all starts with being a customer-obsessed company. We have the privilege to serve millions of customers around the world, and we want to be worthy of that trust.

What good customer success means to us

But how do we earn that trust? We have to ensure that we’re giving customers a delightful experience right across their customer journey, which means we have to drive personalization at a scale that’s never been seen before. But what does that look like?

Think about your best experiences using any product in the physical world. How does it feel when that person behind the register recognizes you and remembers you from previous interaction? There's a certain element of delight in that because you feel valued, and you feel like you really matter.  

But that kind of personalization at a scale - as broad as ours is - can be difficult. That said, we love a good challenge and this is a wonderful problem to solve.

The importance of empowering customer success teams

We want to be able to empower and excite our customer support teams. The fact is if they’re excited to serve the customers then that sense of delight transfers naturally to the customer experience.

When everything goes well, that's obviously great and you’re going to talk about it, but the ones that are going to be memorable are the ones that you really had to struggle to get through the door.  

We want our customer support teams to feel empowered by the struggle. The best folks are those that feel motivated and empowered.

The pros and cons of good customer support

Building the infrastructure to connect customers to a customer support agent is costly. Not only that, there’re various hidden costs like:

  • The training costs of getting agents customer-ready
  • The cost of actually being on the call with a customer
  • The cost of repeating a contract if you can’t solve the problem completely

All of this adds up to a model where we’re not getting the entire transaction value as profits that we earned, right? It's not a particularly profitable or efficient model at all. The flipside of this, however, is that you cannot avoid treating customers with empathy.  

By providing good customer support you maximize the potential for loyalty and trust. This prompts the question: how can we deliver the kind of empathy that generates trust, but also does so in a profitable, efficient way, and at scale?

How to deliver customer empathy in the modern world

In today's digital world, there’re multiple ways for you to reach a customer support team, especially if you go to the website of any company. PayPal is not any different. There’re a variety of pages where you can go search for your own help, or you can search for an FAQ page. Very often, a bot will be able to provide you with a solution to your problem.

Or, if you really want to speak to a customer support agent, you can leave them a message and they will be able to get back to you when they can, or some platforms might allow you to have a live chat with an agent. Let’s break down these two channels here. 👇

Support bots

Now, these obviously provide many benefits for an organization in terms of cutting costs and freeing agents up for more complex work. But is it always beneficial for the customer? Does it build loyalty and trust between the customer and the organization? Sometimes.  

But imagine you have an issue with payments, which is a pretty frustrating problem to have, what you get in response is a bunch of generic answers that aren’t really specific to your problem at all. Pretty frustrating, right? So, instead, you go to…

A human agent

So, you finally get to that human agent and they say, “How can I help you?”

The problem is, you’ve already been asked this question over and over again. So, straight away, the relationship between the agent and the customer isn’t off to the best start.

The major problem is that we’re not able to keep track of customer concerns from channel to channel. Support bots and human agents can both be utilized to provide good customer success practices, but the problem is that without having a way of tracking customer concerns, it’s hard for these two things to be in sync.

How can we overcome this?

Our solution to this is that we went to an omnichannel customer success platform. Here, our customers may be interacting with us on multiple channels, all the while we harness that information generated across all channels. You want customers to go seamlessly from one channel to the other, with no loss of information.

This is an extremely customer-centric approach, right? And that’s obviously one of the key tenets and goals of customer success.  

Imagine how much you’re able to empower your human agents with all of that context. This is an absolute gift to customer success, where one of the best ways to really satisfy a customer is by getting as specific as possible.  

Determining customer intent  

We want to gain insights from customers as much as possible. In order to effectively sell our product to them, we have to know what the customer problems are. Problems reveal intentions and we can know how to pitch a solution around that intent.  

Our customer success platform can really allow us to provide consistently good customer support across the whole journey.

This is obviously a huge layer of technology, and in order to support this, we want to have very strong foundational platforms e.g. ‘customer journey.’

Customer journey and specialized data management platform

Customer journey is a platform where we stitch together all the different data points where the customer has interacted with PayPal broadly across all of our properties. Most crucially, it shows us where they’ve encountered difficulties along the way.

This information helps us deliver a customer service decision-making platform where we’re able to take multiple streams of data, assess the best path we should take, and go down that path.

Of course, in today's world, where life is increasingly digital, data is at the heart of every experience. We have a specialized data management platform through which we build this.

Empathy in action

Even before a customer is able to detect that there may be a problem, PayPal needs to be able to predict it and prevent it.

When they reach out to us, the first port of call should be self-help, because that’s the fastest, most efficient kind of help we can provide. If we can offer the best self-help ASAP, we can provide the best experience for the customer.

AI to the rescue?

For all of this, AI in customer success is inevitable, but we can’t just rely solely on AI. AI and human beings should complement each other. AI should augment what humans begin, and the best way that it can really do this is by freeing human beings up to provide solutions to more complex problems.

If you consider the sheer size of our organization, to deal with the number of customer concerns we have, should we increase our headcount and customer support proportionally? Not likely. Firstly, it's not operationally efficient. Secondly, pretty soon we’d be a customer service company, not a payments company.

Conversational AI

Our underlying technology should take over and help us with the scale, without having to constantly invest in an operational problem that’s going to keep growing bigger and bigger.

Technology can really come to the rescue in that regard. With customer success, it's all about speaking to the customer, listening to the customer and understanding the customer.

Conversational AI is such a huge player in this. That's the reason why you hear conversational AI as a term used heavily across the industry.

This demonstrates that there are various ways in which customers can reach us through the internet, through web and mobile channels. They can come in through social messaging, and then they can come in through a messaging UI directly as well. They can also pick up a phone and call us.

Automated agent

The first port of call is going to be an automated agent which is empowered with conversational UI. The idea is to present this interface in as human-a-fashion as possible. This should be an interface that doesn't just sound human but is actually able to understand and process information.

Ideally, it should be able to take every customer utterance and pick out the minute details in the conversation.

Omnichannel platform

All of these interactions have to be stored in the omnichannel platform as the customer goes from one channel to the next, but we don't want to lose this current context. The history has to be stored.

The intent classification and detection have to be standard across all these channels. The natural language understanding platform that we build should not be built channel by channel, it should be the same one for all the channels.

There should be an orchestration of the dialogue between the customer and all these channels that are as human as possible.

So, let’s go back to basics for our final section…

What is the best customer service?

When customers don’t need to call you

When your products are so simple, then customers shouldn’t need any help using them. Ideally, we’d like to be able to build products like that, but sometimes that’s simply not possible.

At PayPal, the breadth of our product portfolio makes it inherently complex. Sometimes customers do need our help. The question is, can we find a way to use the data that we have from all the customer contacts that we can keep as our Northstar?

How do we make our product so good that nobody needs to call us? That's the best customer service, in my opinion.

Best product management

To provide customer service that helps customers succeed, it's important for us to have the best product management and product practices in place.

In our company, product managers constantly listen to customer service calls. Sometimes they do side-by-side sessions with agents where they're listening in and figuring out what the customer is asking.

The feedback loop between our team and the core product team at PayPal is extremely important. As we move forward as a company, we want to build customer contact propensity as a key measure for any feature that gets built upstream in the product itself.

When we build a product, we should be thinking not just about how the customers are going to use it, we should be thinking about what we’re going to do if a customer faces a problem using it.

How can we prevent that problem before it actually happens?

To wrap up

Building a customer-centric culture

It’s become a part of our culture at PayPal to build customer-centric products that’re already thinking ahead on what we do if a customer faces a problem. How do we make this easy to service? How do we make this product so easy that customer support agents will also be able to intuitively provide the kind of service that is needed?

If customers are calling repeatedly for the same problem, eventually that’s going to erode customer confidence in our product. Once we detect the problem, we need to be able to solve it in a way that allows us to solve it for everybody. What I mean by this is, we have to be able to gain insights from a customer complaint and use them to anticipate solutions to other customer problems.

That’s the key point, to end on. This is always a learning experience, and we’re always aiming to get better. Let’s do it together!