How to Cultivate Customer Empathy

Thomas Trinelle

Head of Product at Gorgias



Having customer empathy is an essential trait of a good product manager. Unlike in personal relationships where empathy unfolds more naturally, instilling and cultivating customer empathy in a product manager is a process that should be embedded company-wide.

We are a fast-growing company that is proud to embrace people with different backgrounds. That entails a distinct challenge: how one levels everyone up to the same expectations to understand a customer and build customer empathy. Moreover, how you set up expectations for the team so that you can trust that your PMs would make a customer-centric decision as opposed to acting according to their subjective understanding of the situation.

Actions taken


We would begin to instill customer empathy during onboarding. There is a clear path everyone has to go through that is tailored to encourage understanding of customers. Everyone, from an IC to a VP, should complete an onboarding process that includes:

  • Being a support agent who has to close at least 50 tickets;
  • Triaging and classifying 100 pieces of product feedback;
  • Scheduling at least 20 interviews with customers. Interviews are structured as one-on-ones, followed by a summary report on a topic provided in advance. (For example, “What are the top three features that we should build for our chat to align with the competitive landscape”).

At the end of the first month, one should come up with a comprehensive report on three features and the plan of how to build them. A report should be fed with data analytics, but that doesn’t genuinely cultivate customer empathy. I immensely appreciate the quotes or video explanations by people who need those features and who are willing to give your prototype a try.

Setting expectations team-wide

All the interviews an onboardee does, are recorded and could be shared across the team. We have a solid process to share the learnings at the end of each interview; one can slack the product team sharing the highlights of their interviews or aggregate the same customer’s feedback on different aspects of the product.

Before I joined my current company, I had zero experience in e-commerce of any type. What helped me cultivate my own customer empathy was to meet people who are using our tool and who are passionate about their products. I met people who are passionate about music, dogs, environment, and through those interviews, I got to learn about their needs. Through the discovery process, I got acquainted with two companies I now have a subscription for. I am proud that my company is building something that is helping some of our customers scale. Interviews laid the foundation for a profound personal bond that makes me perform at my best because I deeply care for those customers.

Hopefully, everyone would get to experience that through the onboarding process by meeting and connecting with companies they would feel strongly about. I want all of my PMs to have a couple of customers they care about and can go to anytime and ask a question, have a beer once Covid is over, or brainstorm with them crazy ideas.

Lessons learned

  • People will perform at their best when they are passionate about something. However, many get easily trapped in their bubble -- I am saving the world by building some corporate product -- but they are often quite disconnected from reality at the end of the day. Our processes reconnect people to our users and the real world. As a matter of fact, our users are the real world.
  • Connecting with the outcome, output, and benefits and creating a personal connection in real-time is the essence of customer empathy. Whenever I think I am not doing a good job I would think of my favorite customers and my motivation would instantly double. I am not one cog in the system that does the dashboards, but I am motivated to deliver that extra something because of the deep personal connection I established with some of our customers.

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Thomas Trinelle

Head of Product at Gorgias

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