Perspective-taking is our capacity to see the world from the view of the other person. It is our key skill, which helps us create successful relationships with our customers. By understanding someone else’s viewpoint, we find out what they need and want from us, how are they doing with our products and services and, as a result, what we can do to make them happy as well.
The other day, I saw a tweet from Jason Fried, the founder and CEO of Basecamp, saying:
Working customer support today. Few things smack you in the face as hard as seeing customers struggle with something you thought was easy.— Jason Fried (@jasonfried) February 10, 2015
That was a perspective-taking experience Jason had. From his point of view, a part of a product he made was easy-to-use. However, from customer’s perspective it was everything but easy.
When seeing a customer struggle with a product or service, people tend to say “What a difficult client. He’s not getting the simplest things” or “Something is wrong with this client.” Such a reaction happens to all of us and it keeps us away from understanding the customer’s view and, as a result, it gets in the way of delivering products and services our customers love.
When we overlook the views of other people, we’re like little children
Our capacity to see the world from another person’s perspective develops early in life. When we look at how little children gain the perspective-taking skill, we can see the two tendencies observable in adults: being closed and being open to the other’s perspective.
In one experiment, psychologists Betty Repacholi and Alison Gopnik from Berkeley University studied fourteen-month-old and eighteen-month-old toddlers. The toddlers were sitting in front of two bowls: one with goldfish crackers and one with broccoli. The toddlers tasted the food from both bowls. They all liked goldfish more than broccoli. Later, the toddlers watched a researcher express disgust while tasting the crackers and delight while tasting the broccoli. Then, the researcher held out her hand and asked for some food. The toddlers could offer either the crackers or the broccoli to the researcher. What did they do?
Most of the fourteen-month-olds, 87 percent, shared what they liked themselves – the goldfish crackers. The toddlers didn’t understand that the other person had her own want, which is different from their own. However, most of the eighteen-month-olds, 69 percent, handed broccoli to the researcher. These kids understood that they like goldfish crackers themselves but the researcher likes something else.
The behavior of the fourteen-month-olds reminds of the adults behavior when you focus too much on your own viewpoint and ignore how others react to your ideas, products and services. You remain blind to other perspectives, which leads to giving goldfish crackers to those who are longing for broccoli. You simply don’t see and don’t know what other people want from you.
In contrast, the behavior of the eighteen-month-olds reminds of the adult behavior when you open up to the perspectives of other people; you observe how they react to your work or whatever you do for them. You keep your perspective as your own and see the other view as the other view.
Customer support is the place to get customer’s perspective
When I’m closed to someone else’s viewpoint, I like to say that “I’m in a bubble.” A bubble separates me from the outside world and when I want to gain someone else’s perspective I know I need to get out of that bubble. In practice, it comes down to creating possibilities to receive feedback from the people I create stuff for. I do it by watching how they react to my work and by talking to them one-on-one.
Any organization can do it in a similar way: watching customers during user tests, asking for feedback in customer surveys and talking directly to clients. Direct conversations are a great source of information about your clients’ viewpoints. Companies like Basecamp and Kayak use a customer support work for that purpose.
At Basecamp, everyone works customer support on a rotating basis. They call it Everyone On Support (EOS) and it helps the whole team broaden their view on how the product is seen by clients.
Nathan, the operations team member at Basecamp, in one of the Basecamp’s blog posts, shared his insights on how the EOS works for him and his team:
“Ops (Operation teams) can rapidly get detached from the customer, because all we’re doing is keeping the lights on and helping set up new apps. EOS keeps me reminded of why we’re doing that, and how our customers use our products.”
Designers and programmers who get the customer’s insight during EOS are quicker to react to technical issues because perspective-taking accelerates helping out. Here’s what Emily from Basecamp said about that in the same blog post:
“It’s not uncommon for a designer to improve the way something is worded on our website during their EOS shift, or for a programmer to spend some time squashing a bug based on an interaction with a customer.”
At Kayak, the co-founder Paul English handles customer support with Kayak’s engineers. By staying in touch with end-users, technical employees get their perspective firsthand and are highly motivated to fix all the problems that occur in the application.
Paul, in one of his interviews, explained how it works for them and Kayak’s customers:
“If you make the engineers answer e-mails and phone calls from the customers, the second or third time they get the same question, they’ll actually stop what they’re doing and fix the code. Then we don’t have those questions anymore.”
No matter which part of the business you are in, by doing customer support, you can bring more perspective-taking to your work. When you make it a habit to talk to clients directly, you can be surprised by the insights you get from them.
Don’t stay ignorant to other views
Perspective-taking is a skill that we all have; sometimes we just forget to use it. It’s easy to stay in our frames of reference; closed to other views because our view is the one we see for most of the time. But, if we just place our perspective in the background and do some perspective shifting with our clients, we can discover that some of them like broccoli more than we like goldfish crackers. And then, we can choose to hand them what they like.
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