What do you think of when you hear the word “empathy”? Perhaps someone crying on the shoulder of a friend, a therapy session, or an emotional response to seeing a stranger in pain. But empathy can also play a critical role in business. And not only “can” but “should.” Why? Because a large percentage of customers express the desire for companies to show empathy and say it is essential for gaining their trust and loyalty.
For these reasons, empathy is no longer just an add-on – it’s a critical business skill. According to an article published by the World Economic Forum (WEF), “In a professional context, improving empathy can reduce stress, build more positive relationships, and even boost revenues.” Companies that don’t already do so must find ways to show they understand customer’s feelings, demonstrate active listening, and choose actions that help them get their needs met.
In a world in which interactions increasingly take place in cyberspace, human connection —including in the form of empathy — is more important than ever. Here, BairesDev explores more about what empathy is, why it’s important, and how companies can get better at providing it.
CX as a Company Asset
Empathy is part of another concept that is being reexamined in today’s business environment: customer experience (CX). This term encompasses the totality of customers’ emotions regarding a company or organization, from the time they first learn about it until the end of the relationship. A great CX is no longer “nice to have” but a “must-have.”
Like financial assets, intellectual assets, and brand reputation, CX is foundational to company success. Consider customers who are comparing your company to others that offer frictionless eCommerce sites, recommendations based on previous purchases, no-hassle returns, and other perks that make doing business with them easy and seamless. Those customers are now expecting that level of service from every company they interact with.
The companies that have it in place are getting numerous rewards in return: loyal customers, positive reviews, referrals to new customers, more frequent purchases, and higher spend per purchase. Companies that don’t offer these benefits will eventually lose customers to the competition. That’s why organizations across industries can’t afford to ignore this critically important business driver.
Empathy Attracts Better Employees
Empathy is also a key factor in attracting better employees. Workers want stress-free environments, and companies that emphasize empathy are more likely to provide them. The WEF article states, “Empathy…represents the antithesis of individualism, of abuse of power, and of disconnection among human beings — and these are the pillars of stressful environments filled with tension and social conflict.”
An empathetic environment is more likely to foster effective leadership, successful teamwork, and frequent innovation, all of which require full worker buy-in. These conditions also lead to desirable company outcomes including being first to market with new products and reduced costs due to high efficiency. Such conditions can additionally be used to recruit like-minded team members.
The following video further explains the importance of empathy among coworkers:
The Pandemic Multiplier
The COVID-19 pandemic presented a wide variety of challenges, not just those that were health-related. Many people lost jobs and income, lost loved ones, had to suddenly transition to remote work, had to work full-time while caring for children out of school or engaged in remote learning, or were in an especially challenging profession like healthcare or education.
Companies that expressed a willingness to help customers in such situations during the pandemic gained loyal customers, referrals, and a boost in their reputation, all of which resulted in higher revenues. Companies across industries, from utilities to retailers to social media companies, showed their empathy during the pandemic through messaging, discounts, and contributions to related causes.
How to Be More Empathetic
Companies can provide training to employees to help them become more empathetic. Here are some suggestions for what the training should offer:
- How to put yourself in others’ shoes. One of the most important steps in gaining greater empathy is seeing someone else’s position. For example, a customer service representative should be able to understand why getting the wrong order could be upsetting.
- How to ask the right questions to help customers or coworkers. Asking questions is a great way to fully understand the situation a customer or coworker needs help with.
- How to actively listen to customers or coworkers. Asking questions is just part of the communication process. To offer true empathy, employees must also know how to listen — really listen to others.
- How to stay calm when customers or coworkers are angry or upset. It takes some practice, but employees should learn techniques for staying calm even in the face of someone else’s confrontational words or behavior.
- How to be part of the solution. Empathy has everything to do with working together to solve problems and address issues.
- How to get on the same team. It’s easy to see others as an enemy in any kind of conflict. When employees see customers or coworkers as being on the same team instead, it becomes much easier to work toward common solutions.
Next Normal or Just Normal?
As more companies learn how to embrace empathy in their interactions and operations, the next normal will become just normal. Here are some goals companies should strive to normalize as a result of becoming more empathetic:
- Greater efficiency across departments and teams
- Lower stress levels, leading to fewer absences due to stress-related illness
- More flexibility in how workers perform their tasks
- Better pay and benefits leading to higher-quality employees
- Excellent CX with proactive outreach to customers
- Reduced marketing costs due to customers doing more to spread the word
- Increased revenues due to more loyal customers
You can’t just snap your fingers and create a more empathetic organization, but there are steps you can take to start heading in that direction. Start by asking current employees where there might be room for improvement. Survey customers to find out how you can do better. But, most importantly, examine company culture and long-held ideas about things like the importance of seeing things from others’ perspectives, close listening, and true understanding.