Creating Engagement through Empathy engineering? People buy from People

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So how do you build truly great levels of customer value? We have all heard the stories about customers with an 85% satisfaction rating being almost as likely to leave you as those with a 60% rating.

Well, perhaps that is because being satisfied with a service is simply not good enough, and the reason for that is because in any competitive marketplace, you want consumers to be engaged at a far higher level than just being satisfied – you want them to feel a true empathy for your brand!

People buy to feel better about themselves – from people they trust

Creating an emotionally compelling reason to buy has been the remit of marketing virtually since the inception of the discipline. It is the emotion that takes the consumer from buying on the basis of their ‘needs’ – I need a car – to buying because they ‘want’ it – I want a Porsche. In doing so you create something we all refer to as ‘added value’.



In our language this means you sell more items, at a higher value, for longer than your competitors. However the landscape has changed. What used to be good enough, no longer is. This is in part because the old methods used to create a brand image are not fully fit for purpose.

Whilst large scale advertising still has its place, we live in an age where companies are far more transparent to their customers, thanks to the ‘clouding’ of information, and errors or inconsistencies (and nothing undermines a brand faster than an inconsistency between what we project and what we actually do) are therefore laid bare and shared round the globe in seconds via social media.

At the heart of the new world is an old truth

In an increasingly virtualised world, people still crave an emotional connection when making a decision to buy. That is because most of us are social creatures. It’s that old corner shop service experience, where buying something was part of making your week ‘feel’ better, because the proprietor knew you and had a knack of suggesting things that were just right for you. In other words they demonstrated empathy towards you.

So how do you go about creating empathy?

I like to apply a simple 3 step model to creating empathy. Fig1. – Empathy Engineering Framework – gives more detail, but in essence this is about: Values; Consistency & Relevance.

  1. Values – You need to find out what it is that your customers feel are the most emotionally compelling reasons – that match your commercial goals – for dealing with you.
  2. Consistency – You must communicates these in as consistent a way as you can across all of your contact points, including most significantly, through all of your colleagues.
  3. Relevance – In doing so you will begin to drive the level of engagement your customers have with your company. Engagement leads to empathy – providing your values are aligned.

What you should not do is guess what the values are, or allow them to be diluted as they are distributed through the organization. This is where I feel the hard work should be directed.
Keep the process simple, and drive the execution relentlessly – It’s that old adage ‘It’s all in the detail’!
Fig 1. Empathy Engineering Framework

Creating Engagement Through Empathy Engineering

Leveraging your greatest asset – your people

So we live in a new age, one where the power is moving steadily away from the brands into the hands of the customer. We know we want to engage with our customers emotionally to create a genuine empathy from which sales and loyalty will flow, but how?

Simple really – look to your people. Any existing business will already have all the information it requires to understand what it needs to do to create an emotionally engaged customer base, and have the means to execute it, because it has customers and colleagues.



In large companies these are interacting tens of thousands of times a day, generating vast amounts of information crying out to be turned into the insight needed to begin Empathy Engineering.

Some are learning some are playing catch up

Ford recently announced how it has transformed its Dealer-Customer relationship using Customer Experience. You can read more at Ford’s CE Movement Moment however for me Andrew Ashman, Fords Global Customer Experience Manager, captured the essence of the approach in one of his statements: To create engaged customers, we must have engaged employees!

In the article he talks about how the approach is one of coaching and insight. Most telling for me, at the heart of what he talks about is listening to and involving the dealer’s staff (engaging them in the Ford brand) in how to create a more engaged Ford customers.

You don’t preach to them. They are your voice of the customer and if you have the skill and the understanding to invest in building an empathy with your Colleagues to better understand the brand, they will do the same for you with your Customers.

Compare that with Tesco’s recent mauling at the hands of disgruntled customers who are taking to social media posting pictures of empty shelves with POS proclaiming 2 for 1 offers on display.

A stark reminder of how becoming dislocated from your Customers – often starting with being out of touch with your Colleagues – can result in even the mightiest of retailers finding themselves out of touch and paying the price. You can read more about what the Chairman, Sir Richard Broadbent, had to say here: Worst Place On Earth Blog

So where does that leave us?

For me it is, as it often is, a reassuring mix of the old and the new. Our customers are demanding even higher levels of service (for which read helping them to feel better about themselves) – combined with the means to globally promote failings!

But the pace and scale of the change is catching some out. Whilst providing an opportunity for those who are willing to listen to what their customers are saying they need from them to ‘feel better’ (become emotional engaged with them).



Then using this insight as the basis of a business wide process to align every aspect of the business’s people, process and values to ensure consistent delivery.

But, and this is the critical part, this must be created, driven and delivered through your Colleagues – just as Ford have found. The board might own the shareholder relationship, but it’s the colleagues that deliver the commercial plan tens of thousands of times a day, because they own the Customer relationship.

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