Written by Ilse de Vries
Why did we start caring? The roots of empathy in mankind
Sapiens rule the world, because we are the only animal that can cooperate flexibly in large numbers.
– Yuval Noah Harari, Israeli historian and philosopher
It seems that when pairs and communities started caring for their offspring together, it set in motion the key driver of our evolution to “emotionally modern” humans. These ape tribes had to learn to understand each other in a new way, and this led to shared mindsets.
Thereafter, our complex social groups continually expanded and forced our brains to intricately manoeuvre between an assortment of other individuals’ needs and fears. The goal? To negotiate the most beneficial outcome for the group.
Finally, our imperilled lives on the African savannah catapulted our teamworking and empathy skills into high gear: 100,000 generations later we sport a brain 3 times the size of our ancestor that forged the first stone hammer.
Do we still care? What empathy looks like today
Emotions trump rules.
– Frans de Waal, Dutch-born primatologist
In our current, most recently upgraded model of humanity, we still have in our DNA all the built-up emphatic prowess of the past 200,000+ years. And while we are now definitely part of a much larger community, this “global connectiveness” is still being undermined by our tribal nature. Simply look at the vastly differing treatments of people in the tiny area around the Gaza-Israel border. Or just consider your fluctuating mental processes each time you encounter a beggar at a traffic crossing.
We have evolved to show diverging behaviour toward those inside our circle, and the “other”. Whilst this started as a tribal identity we were born into, it now transcends physical or geographical descriptions. Your choice of laptop brand can be as dividing as your heritage. A quick peek through Facebook holds a mirror up to us, to reveal how close our ancestral group behaviour of inclusion and exclusion still lurks.
Our crucial challenge today and going forward is to find ways to profoundly widen our shared identity. On an individual level, every person must seek to leverage their inborn emphatic dexterity to find connection to the whole of humanity.
Why should you care? The core role of empathy in your business
Your customer doesn’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.
– Damon Richards, Customer Experience entrepreneur
At the most basic level, people feel happier after being listened to emphatically. This makes them more likely to spread a benevolent halo around your brand. This attitude also gives you an in-depth glimpse into their needs, and your understanding creates opportunities for improvement and even new business angles.
Harnessing empathy when you design your customer journey will also afford people dignity and care. Infusing your customer experience strategy with empathy guarantees solid personal customer relations. Very importantly, when faced with a dissatisfied customer, it hands you the initiative to convert it into a win for both sides.
The road to the holy grail of ‘brand loyalty’ does not start with a logo and a promise, but in looking closely at the people you most want to reach: show curiosity, place yourself in their shoes and take ownership of their pain points.
This mindset will revolutionize the way you design your customer experience and train your customer service staff. More than that, it transcends to how your employees and affiliates experience your business.
It’s therefore vital for modern businesses to cultivate the capacity to empathize with their customers along their entire customer journey, as successful market share relies fundamentally on how you make people feel.
Does caring make business sense? A peek at empa-nomics
“It is not the employer who pays the wages. Employers only handle the money. It is the customer who pays the wages.”
– Henry Ford, American captain of industry and business magnate
Empa-nomics is an industry neologism created to illuminate the powerful influence of this traditionally ‘soft’ skill on the greater picture of company profitability. Here are a few noteworthy examples:
- A UK study of call centres in 2009 affirmed that “the empathy component… is seen to be a key driver of profitability: the higher the empathy rating, the greater the profitability”.
Track & Measure Results
- Budget airline RyanAir’s net profit increased from €867 million to €1.24 billion after launching “Always Getting Better” 2014, a programme designed with empathy at its core.
Strategize and Design
- Exploring the business culture of 170 businesses on major financial indexes, the 2016 Empathy Index (The Empathy Business) showed that “the top 10 companies (on the 2015 list)… increased in value more than twice as much as the bottom 10 and generated 50 percent more earnings (defined by market capitalization).”
Access & Audit
- In 2018 the State of the Workplace Empathy study (Businessolver) revealed the percentage of CEO’s that was convinced that empathy is tied to a company’s financial performance: 87%. Empathy in the workplace was found to deeply impact on productivity, retention, business performance and general business health.
Measure employee experience
Partner with the Johannesburg-based Consumer Psychology Lab to infuse your business culture, customer experience strategy and consumer journey mapping with the elixir of business success and longevity: empathy.