Customer 1st Aid: The Importance of Empathy in Driving Sustainable Growth

June 9, 202010min

No one needs to be told that the world is in crisis right now – at times like this, it is not necessary for the obvious to be stated.

Our health, our economies, our planet – in fact, the whole human race – is right in the middle of its latest catastrophe. I say ‘latest’ as we have been here before. Yes, this may be the first time that Covid-19 has rocked the world, but historians will point to several natural and/or man-made disasters that have had a similar, if not worse effect on human lives.

Despite this, we are still here. Even though we have had catastrophes in the past and will no doubt have catastrophes in the future, human beings will continue to survive and thrive for many millennia – we hope!! Although we often seem to do unimaginable bad to ourselves at times, human beings are remarkably resilient. The bad is always undone by the good – in fact, I have always believed that good will inevitably prevail.

The point I am making is that however challenging things seem right now, things will get better. For some that will happen sooner than others – but for all of us, the world will keep on turning. It is therefore vital that we focus, not on the negative of the ‘here and now’, but the positives – both of the ‘here and now’ and of the future.

When things go wrong, unexpectedly, it is completely natural for your body and brain to panic. We all go through different emotional states – from panic, denial, frustration, and anger, to apathy and confusion.

There are several interpretations of the ‘change curve’, a model originally developed in the 1960s by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross to explain the grieving process. It is a model that has been widely utilised as a method of helping people understand their reactions to significant change or upheaval – it is an immensely powerful model to explain what is happening now.

Understanding how humans’ transition through these different emotional states is extremely important for businesses trying to deal with the current situation. Customers AND employees are all humans by the way!!

The better able businesses are at understanding the emotion of customers and employees, the better able they will be to NOT react to the current crisis, but to ADAPT and RESPOND to the current crisis. The way businesses adapt and respond, will define them now and in the future.

Those who have heard me speak will know that I describe the customer experience as containing three component parts – the FUNCTIONAL, ACCESSIBLE and EMOTIONAL. The functional component represents an organisations products and services. The accessible component represents how easy it is for customers to interact with those products and services. However, it is the third component that is the most important of the three. The third component is the emotional one – representing the way the experience makes a customer feel. The reason why it is the most important of the three, is because the way an experience makes a customer feel is what they are most likely to remember.

Customers will remember one of three outcomes from the experiences they have – the very good; the very bad; or nothing at all!! As businesses adapt and respond, it is the ones who can leave customers remembering their experiences for the right reasons that are the ones who are ultimately far more likely to prevail.

It is more important than ever before for businesses – shareholders and employees alike – to work together. Work together to listen, learn, understand, and respond to the needs of human beings in a way that leaves customers remembering the experiences they have for the right reasons.

I have always believed that the most important underlying principle of customer experience is the principle of Empathy. The ability to understand and share the feelings of another person – empathy – is a core driver of sustainable business growth.

Empathy builds advocacy with a customer – it turns them into ‘fans’. Fans become loyal. The more loyal customers a business has, the more they will spend and the more likely they are to recommend you to others.

The more loyal, spending customers a business has, the more money it will make – it is not complicated!

So, with the principle of empathy in mind, I want to conclude this article with five things businesses should be focused on in managing the customer experience through the Covid-19 crisis:

  1. Have a simple, clear message. What are you doing as a business now and going forward and what do you want the experience for your customers and employees to be? Are you clearly communicating the message in a way that fits into the changing lives of your customers and employees?
  2. Focus on your employees first. If you want your people to be able to deliver an experience that leaves customers remembering you for the right reason, then you MUST make sure that you have thought about how your employees are being enabled to do that in the first place. You cannot expect your people to treat your customers in a way you are not treating them.
  3. Give your people time to think. To be able to empathise, your employees will need to be able to think and act in the interests of the customer. This may mean giving them a greater ability to do ‘what is right’ for the customer, rather than sticking to rules and regulations devised without the crisis in mind. If they just ‘do what they are told’, they will be less likely to empathise with customers. This will not only negatively affect the customer experience, but also the employee experience.
  4. Listen more and talk less. This is not a time to dictate to customers and employees. This is a time to listen. Customers and employees need reassurance – they need to feel as secure as possible. They need to trust the businesses they are dealing with. Listening to their needs, wants and concerns and acting accordingly will have a significant effect on the emotional outcomes of their experiences.
  5. Close the loop. If we are listening, then we should also be ‘acting’ on what we are listening to. Far too many organisations fail to act on the feedback they capture from customers. This is an opportunity to ensure that we demonstrate empathy, authenticity and sincerity and tell our customers what we have done with the feedback they have given.

We will never forget 2020. It is a year that has had such a dramatic effect on the world, that our grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and great-great-grandchildren, will be studying in school a hundred years from now. Whist the world will be a vastly different place in 2120, it is also a very different place to the one it was in 1920. Change is inevitable. A very rocky road of change is also inevitable – that we can do nothing about. It is how we adapt and respond to change that will determine if we are still around to tell the tale.

 

This is the first instalment of exclusive ‘Customer 1st Aid’ series of articles by Ian Golding for CXM.


Ian Golding

Ian Golding

A highly influential freelance Customer Experience consultant, Ian advises leading companies on Customer Experience strategy, measurement, improvement and employee advocacy techniques and solutions. He has worked across multiple industries including retail, financial services, logistics, telecoms and pharmaceuticals and has deployed Customer Experience tools and methodologies all over the world. Ian is an internationally renowned speaker and blogger on the subject of customer experience ijgolding.com who served on the inaugural board of Directors of the CXPA (Customer Experience Professionals Association). In 2014, Ian officially became a Certified Customer Experience Professional, currently being on the UK Board of Ambassadors for the CXPA. Ian is also a regular judge at the UK Customere Experience Awards




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