What A Difference A Little Empathy Makes

Over the holidays, I was back home visiting my parents in St. Louis. As I was driving back to my mom’s house after the gym one afternoon, a dog darted out in front of my car. I slammed on my breaks, pulled my car over to the side, and got out. I looked around for someone who might own a dog, but didn’t see anyone. I chased after the dog on foot for a bit, and after a lot of calling, coaxing, and using the highest register of my voice, I finally caught him.

No collar, no tags.  Dang it!

So, I scooped him up, walked back to my car, and stuck him in the backseat. I drove to my mom’s house to see what she suggested, and for the next 2 1/2 hours, we drove around searching for someone looking for a lost dog, looking for lost dog signs, calling shelters, and stopping at a local vet’s office to see if he was chipped. Finally, finally, finally…. my mom spotted a man driving around in circles – he was clearly looking for something! The look on his face when I walked up to him with his adorable sheltie in my arms was priceless. And Bailey (the dog’s name, we discovered) was clearly happy to be reunited with his person.


What in the world does this lost dog story have to do with community? The entire time I was running down the street chasing the dog and driving around in circles, all I could think about was how worried the owner probably was. If my dog were lost, I’d be worried sick, driving all over the neighborhood, calling every shelter in the area, and likely on the verge of tears. I’d be overwhelmed with fears of my dog getting hit by a car, wandering too far, encountering wildlife…. who knows what could happen?! I would think, I would feel, I would want….

The ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes is a key quality of every community manager (and truthfully – it’s a key quality in LIFE). Why? Because empathetic people enjoy helping others. They’re good listeners. They’re patient. They’re humble. They make you feel valued. They find a way to relate to others, even when it’s a challenge.

Nearly everyone I know has at least a smidge of empathy in their bones – some more than others. But even those who have an innate sense of empathy have to consistently put this skill to use. After all, practice makes perfect, and perfecting this skill will not only make you a better team member, but it will also make you a better partner, friend, sibling, son or daughter, and member of society.

Put Yourself In Their Shoes

What if you were feeling panicked, scared, upset, dissatisfied, cheated, confused, or frustrated? You may not understand exactly what your customer or community member is experiencing – in fact, you probably don’t – but you may have had similar feelings in a different situation. And in that situation, wouldn’t it be wonderful to encounter someone who cared, have an opportunity to explain, and actually be heard? It’s almost as if we’re surprised when that happens, when actually – that’s what customer service SHOULD be. I strive to help people, because those who have helped me have made a huge impact on me.

Practice Listening

Don’t just hear. LISTEN. Don’t anticipate what the customer or community member is going to say, and don’t finish their sentences. Don’t mold their message to fit your strategy, or form your response before they’re finished. Avoid distractions, listen to what they’re saying, and focus on their concerns.

Alfred Adler quote

Have you read Stephen Covey’s book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People? His 5th habit is “Seek first to understand then to be understood.” According to Covey, there are 4 stages to to empathic listening, each building on the previous:

1. Mimic – Repeat what the other person said to let the customer know you’re listening. It’s objective and straightforward.
2. Rephrase – Rephrase their comments in your own words to that you let them know you understand.
3. Reflect – Focus on the emotions behind what they’re saying. How are they feeling?
4. Rephrase and Reflect – Combine steps 2 and 3. This shows you are really listening. How did the actions affect their emotions?

Patience Is A Virtue

patience scrabble

I have an aunt with the patience of a saint. She never loses her cool, she never seems to be flustered or angry, and her voice is one of the most soothing sounds in the world. I look to her as an example often in life when it comes to patience. Customer-facing roles are best filled with someone who’s calm and collect, while simultaneously showing urgency for the customer’s issue. It’s easy to get impatient when you’ve heard the same complaint 43 times, but keep in mind – this is the first time THEY’VE experienced it.

Respond With Compassion

When it’s your turn to speak, offer validation and get on their wavelength (mimicing). Ask specific questions, and identify the problem and how it’s making them feel. What needs to be done to reach a beneficial outcome? If you don’t have the answer or solution, let them know what you’ll do next, and when you’ll be in touch. Use a warm tone, and be the person they want to come back to. Remember that when it’s the most difficult to respond this way, it’s the biggest opportunity to make a lasting impression. Community and customer service managers have the power to turn an unhappy person into a brand champion.

*      *     *     *     *

Empathy isn’t just for the community and customers – it’s also for your colleagues! Empathy for your coworkers can create a safe environment, which inspires people to get creative, opens doors, and ultimately, leads to better customer service! Win-win.

In what ways have you shown empathy? What suggestions do you have for empathic listening?


What Is A Community Manager Made Of?

These days, nearly every major brand has a community manager. If you’re a member of a forum, have asked a question on a Facebook page, or have left feedback online, you’ve likely come into contact with one. So what does it take to be a community manager? Who is that person behind the curtain? What are they really made of? Are you equipped to enter the community world?

Community pros wear several hats, and they have to be able to switch them out quite often.  Check out the top 8 traits we think it takes to be a great community manager!



This is at the top of the list. Not by chance, and not for alphabetical reasons. Rather, it’s a quality and skill of top priority. And “fake it till you make it” won’t work in this case. You will, inherently, need to be an empathetic person who can step outside of yourself again….. and again…. and again. Communities are comprised of people from all walks of life, from all over the world. As a community manager, you’ll encounter individuals who have a question, are trying to solve a problem, or are looking for support.

You’ll be expected to put yourself in others’ shoes. You’ll need the ability to ask yourself, “How would I feel if it were me?” Community pros are responding to people who are curious, upset, angry, worried, proud, happy, excited, passionate – they’re feeling something that drove them to your community. Taking a moment to empathize and picture yourself in his position will help you respond authentically, and take action in the customer’s best interest.

Organizational Skills

organized desk

At any given moment, a community manager has her hands on several different projects at once – interactions with users, settling disputes, answering questions, scheduling community posts, setting social media calendars, blogging, strategy meetings with execs, tracking metrics – the list goes on and on.

A community manager’s job is never done, so staying organized is imperative! Have a central to-do list (tools such as Basecamp or even Microsoft Excel are incredibly helpful), and prioritize your tasks. Use your email calendar, and sync your phone to stay on top of your appointments. Create a routine that works for you, and stick to it if at all possible……

Time Management Skills

……which leads right into time management! If there were 100 work hours in the work week, a community manager could fill every single one. Optimizing your time correctly allows for clearer thinking (working smarter), better work relationships, and of course – getting more done. Apps like Toggl (which helps you track the time you spend on projects) and Evernote (helps you organize your ideas in one place) are valuable time management tools.


line graph

Qualitative data from the community flows in everyday – comments on social media, forums, emails, phone calls, surveys, etc. But do you know how to read and utilize quantitative data?

Analytics will give you valuable insight into your community that they may not say out loud. Yes, clicks and purchases are the end-game, but what about your micro-conversions? These metrics might seem insignificant, but reach, impressions, likes, shares, email-signups…… tracking every step will help you see the overall customer journey, and shape the way you think about your community.


Can you see where your customers and community are headed? Can you think long-term, and offer a place on the web where people will keep coming back for more? Can you predict how your community might react to product changes or pricing structure? We’re not saying you need a glass ball and the ability to see what the year 2025 will hold (although if you do have this ability, please contact us immediately – we’d like to speak with you regarding some lottery numbers), but you do need to know your customer base and community.

Another aspect of this is being able to see the entire picture. What is your community member’s experience with you or your brand, from beginning to end? Where does your role fall in that journey, and how can you expand it? And how can you support your colleagues who are trying to do the same, and provide a full 360 experience for the customer?


During a #cmgrEMEA chat last November, I asked “What are your favorite community management tools or apps?” #cmgrLDN meetup founder Christie Fidura answered, “Your ears! Listening is the most important tool you have. Use it!” Open your ears and listen to what your community is saying. Don’t anticipate, don’t finish their thoughts, don’t interpret what they’re saying to fit your strategy. Just listen.

Technically Adept


While a community manager isn’t usually required to have a degree in programming or coding, most are expected to know the basics – HTML, CSS, SQL, and more (depending on the company). Even if it’s not a stated requirement, don’t step into community without some technical knowledge. Relying 100% on your developers for every minor tweak is inefficient (and lazy). There are plenty of online resources for learning these tech languages, including Codecademy and Web Monkey, and community managers should be ready and willing to get technical!


This is a tricky one, because as a community manager, you have to advocate for BOTH sides – your brand, and your community.

When you’re on social media, sending emails, in your forums, or anywhere else, you are an advocate on behalf of your brand. You may be apologizing, explaining, answering, or accepting praise. You’ll need to stay consistent with your brand’s voice, while remaining helpful and empathetic (there’s empathy again!). There’s a careful balance between transparency and protecting your brand, and it’s your responsibility to find that! Customers and community members may be upset, confused, or have questions – and you will be the person representing your brand and answering.

On the other side of the coin – you’re the primary supporter of your community! What are they saying to you? What behaviors (analytics!) are they exhibiting while they’re on your site? What keywords are they using that clues you in to what they need? What is a recurring issue? What do they wish your product would do? You’re in a lucky position, community manager – YOU get to hear what’s happening on the ground, and advocate for the user. This means collating comments and data, communicating with other teams, and speaking up at meetings. You have very valuable feedback in your arsenal, and you’ll need to use it wisely.

 *     *     *     *     *

Certainly this list isn’t complete. Different brands, different cultures, and different regions of the world require a variety of qualities in their community manager. What would you add to this list? Have you met a successful community manager who had a stand-out quality that you admired? We’d love to hear your comments below!