Out of the trauma of the last two to three years, a trend has emerged. Organisations are now leaning into kindness and empathy. But we may have been neglecting these as business priorities in the years gone by.
Our increased vulnerability as people, whether in the role of customer or colleague, has become the critical issue in experience management. Courtesy of the Office for National Statistics, nine out of ten British adults are reporting that their cost of living has increased. This is approximately 46 million people. Companies simply have to recalibrate to these desperate conditions if they are to truly be able to help those who depend on them.
The nature of vulnerability has changed
The current hardships, such as the cost-of-living crisis, are taking their toll on us as individuals, communities, and nations. This is leading to an increase in vulnerable people.
StepChange found that 6.4 million adults are feeling the pressure of debt and that this has negatively impacted mental health, relationships and the ability to work. In a Retail Economics’ Shopper Sentiment Survey, 64% of consumers said that higher energy costs are now the biggest challenge for their household finances.
As a consequence, the profile of people who are now seeking help from organisations has changed. In many cases, those who have never before struggled to pay have been affected. These are sometimes known as the ‘transient vulnerable’, defined as those who, because of specific circumstances at a certain time, may not be able to make a complex or unexpected decision.
Vulnerable customers expect organisations to show understanding and offer alternative solutions. Those who fail to meet them at their most challenging moments are failing their customer experience duties. What can organisations do to meet the needs of their vulnerable customers?
Empathy must be the key driving force in CX
Capita recently collaborated with Ipsos MORI. This research revealed that empathy is one of the major factors contributing to a positive customer experience.
A customer journey that is frictionless is still extremely important. But what companies must realise is that empathy needs to be held in an equally high regard. Unfortunately, only 20% of the people who took part in our research felt that their providers actually do make them feel valued.
According to the UK Customer Satisfaction Index, 26.1% of customers prefer in-person experiences. This is partly due to the empathy that can be generated from this form of transaction.
However, it is essential that our empathy is real – not rehearsed or merely read from a page. At Capita, we believe that the time has come to make empathy the key driving force in all our corporate strategies. To do so, we need to build a culture where everyone shares values of vulnerability, kindness, and empathy. Where do we start?
Making culture meaningful
Organisations operating in today’s climate must prioritise empathy in the customer and employee experience. One way to describe this approach is as the leadership of kindness. And this kind of leadership needs to be pointed in two directions: both internally and externally.
Health and wellbeing for employees should be top of mind at all levels, from C-suite and down. Recognising our own vulnerability and managing others’ is challenging.
Therefore, companies must understand that many employees will be vulnerable themselves – facing the same issues around affordability as the customers with whom they are in contact. Unfortunately, leaders are often expecting vulnerable colleagues to help other vulnerable people.
If you haven’t reviewed your internal policies for a while, it might be a good idea to do so – keeping kindness at the forefront.
Long-term change is needed
At Capita, we believe that when businesses look after their customers with kindness and sincerity, those customers really appreciate it. This leads to greater levels of trust and loyalty. Now is the time for organisations to focus on empathy, and to always be delivering this in their service approach.
This approach must also be for the long-term. Ofgem recently announced that the energy price cap will rise to £3,549 in October. This is an increase of approximately 80% which will lead to another surge in vulnerable people. This may be unavoidable, but how organisations deliver services can make a real difference. And those putting the customer front and centre will be the ones who gain market share, in such a difficult business climate.
It can’t be ignored that businesses still have financial targets to meet. But being kind and sincere complements business needs: it’s what customers want, so they will stay loyal. If organisations can be truly empathetic, if they can put kindness into their business plans, and weave it this concept through their very fabric, then they will be delivering service with sincerity. This will further benefit every one of us.