In recent years, ‘empathy’ has become an increasingly relevant mantra for companies and business leaders. The emergence of COVID-19 earlier this year has served as an accelerant to the realisation of how important empathy is in both business and society, as enterprises and individuals seek to navigate a path through great difficulty and uncertainty.

Having empathy for a customer is about understanding their needs and wants. It’s about having intuition about where their preferences are going and being there to greet them with new products and services.

Bold moves

Being empathetic is easier said than done, but many businesses are moving in the right direction. Take KFC, for example, and its recent decision to temporarily drop the ‘It’s finger lickin’ good’ slogan. The brand has used this iconic slogan for decades, so choosing to replace it is a huge move with some obvious risks.

Yet KFC went ahead with the decision as a result of carefully investigated market research and human insights. The decision has been supported by its consumers and praised by communications specialists, proving the value of understanding your audience and how the pandemic has shifted their acceptance of certain phrasing and tone of voice.

Likewise, supermarket chain Morrisons acted swiftly in March when lockdown measures first took effect, changing its core purpose and messaging to ‘feed the nation’. It supported employees and customers with new ways of doing business, including food parcels, more delivery slots, a dedicated call centre, and increased employee benefits.

As we emerge from the pandemic and enter the ‘new normal’, businesses must place empathy at the forefront of the agenda and consider the concept in all key decision-making. Establishing a clear two-way communication with all stakeholders will be the first step in this process, allowing leaders to directly communicate with employees or customers, to ensure that their needs, thoughts and concerns are heard.

Human experience

A renewed focus on customer experience is driving this interest in empathy, but over the next few years we will see a shift to human experience (HX), with businesses aiming to see past a simple customer relationship and look to generate a deeper human connection with stakeholders.

HX is designed to generate empathy, as it considers the reasoning behind behaviours and appeals to emotion, while CX only registers awareness and transparency of behaviour. HX leaders and marketeers will use technology and automation to support, rather than replace human experience, adapting the ways in which they are connecting with their customers.

The use of human insights and emotional data will enable business leaders and decision-makers to unlock the potential of becoming truly empathetic.

Emotional data must take precedence over numerical data and its reductive perspective. By prioritising real human insights, leaders will be on a path to understanding their audiences and predicting the future wants and needs of customers.

It’s about putting empathy into action – not just talking about it.

Key benefits

It’s clear to see why brands must embrace empathy, particularly in light of COVID-19, but what long-term business implications can this approach have?

First, empathy is likely to increase employee retention and lead to a more motivated workforce. If employees are treated well, and feel like they’re understood and recognised by executives, then they’re far more likely to be productive, loyal, and become passionate advocates for the business.

The same is true for customers. Businesses are more likely to retain customers who feel like they’re genuinely understood and their experiences are being shared. It is important, however, to begin incorporating strategies for increased empathy into business operations gradually, as a sudden increase in ‘thoughtful’ communications can seem insincere, particularly in the wake of COVID-19.

Empathy, then, begins with listening to stakeholders, taking the time to understand their experiences, and the emotions generated from them. The next stage is ensuring this lived, human experience is placed at the forefront of upcoming business decisions, campaign plans, internal communications strategies, and product launches.

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