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Why Your Brand Needs Empathy – The Empathy Series (Part 1)

Steve Kraus

Establishing and maintaining customer trust and loyalty is critical to a brand’s success. According to PwC, 73 percent of people point to customer experience as an important factor in their purchasing decisions, yet only 49 percent of U.S. consumers say companies provide a good customer experience. It might seem like a no brainer, but customer experience must be a priority for organizations who want to safeguard customer loyalty, win new customers and stay ahead of the competition.

Part one of this three-part series will discuss one unexpected brand quality that separates the industry leaders from the laggards: empathy. Below, we delve into what empathy is, why it is essential to superior customer experience and showcase brands who are utilizing this skill to attain brand loyalty and grow customer trust.

Empathy 101

The definition of empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. Most people think they are perceived as much more empathetic than they really are. It’s actually very hard to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, especially when dealing with complex and emotional situations.

Implementing empathy at scale in large organizations is difficult – it’s hard to measure and it’s even harder to improve. But new techniques and technologies are paving the way for organizations to embrace, measure and excel at being more empathetic to their customers’ needs. The stakes are high and competition for customers is fierce – if a customer does not believe they are interacting with a company that cares about them and their best interest, they will move on and find a company that does, and they will share their poor experience with their extended circle. As an example, a customer that speaks with a warm, caring service agent that expresses interest in their needs and genuine attention to resolving their challenge, that customer will appreciate the company more, grow their relationship and share the good experience with friends or colleagues.

In a 2018 survey conducted by PwC, consumers said they would pay up to 16 percent more for better customer service . Empathy translates into wins for the customer, the employee and a business’s bottom line. The latest technology provides the means by which to measure empathy at an organizational scale, correlate the impact of empathy to bottom-line metrics and provide guidance to employees as to how they can adjust behavior to be perceived as more empathetic and trustworthy. AI, grounded in behavioral science, can analyze customer and employee behavior and guide employees to help improve their emotional skills. Technology can identify customer patterns to provide feedback to a company on how well they are doing with regards to acting in their customer’s best interests.

How New (And Old) Brands Are Succeeding (And Failing) At Embracing Empathy

Operationalizing empathy doesn’t happen overnight – but a solid first step is understanding its importance and putting programs in place to systematically spread it across critical brand communication and customer touch-points. Companies that have been around for years and organizations born in the digital age are recognizing the need to embrace empathy.

Recently, there have been a number of companies bringing empathy to the forefront, some of them have recognized empathy as a key differentiator and have taken proactive steps to spread it across the organization. Others, unfortunately, have had specific incidents or overall brand erosion which have forced them to emphasize empathy to win back customer trust.

These companies have found out the hard way that poor customer experiences are more impactful than good ones, leading to customer churn and viral stories in which they share their feelings. It’s likely you saw United Airlines’ obsession with rules, at the expense of the customer experience, that led to one customer being dragged off a plane, and many others questioning the airline’s commitment to service. Or Volkswagen’s debacle when it came out that employees recognized their diesel engines didn’t meet pollution standards and, instead of fixing the problem, lied to customers claiming higher than actual performance standards.

Many brands have been reawakened to the foundation of good service – treat customers as you would like to be treated. These companies have taken the mea culpa in reaction to customer experience mishaps. Uber for example faced perhaps the biggest hurdle in overcoming a reputation of poor customer experience and even poorer employee relations, releasing a commercial introducing their new CEO and emphasizing their commitment to improving Uber’s culture and leadership. Similarly, Facebook had severe user privacy backlash and issued an apology commercial to win users back and re-establish customer trust. Wells Fargo wholeheartedly admitted to losing customer trust in their recent advertisement, focusing on forward momentum and change to regain brand loyalty. All three examples represent an understanding of just how important customer trust and loyalty is to sustaining an organization’s success.

There are, however, organizations that have realized the power of empathy and are proactively embracing it as a critical guiding principle in their business. Dominos’ new mission to help pave towns across the country to save customers’ pizza from bad roads? Or JetBlue’s response to a customer who was fired as a bridesmaid and needed a refund on her flight to the wedding? And MetLife’s implementation of our technology to guide customer service agents to be more aware of customers’ emotions and needs. These companies recognize that human connection is important to their customers and are moving the needle to superior experience.

Ironically, in today’s digital world, the emotional connection forged between an employee and a customer is at the heart of an empathetic experience; how that relationship unfolds at key moments-of-truth throughout the customer’s journey is the single largest contributor to a successful brand.

Check back for part two of this blog series, How to Build Trust Through Empathy, in which we will share key tips and best practices for:

– What to focus on for delivering top notch customer service
– Scaling empathy across an organization
– Measuring organizational empathy and its impact
– How technology can help.

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