How being human can be a game changer

How being human can be a game changer

3 Ways to touch the hearts of your customers with empathy

A few years ago I wrote an article about the role of emotion in customer experience and customer loyalty. Because it is still so relevant, so I am sharing much of the content again, but in these unprecedented times, the ability to use empathy – to not only understand the needs and emotional responses of customers, but also to respond appropriately, brings a new meaning to the customer-first approach.

Empathy is on everyone’s lips! We see tons of Linkedin posts around the importance of empathy. But one has to ask… is this merely a new buzz word? And how do you actually improve your employees’ ability to use empathy to have your customers feel like they are valued? Can you actually grow your business, when you improve people’s ability to use empathy?

As predicted, the simple answer is YES! However, knowing what empathy is, does not mean it is practiced. … It’s like telling your staff to be friendly, right? Similar to having defined corporate values, such as “respect” or “service excellence”, beautifully displayed as decorative posters on corporate walls, without any evidence that it reflects the organisation’s culture or their employees’ hearts?

Customer experience professionals and leadership teams’ biggest challenge to use EMPATHY is the “HOW TO”, not the WHAT. Overwhelming evidence (published research) points to the importance and benefits of using empathy in business now, but very little is available about how to improve this “survival” skill for people and business.

CHALLENGES Some of the biggest stumbling blocks to infuse empathy in business include

1.    SYSTEMS – Employees want to do right by customers, but the systems do not support the remedy they want or should to offer to customers,

2.   CONSEQUENCE OF NON-COMPLIANCE – Employees are afraid to do anything “outside” of the procedures/rule in anticipation of punitive action.

3.   PERFORMANCE DESIGN – The way employees’ performance are measured, discourages them to really solve problems.

4.   EMPOWERMENT – Employees are not allowed to make decisions on the fly.

Employees have therefore armoured themselves, in self-preservation, to only do as prescribed or allowed to and “just doing their jobs”. The armour typically looks like this:

“Hear no evil, speak no evil do no evil”


1.    ANAESTHETISE – Employees have become numb… numb for the volatile responses from customers and their inability to do anything about it.

2.  BECOME DEAF – they don’t listen to customers or their problems…

3.   DON’T SEE – they turn a blind eye to the challenges of customers nor see the context of customers’ problems.

4.   HIDE – they behind rules and hold on to it for dear life, to avoid the consequences

5.   DEFLECT – they don’t see customers’ problems are theirs…”not my problem” so they escalate to someone else to deal with it.

6.   DON’T FEEL – they don’t get emotionally involved … they don’t want to feel anything! So even when they need to, they rather not allow anything to trigger their own emotions.

7.    PRETEND – they de-humanise customers, and pretend they are not real people.

The challenge is that it results in customers not feeing heard, or not having their problems solved, and end up hating the brand!

In these times, more to than ever before, people feel the effects of being isolated and empathy holds the key to restoring some sense of connectivity. Being able to respond as a human, to another human.. as easy, and as difficult as it is…

According to Forrester, of the three factors driving customer loyalty – non-CX factors, Rational CX, and Emotional CX – Emotional CX is the primary influencer, stronger than the other two combined.

The role of emotion in buying behaviour has slowly elevated itself on to the center stage, to one of the top drivers in both acquisition and retention of customers’ business. Humans are rational and emotional beings, so why this increasing focus on emotions and connecting with people as “humans”? 

Emotions in consumer behaviour have been part of the decision making for as long as we can remember. Back in the days, deals were concluded with handshakes, and this already hinted at the role of emotion. A handshake symbolized trust and honour (not a tangible or rational decision). This was based on an intuitive, “gut” feeling of trustworthiness. And also it meant honour, to mean what you say.

Thinking about a time where store owners served customers personally by taking items off the shelf and handing it to the customer, knew everyone by name, weighed all the consumables, talked to everyone, etc. is almost unimaginable for the modern consumer, where most things can be acquired without any human interaction – online, anonymous – you don’t even have to sign for the transaction!

From houses to life partners, from education to holidays, all can be done online without human interaction! A car can be purchased without ever setting foot in a dealership. Search for a vehicle on line, email interest, process payment or financing on line, and the vehicle can be delivered at an arranged place! No direct personal contact required.

Yet, human behaviour reflects the deep need to feel seen and heard… and to matter! We have never stopped the desire to be valued or validated.

#1 Value me for choosing you

Consumers are spoilt for choice and that means that they can take business to any number of providers. We also know that brands and products battle to differentiate through features or benefits. A case in point is the luxury motor industry. Most of top brands provide the similar product features and benefits. Brands have to rely on other differentiators to gain or retain market share – strength of the brand name, reputation, service delivery and customer experience!

So herein lies the first lesson. To differentiate, appeal to the deep-rooted need for validation and acknowledgement of individual choice. Consumers want to feel personally valued and acknowledged for their decision to choose one brand over another. This means that brands have to ensure that every customer FEELS valued and made the right choice…. And this means that the experience must be personal and resonate with the customer’s needs.

# 2 Honour your promise to me

When consumers buy products, it’s expected that it will do what it is supposed to do, be in a good condition, works and that they have not been misled in any way. So, when the product or brand does not live up to these basic expectations, trust starts to erode. If brands, provided with the opportunity to rectify the situation, fail to do so, broken trust is broken and transpires in many forms of behaviour, such as attack (complaints), silent defection (talk with their feet) or amplified defection (social media activation).

And the lesson here is, keep your promise, because deep down, if you don’t, it means that you do not value me (or my business). 

 # 3 It’s actually all about me! See me, hear me

We live in a time where the awareness of SELF is evident in terms such as mindfulness, conscious living etc. The focus on SELF is at an all-time high and consumers articulate their need to be validated and valued in many ways. The ground swell of social media on some level echoes the desperate need to matter, to be heard! The generation of “selfies”, Facebook etc. ultimately screams for the need to be seen, noticed and to matter!

In summary, validation of the SELF (and choice) highlights the importance of emotions. Validation is a personal FEELING, an emotional response to an engagement. In the battle for survival, brands that are able to re-engineer engagement points with customers to appeal to the validation of SELF and choice, will be the successful ones.

There are many examples of successful brands who embody the ability of connecting to the SELF and choice of the consumer, such as Harley Davidson, Starbucks, Apple… Brands who are able to make the consumer FEEL valued, appeal to the deep sense of validation of worth, providing a sense of community, will survive.

To short circuit the acquisition of customers, customer experience stepped up to take its rightful place in business. No longer is it just about feeling satisfied, it is about the emotional experience – how customers feel, validation of choice and being valued that leads to brand loyalty and advocacy.

And here is the challenge… how do you know what experiences in your service delivery will strike a chord for your customers? What will make them feel valued and their choice of your product validated?

The first step is to understand customers’ journey when dealing with your brand. What are the relevant touch points from a customer’s perspective? In other words, looking from the outside-in. In this process, understanding what customers expect and need, are important. Measure and track customers experience – let them explain what happened during the engagement (the factual narrative), but more importantly, how they felt (their emotional response). The combination of facts (their reality) and their emotions, provide insight into relevance and importance of reviewing service delivery.

What drives exceptional and memorable experiences?

Maya Angelou, American poet and performer, learned that “people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

The Consumer Psychology Lab is currently designing a “how to build empathy skills” workshop. Let us know if you need the “HOW TO” and not just the WHAT, to empower your employees’ ability to interact with customers, as humans.

#empathy #customerexperience #humanconnection

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