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Episode 2: Empathy

It seems like everyone’s talking about empathy these days. But what does it really mean to be empathetic? There's no app that tells you what's actually going on in another person's mind, but there are ways to connect to your friends and your family and your customers that will help you understand them better. In this episode, we’ll hear the story of how a treasure hunter's empathy brought two families together, and we’ll sit in on classes in empathy led by… babies.

Featured in this episode:


MALE: Empathy to me is reaching out and touching what other people are feeling.

FEMALE: People do have different viewpoints, and if you don't try to have empathy, your relationship is not going to last.

MALE: I think you just have to envision yourself as another person.

MALE: When we feel for other people, we're more likely to do things for them. I think that's why we're all here, to help each other.

TAMARA STANNERS: Today on Relate, we're talking about empathy, that idea of walking a mile in someone else's shoes to get a better sense of how they think and how they feel. But what does it really mean to be empathetic? There's no app that tells you what's actually going on in another person's mind, at least not yet, but there are ways to connect to your friends and your family and your customers that will help you understand them better. Coming up on the podcast, the story of how a treasure hunter's empathy brought two families together. We'll hear about classes in empathy led by … babies.

MALE: You're listening to Relate.

FEMALE: You're listening to Relate by Zendesk.

MALE: Zendesk builds software for better customer relationships.

FEMALE: For better customer relationships.

TAMARA STANNERS: I'm Tamara Stanners and this is Relate by Zendesk. It is a show about relationships and how we connect and understand each other, and how we work together. We're going to start with a story about a random relationship. It involves a river in Minnesota, cliff jumping, some really dumb luck, and a treasure hunter whose empathy led him to a surprising connection. Oh yeah, and there's a SWAT team involved.

CHRIS FLORES: We, as a family, go up to Temperance River pretty much every year. The Temperance River is very beautiful. You can see waterfalls coming down from upriver, flowing into lakes up here. The rocks, they're sheer rock cliffs and the waters, especially by the falls, is always very white and rapid. My brother and I, because we had cliff jumped there before, knew that people had a tendency to lose things: sunglasses, watches, rings, things like that. Knowing that there was potentially treasure in the river, we bought some snorkels and goggles and flippers and some flashlights so we could go down under and see if we could find anything that was of any value.

TAMARA STANNERS: Chris Flores doesn't have much luck on his treasure hunt. All he finds is a waterlogged skateboard and some concrete junk, but his brother has a bit more luck. He comes up with a pair of Ray-Ban sunglasses, a gold ring, and a GoPro, one of those small little video cameras people use to capture action shots. A week later, the trip is over. Chris gets home and plugs in the camera. He doesn't know how long it's been at the bottom of the river, so he's not even sure if it'll work, but amazingly it does.

CHRIS FLORES: The first video that I saw was a video of police officers clearing a house, all dressed up in SWAT gear.

SWAT: Police Department, search warrant. Police Department, search warrant.

CHRIS FLORES: The rifles and the handguns and the helmets and things like that. I was a little nervous at first, but after I saw the videos of the SWAT team, I continued looking and I saw a video of a man with his family, his kids jumping into his arms off of a dock, what looked to be his father, and watched the very last one as he jumped in.

FATHER: One, two, three.

CHRIS FLORES: The camera came off of his head and you watched as the bubbles floated to the surface as it came to rest on the bottom of the river. Within a couple of minutes, actually fish were swimming by it and it sat down there for about, I want to say 10 or 15 minutes before it stopped recording.

TAMARA STANNERS: Chris is excited he found a GoPro and wants to keep it, but he knows in his gut he needs to try to get in touch with the man in the video.

CHRIS FLORES: Because I know how important family videos can be, and you never know, you never know what's happened in someone's life, so I thought it would probably be important to try to see if I could figure out who he was and, at least, return the videos to him.

TAMARA STANNERS: Chris does some detective work. He rewinds through the footage back to the SWAT video, re-watches it, examining it for clues. He notices a shoulder patch on the jacket of a police office. He pauses the video, zooms in and takes a screenshot. The patch says Chicago County SWAT. Chris looks up their number, calls them and leaves a message saying he's found a camera.

KYLE PUELSTON: It was almost a year later from the date that I had lost the GoPro.

TAMARA STANNERS: This is Kyle Puelston.

KYLE PUELSTON: I was out mowing my lawn, I remember it pretty clearly, and my phone vibrated. I looked at it and I had a text message from the team leader of a SWAT team that said he had gotten a voicemail from somebody saying that he had found a GoPro in the Temperance River. I’d just forgotten about it, never thought I'd see it again, and then out of the blue he had found it. He mailed me the SD card. I asked him if he had a GoPro. He said he didn't. I said, "I'd love for you to keep it as a way to say thank you for finding my camera and calling me up." He did that. It was exciting to get that in the mail, stick it in the computer, and watch the footage.

TAMARA STANNERS: A local news reporter in Minnesota heard about this story and interviewed Chris and Kyle for the evening news. It was the first time they’d met. It was until after the story aired that Kyle learned the real reason why Chris tried so hard to find him.

CHRIS FLORES: About three years ago, I was home with my daughter, Morel. She was four months old at the time. When my wife left, she put Morel on the bed next to me and when I woke up at about...I want to say 9 or 10, she looked at me and smiled. I was laying there for maybe a minute when she started gasping for air. I didn't know what was happening. She was just making deep gasps, and so I grabbed her and picked her up. I said her name, "Morel, Morel," trying to get her attention because something was going on. Then her body went limp, her hands went to her sides, and her eyes rolled back in the back of her head and her head just lolled back. I tried to find a pulse, couldn't find one. I ran downstairs to grab my phone, called 911, ran upstairs as I was talking to them. The 911 operator was telling me, "Okay, you need to give her CPR."

911 OPERATOR: Give her two more puffs of breath, okay?


911 OPERATOR: Then I want you to pump her chest 30 more times.

CHRIS FLORES: I right away started giving her CPR, covered her nose and her mouth with my mouth and gave her oxygen breaths and then did chest compressions while trying to take instructions from the 911 operator. I did that for about, I want to say, five minutes at which point the EMTs came and started shocking her. I mean after that, I don't remember a whole lot, if that makes sense.

TAMARA STANNERS: Morel had a heart attack. Doctors told Chris and his wife that she had a tumor in her heart the size of a ping pong ball.

KYLE PUELSTON: I didn't find out about it until I watched the story that Boyd Huppert had done on the local news station. I learned a lot more in that short story about who Chris really is.

CHRIS FLORES: Can you say hi?


CHRIS FLORES: What's your favorite color?

BABY: Color? Green.

TAMARA STANNERS: The EMTs were able to revive Morel in the ambulance on their way to the hospital. She had an operation to remove her tumor. Today, three years later, she is a perfectly healthy little girl. Chris and Kyle have kept in contact. Their kids are similar ages. Their wives have become friends and they even met up on vacation this past summer.

KYLE PUELSTON: A few months ago, we found out that, just coincidentally, his family and my family were going to be taking our vacations at the same time. We thought, "Hey, wouldn't it be great to go back to Temperance River where you found my camera, where I lost my camera?" Both our families met at the Temperance River this year in August.

CHRIS FLORES: We jumped off the cliffs, we hung out, we talked, and we swam most of the time. He's a great guy.

KYLE PUELSTON: He is very easy to talk to, friendly. I appreciated and enjoyed getting to know him as a friend.

MALE: You're listening to Relate.

FEMALE: By Zendesk.

MALE: Zendesk builds software for better customer relationships.

TAMARA STANNERS: Today on Relate, we've been focusing on empathy. It turns out that seeing the world from your customer's perspective is a great way to make your business stand out. The owners and staff at Picone Fine Food, they really get their customers. In fact, they treat every single person who walks into the store like family, and they've been doing it for over a hundred years.

MALE: Yeah, thank you.

FEMALE: Okay, you're so welcome. Nice to meet you again.

MALE: I'm glad I stopped in the house.

FEMALE: Yes, absolutely. Come again.

THERESA PICONE: When you walk through the door, the smells just engage you. The people come in off the street because they're smelling these amazing smells of all the homemade prepared food that we do in-house. It's listening to Italian music, classical music. It's in a small space where you feel, "Where am I? I feel like I'm somewhere other than a small town in Ontario, Canada. I feel like I could be in Europe." Hello. My name is Theresa Picone. I am one of the proprietors of Picone Fine Food in Dundas, Ontario. We are a small independent greengrocer. I think it's just going that extra little bit, doing those extras, those niceties like helping put things in a buggy or carrying a hot container of our soup to the front for a senior, making it as worry-free, stress-free and welcoming. I'm not saying we're perfect but we certainly try to really put the customer first and make it an experience when they walk through the door. HEIDI: My name is Heidi and I've been coming to Mrs. Picone's for the past 18 years, since I moved here from the States. The feeling that I get here that attracts me is that feeling of the old Italian market where you walk in and you smell fresh cold cuts and you have the genuine shopkeeper who's willing to educate you on the specialties that they have on the shelves. It fills your spirit and your belly.

THERESA PICONE: It's more than a business relationship. They're your friends and they come back because they value that relationship. We're so old and our teachers were from a very different generation. It was about working together. In the old days, my grandfather would have delivered groceries on a bicycle, and then a horse and buggy, and then eventually a vehicle. There was always a carryout service. If people had more than they could carry, my grandfather, my father, us as children as well, would always be happy to take groceries to the car for our customers. It's a practice we still continue today. We remember. I don't know how many hundreds and hundreds of names that I know, and a staff commented on that, saying, "You know a lot of people's names." It was important. It was important to my grandfather, it was important to my father, and it's very important to us that it's personal here.

CHILD: When I walk into Picone's, it's one of my favorite stores because as soon as you walk in, everyone welcomes you. It's very warm, and they have very nice food, and their pastries are the best. If you're going somewhere for pastries, you got to come to Mrs. Picone's. When they say Picone's Fine Food, they are not joking around. MALE: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

THERESA PICONE: I think she’s having lunch outside today. That's a …

MALE: One on your pizza today, so that's great. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

THERESA PICONE: Did you get meat slice or veggie slice?

MALE: Veggie.

TAMARA STANNERS: If you want to learn more about empathy and earning your customer's trust, visit for a great article on this subject. It's called “Earning Your Trust Badge One Customer Interaction at a Time,” something Mrs. Picone does brilliantly.

MALE: You're listening to Relate by Zendesk.

FEMALE: Zendesk helps your business turn interactions into lasting relationships.

TAMARA STANNERS: Let's finish this show with a piece about how to teach empathy. I often wonder if it's even possible. It turns out some of the best instructors in this emotional skill aren't psychologists or doctors or counselors.

FEMALE: Nope, nope.

CHILD: He's trying to jump it.

FEMALE: He's trying to grab it.

CHILD: He just gets [inaudible 00:16:05].

FEMALE: How is he feeling because he's having a hard time grabbing it? How is he feeling?

TAMARA STANNERS: The teacher in this classroom is a baby. During several visits from mother and baby through the year, students in the class watched the child grow and develop.

ELISE: Hi, I'm Elise Gooley. I'm a Grade 11 student and I was involved in the Roots of Empathy program when I was about 10. We would all get together in my school in the library. We would meet around a green blanket. The mom would come and bring the baby in and we got to see the baby grow up and learn new things. We got to tie into the baby's emotions and the way the baby would react to certain things.

FEMALE: Oh! (Laughter) He pushed that. He sounds a little frustrated and sometimes when you …

JENNIFER COOPER: My name is Jennifer Cooper. I teach Grade 7, 8 at Guy Brown Elementary in Waterdown. I watched them when they're sitting around that green blanket when the baby is sitting in the middle and they are all just enthralled. To have 26 teenagers sitting around and all be focused on something and all engaged is a really neat thing. They're so respectful. I look around and I see their facial expressions. The baby smiles or reaches for something and they react. They smile or they laugh a little bit, and that's how I know that they're feeling that connection.

MARY GORDON: I'm Mary Gordon. I am the founder and president of the Roots of Empathy organization.

TAMARA STANNERS: Roots of Empathy started in 1996. It's been hugely successful and it's taught in the U.S. as well as in Canada, New Zealand, Ireland, the UK, Germany, and Switzerland.

MARY GORDON: I think Roots of Empathy works because it's authentic. All of the children are able to relate to the vulnerability of the little baby and they find the humanity in that baby. It's a perfect conduit to the instructor then helping the children find their own humanity. Part of that is understanding what makes us human is our feelings. We start off very simply by saying, "This baby may need to be breastfed during this class over the school year, and how are we going to feel about that?" The children agree if the baby's hungry, the baby should be fed. The children agree that they're going to have a collective giggle in advance so that nobody would react in any way that might be hurtful or embarrassing to the parent or to the baby, so we're acknowledging the rights of the baby. That very act actually spills out over everything that happens in the classroom so that the children realize they're not going to laugh at their friend who asks a question that might make them a bit vulnerable.

FEMALE: Look at his body. Is his body moving a little bit or is his body moving a lot?


FEMALE: A lot, so that's his activity level …

MARY GORDON: When teenage kids, or kids approaching teenage years, have Roots of Empathy, very often people anticipate that they're going to think, "Oh, it's baby stuff and they're too cool," but actually, the reality is the boys participate at the same level as the girls, if not deeper, and that all of the children sing to the baby. They sing lullabies and they even make up songs. The older kids very much appreciate the opportunity to have discussion about a vulnerable baby, because at that age, they are feeling more vulnerable, I think, than the younger children.

ELISE: Just the way the baby brought us all together showed me and my classmates that there are bigger things to worry about than fighting and bullying each other. The kids who were mean, I noticed that they changed in a positive way. They took what we learned in the program, how we learned to be gentle and empathetic and kind, into real life. The program showed us to open up and to not only be kind to the baby, but be kind and empathetic to everyone.

MARY GORDON: We tip the social ecology of the classroom so that children who have all shared the same experience know how to relate to one another in a more caring way. They've learned to read the baby's emotions, to read the cues, and they're also learning to read one another's emotional cues so they end up being supportive of one another. They end up understanding how each other feels, which is empathy, and it really does curtail cruelty—and it particularly allows the children to feel safe and included in their own classroom, not because some adult said “share” or “play nice,” but because all the children understand how painful it is to be excluded, or how painful it is for someone to laugh at you. The children are the ones who make the change here, not the adults, and that's why it lasts—because they've made internal changes.

ELISE: It's really taught me what empathy really means to live in somebody else's footsteps and to really feel what they feel, and yeah, I live my life through that.

MARY GORDON: I think more than ever in this world, there is a challenge, a call for empathy, a clarion call, because we're living in a world that is increasingly fractious. We've never been so technologically connected but yet so isolated. There's a pandemic of loneliness in childhood and I think the need for empathy is greater. Because without empathy, you can't make a real friend. In childhood, more than ever, children need to have the security of a friendship, and I think going ahead in society, we will never solve any of the intractable social problems unless we develop empathy.

FEMALE: Did she get upset when she tipped over?


FEMALE: No, so is she easily frustrated?


TAMARA STANNERS: That's it for Relate this time. Next time, we dive headfirst into conflict: How do you avoid it, how do you manage it, and how do you come through it relatively intact. In the meantime, you can subscribe to the show on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you listen to podcasts. For more articles on connecting to your customers in deeper ways, visit If you want to explore technology built to improve your customer interactions, head over to for a free trial. I'm Tamara Stanners. Talk to you soon.