7 Keys to Customer Empathy: Building Relationships That Last

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Many organizations operate around short-term and annual KPIs and goals, but fail to value the significant impact of retention and long-term relationships. Although difficult (but not impossible) to measure, customer empathy is the key to building a brand and acquiring/keeping the best clients. Your sales strategy and training today needs to incorporate the steps you’ll take to keep — and deepen — relationships.

Empathy is defined by Psychology Today as “the visceral experience of another person’s thoughts and feelings from his or her point of view, rather than from one’s own.” In short, it’s understanding what your prospect’s role, needs, and motivators are before you dive into a well-rehearsed sales pitch. 

When a sales representative or non-profit development professional is faced with time pressures, quotas, and KPIs, how do they make the time and find the energy to empathize? It can be much simpler than it sounds.

The 7 Steps to Empathic Selling

1. Understand the true value of long-term relationships. The new salesperson may be focused primarily on hitting monthly goals and getting promoted, but most people will have an average of 12 jobs in their working lifetimes (which can span as long as 40 years or more in total). They discover that building relationships is critical. The people and organizations you connect with along the way can often influence your success as you move from job to job. Someone who has bought a product or service from you once and been satisfied is more likely to trust you in the future.

2. Know who you’re selling to. Technology can actually humanize the relationship-building experience. All too often, salespeople work off a “one-size fits-all” script, but understanding the company and individual you’re communicating with enables you to tailor your approach and message. 

3. Listen, don’t just talk or assume. Our post on High Pressure Sales Tactics provides some useful tips and perspectives on how to craft sales messages that deliver results without sounding bossy or robotic. Ask questions that help you understand the challenges the person on the other end of the phone line or at the conference booth is facing. Listen actively. Paraphrase what you heard, empathize with the issues they voice, and then be patient rather than diving in immediately with a solution. 

4. “Take your shoes off,” advises Salesforce. That doesn’t mean you should walk around your office in socks or barefoot. It refers to attempting to put yourself in the shoes of the person you’re speaking or writing to. You may have never been a CMO, IT professional, or other decision-maker, but project yourself into that position and think about how that professional defines success. Perhaps they need to convince their management that an expense is worthwhile. Maybe they have 25 other meetings and calls that week and your cold call is not the highlight of their life. How would YOU want to be approached as a potential client or donor? Yesware lays out these simple steps for “walking in the right shoes:”
– Imagine a-day-in-the-life of your prospect.
– If a prospect is hiring for a role your service could eliminate, reach out to show how you can make their situation easier.
– Identify your prospect’s stressors and fears.
– Suggest ways to solve their problems by researching articles they have shared on LinkedIn.
– If your competitor is having issues, reach out to your prospects to show that you can assuage their situation.

5. Be human. That doesn’t mean that sales conversations must involve the sharing of baby pictures or invitations to events, but getting to know prospects (especially over time) may involve some level of non-business communication. Walk a fine line between work and personal chatter (especially at the start of a relationship) but once you’ve established a connection, wishing a client a happy birthday on social media, sending small and meaningful notes and gifts, and asking about things related to work and life are all ways of showing that person you don’t think of them as simply a year-end bonus. Create opportunities to touch base that don’t involve cross-sell or up-sell. For example, if you see an article or amusing cartoon that relates to your client’s job, pass it along. According to RingDNA, only 18 percent of people like and trust salespeople. You’re in a position to change that!

6. Deliver exceptional service and ask frequently what you can do better as a company. The most successful organizations value the entire customer experience and keep in regular touch with clients, working to resolve issues as they arise and taking responsibility for delivering delight rather than just satisfaction. 

7. Keep in touch. People will leave jobs and may become influencers in their new places of employment. You can even go one step further and help your clients find new roles when they have lost a position. Once you’ve invested time and energy into building a relationship, make an effort to keep it alive and thriving. If a prospect truly likes and trusts you, they will want to know and deal with you for years to come — and may even buy from you again.

Above all, be authentic. True empathy cannot be faked. If your prospect senses that you are saying or doing something merely to check a box and appear more involved or compassionate, you’ll lose out in the long run. Remember, great relationships are based on trust and customer empathy must be genuine to be valued. 

1 COMMENT

  1. Hi RJ,

    Thanks for your article.

    Customer empathy is becoming a hot topic.

    I’m curious how is it different from “putting yourself in the customer’s shoes” and the “empty chair” of Amazon?

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