Traditionally considered as just one of a basket of necessary soft skills for workplace success, empathy has gained a lot of traction over the last decade.
Today, while most might still consider empathy a soft skill, few in the corporate world would deny its importance today as one of the most important traits for current and prospective employees. On the business side of the equation, empathy is just as vital in building brand recognition, creating meaningful innovations, and providing great customer service; here’s how.
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Whether you’re a B2B company or a B2C company, you aren’t just selling a product or a service to your target audience. You’re selling the particular lifestyle that comes with a benefit tied to your product or service.
Empathising with your target audience is crucial in being able to construct this ideal lifestyle that you’re selling to them. Put yourself in their shoes; it’s impossible to sell them their ideal lifestyle if you don’t know what they aspire to in the first place. To do this, you have to be able to get under their skin and know them better than they know themselves.
Whether you do this by creating a persona of your ideal customer or by analysing the content they share and create on social media, empathy is what allows you to accurately dissect their demographic, and access all of their wants, needs, likes, dislikes, worries, aspirations, and disappointments.
A good marketer knows all of this like the back of his hand. Tapping into this extensive knowledge is what allows him to build stellar marketing campaigns and brands that resonate intensely with their consumer base.
According to Guy Kawasaki, former Apple Chief Evangelist, the process of innovation starts from the desire to make meaning, not to make money. Money comes as a side effect of creating something so meaningful that it’s completely transformational.
Steve Jobs, for example, didn’t content himself with innovating on products that were already on the market in his time; he created entirely new product categories that changed the world forever.
To be a truly great innovator, you need to be able to empathise with the consumer. Unlike in branding and marketing, though, it’s not just about identifying their likes and dislikes; it’s about knowing them so well that you’re able to give them a meaningful product or service that they didn’t even know they needed.
Indeed, before the advent of iPhones and iPads, the world didn’t know they wanted or needed touch-screen phones and tablets. Today, though, iPhones and iPads practically redefined the entire industry.
Additionally, as you progress through prototyping, empathy is vital in being able to understand your customers’ experiences with your product. At this stage, you need to pay close attention to how they’re interacting with the product, their feedback on it, and what they want to be improved.
Ultimately, their feedback might even cause you to revamp the entire product. shift its utility in ways you never conceptualised at the start. Empathise with them; give them what they want. As Kawasaki puts it: “Let 100 flowers bloom. Don’t be proud.”
We’ve each had our fair shares of horrible customer support experiences. Whether it was an obscenely long waiting time or a particularly unresponsive customer service representative, what grinds our gears the most about lousy customer service is the fact that it makes us feel used and undervalued.
It sends the message that the company only cares about taking money from its customers and not about servicing their needs in the short-term and long-term. This can either make or break customer retention and loyalty, especially in the age of social media, where singular anecdotal experiences that go viral can have more bearing on public sentiment than the actual truth.
The key to excellent customer service is empathising with customers and their various needs. So often, employees follow established SOPs and scripts for customer service to a T, which depersonalises the interaction and puts so much unnecessary distance between customer and company.
While this isn’t a clarion call to abandon all SOPs and scripts in customer service, it is a call to start walking the middle path between standardisation and total flexibility. Employees certainly should be familiarised with company standards, but they also crucially need to practice empathy in dealing flexibly with disgruntled customers.
To this end, empathy training is an absolute must-have for customer service representatives. Just practicing active listening makes a massive difference in calming down and unhappy customer and making them feel well taken care of.