Customer Empathy: How to Understand the Customer

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Secrets of Closing the Sale" by Zig Ziglar. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What is customer empathy? How can you understand how your customer is feeling?

In Secrets of Closing the Sale, Zig Ziglar emphasizes the importance of putting yourself in the customer’s shoes. Even if you don’t share their feelings, you can understand how to cater your pitch to their specific needs.

Read more on the importance of customer empathy when pitching a product.

Develop Customer Empathy

Customer empathy is understanding how someone else feels and then taking steps to help the person deal with that feeling. 

(Shortform note: Chris Voss and Tahl Raz, authors of Never Split the Difference, would likely characterize the empathy Ziglar discusses as tactical empathy. This is empathy for someone to achieve your goals. For instance, you may express empathy toward your friend who dropped their ice cream to get them to buy you both a new one. In this case, as a salesperson, you express empathy to get the sale. To improve your tactical empathy, speak in an upbeat, warm tone by default and repeat the other person’s words back to them in conversation.)

Customer empathy is effective in sales because leads are motivated to buy when they feel understood and cared for, claims Ziglar. Empathy also helps you create a better pitch because, by putting yourself in your customer’s shoes, you can gear your presentation to their specific needs, thereby increasing your chances of success. 

(Shortform note: Empathy is a quality that improves many aspects of your life beyond your ability to sell. According to the Dalai Lama in The Art of Happiness, you need empathy to be compassionate. Being compassionate, in turn, lets you connect with other humans and establish strong bonds. Empathy thus seems to be the foundation for a fulfilling life and a successful career.)

Be Empathetic by Developing Strong Listening and Speaking Skills

To develop customer empathy, develop both impeccable listening and speaking skills, insists Ziglar. Pay close attention not only to what the customer says but also to what their body language indicates. A customer’s body language often shows how they feel. They might tell you they’re not interested in your product but unconsciously move closer to it, which indicates interest. When you fully understand what the lead feels, you can respond empathetically to those feelings. 

(Shortform note: Ziglar is right to recommend you pay close attention to body language. Experts estimate that only 7% of information is conveyed verbally, and most information in an interaction is communicated through body language. One common physical cue is having crossed arms or legs, which signals resistance to what you’re saying. Another common tell is that a genuine smile creates wrinkles around the eyes—a smile with no wrinkles is likely not sincere. Finally, when the other person mirrors your body language, it means they feel connected to you.)

Additionally, record yourself making pitches and listen back to fine-tune your delivery, advises Ziglar. Your inflection has huge persuasive power, so it’s important to learn how to use your voice to convey your sales pitch and your sincerity about helping the customer. Also, listen for negative words in your pitch and eliminate them from your selling vocabulary. These include terms that imply unhappiness or pain and frame the sale as a financial transaction. So avoid words like “deal,” “sale,” and “close,” for example. Additionally, use the most elegant or formal version of any word (for instance, use “wardrobe” instead of “closet”). 

(Shortform note: Ziglar recommends you learn to control your voice and modify your vocabulary. In Way of the Wolf, Jordan Belfort takes this idea even further, recommending that you change your tone throughout a pitch to keep the customer engaged. You might thus use inflections that convey sincerity, followed by questioning inflections, which express a phrase as a question. Belfort also suggests that you develop an entire script for your pitch to avoid using negative words. This allows you to carefully choose the vocabulary you’ll use to communicate.) 

Customer Empathy: How to Understand the Customer

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  • What qualities you must develop as a salesperson
  • The six common customer behaviors you must understand
  • Five rules for crafting an effective sales pitch

Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

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