John Southard: How Military History Can Transform Your Customer Engagement Strategy

A military historian walks into a company and transforms their customer engagement strategy to increase revenue and retention. While this might sound like the start of a very strange joke, it’s a true story. When searching for frameworks on how to better engage your customers with empathy, look no further than my guest today, John Southard.  

Backed by more than 10 years of research built into his book, Defend and Befriend: The US Marine Corps and Combined Action Platoons in Vietnam, John has transformed the lessons from his historical research into a simple and proven empathy framework that companies can leverage to better understand customer needs – and we discuss that framework today, as well as examples each stage in action. We discuss why some leaders view the customer as the enemy and how that’s hurting their growth, why simply responding to customer surveys is not the way to build engagement, and how your hiring decisions impact customer retention and engagement in ways you may not realize.


To access the episode transcript, please click on the episode title at 

Key Takeaways:

  • Exposure to groups other than yourself is the gateway to empathy. Getting into conversation is the first step to breaking false assumptions and realizing that both sides are human. 
  • A recent study shows that a lack of empathy from brands to consumers loses companies money, to the tune of $300M, every year.
  • Cultivating communities and relationships with customers allows you to get feedback from them directly and build trust with those customers. 
  • When trying to find your differentiator – start with what your customers need, both overtly and covertly. It takes time, but the ROI is worth it and sustainable in the long term.


“What unfolded is…the greatest unknown story of empathy, because these Marines show up and realize quickly, we have to live here, we have to abide by their rules, we have to understand their culture…because our personal survival literally depends on it. They lived a day in the life of these villagers to gain their respect.” —  John Southard


Episode References: 

Brand Story Breakthrough course to help you craft a clear, compelling brand story  – includes weekly office hours with Maria!

About John Southard, Customer Engagement Expert, Speaker, Author

John has a Ph.D. in U.S. Military History and is an author, speaker, and expert in customer engagement and empathetic leadership. He has applied his historical research on empathy to corporate America to build empathetic leaders and cultures and optimize customer and employee experiences. Backed by more than 10 years of research, John has transformed the lessons from his historical research into a simple and proven empathy framework that companies can leverage to better understand customer needs.

Connect with John Southard

Website: Southard Speaks: 



Book: Defend and Befriend: The US Marine Corp and Combined Action Platoons in Vietnam

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