Empathy, Events, and Why Walking in Your Customers’ Shoes is a (Painfully) Good Idea

Samantha Gilmore

I’m going to break the first rule of good narrative writing and kick this piece off with the least surprising fact any of you will ever read: running events is tough as hell.

This is a fact that, in my 5-ish years working in the events industry, I’ve always just kind of … known.

I have to admit, however, that understanding it and living it are not the same. The reality of just how much of a pain in the @ss it is to manage an event wasn’t something I could actually feel until I was saddled with pulling off my first: UNCONVENTIONAL back in 2019. So it wasn’t until the day after UNCON ended that knowing running events is tough turned into understanding just how tough it is.

And I have to say, despite the five-month headache and three-day backache—it was totally worth it. I’m going to be better at my job because of it. Understanding the struggles that our customers face has enabled me not only to empathize with them but to communicate with them in a way that’s relevant and relatable.

Leonora Valvo, one of Swoogo’s Founders, made an important declaration the day before UNCONVENTIONAL (I believe thanks in large part to my constant bellyaching): every member of our team would take a turn running one of our events (back when we were a small team under 20.)

In her eyes, empathy was a superpower and one she’d like to equip everyone who works for Swoogo with. Here’s why I agree.

 

Empathy is a roadmap

Since 2015, Swoogo’s mission has been to make it easier for event professionals to get more done in less time (with fewer headaches.) While each of our teams plays a part in this, creating a tool that facilitates making life less sucky for the people who run events falls largely on the shoulders of our development team.

Our product development model has always sort of functioned on an “ask and ye shall receive” basis. Our customers are welcomed—and encouraged—to request the features they would like to see in Swoogo. And while we’ve always been happy to create the product that people ask for, by understanding the context of the features our customers request, we can create tools that not only solve the problem at hand but do so in the best way possible. In ways that solve multiple problems at once. In ways that feel more seamless, or cover the problem more thoroughly.

In building any tool, context is critical. Imagine trying to dream up a hammer if no one had ever explained to you the purpose of a nail.

By having our team members face the problems, they’re better equipped to build the solutions.

 

Empathy is a sales tool

Every time a member of our sales team talks to a prospect, they ask what they’re looking for in an event marketing tool. This is sales 101—you can’t highlight the most important parts of the product if you don’t know what’s most important.

But what if you could take that laundry list and read between each line. Know the underlying tasks and problems and introduce them not just to the features that they ask for, but the features they really need. What if you could make a prospect feel heard, seen, and cared for before they ever sign a contract.

The way we see it, they’d probably be reaching for their pens.

When I talk about a great salesperson, I have a bad habit of using the corny old adage “they could sell ice to an Eskimo.” Which, sure, Eskimos are surrounded by ice. They may not be asking for ice. But if I happen to know how annoying it is to cut perfect, two-square-foot ice blocks with 90º corners to build an igloo, and my product comes pre-cut? Idk. I could probably pull off a sale.

 

Empathy is a mediator

I’m gonna let you in on a little secret: our customer success team gets annoyed sometimes. Like, they’re professionals—you’d never know it just chatting with them. But every now and then, when there’s a miscommunication or a ticket just isn’t really making sense, they have teeny tiny breakdowns.

While understanding the high-stress situations that lead to clipped interactions between event organizers and our team may not make the technical solution any different, it can absolutely change how we approach those tickets. If you’re able to place yourself in the shoes of an event manager day of event, running around and putting out 8 trillion fires and then having something just not work right with your marketing software—well, you’ll probably answer that ticket with a little more urgency, a better understanding of why we may need to implement solutions quickly on the back end, and without any of the exasperated sighs or banged up keyboards.

Wrap up

All in all, empathy reduces friction for everyone—us, our customers, our husbands, and wives who have to hear us b!tch incessantly after work. So yeah, I feel for my coworkers who are going to be stuck with this bear of an event to plan next year, but I’m glad they’ll have the chance to do it. And hey, when the day comes that they’re up to their ears in event stuff and they’re not responding to my slack messages right away, maybe I’ll buy them a drink instead of cursing the day they were born.

Maybe. Then again, we should all have to have the same experience. Right?