Bringing True Empathy to Your Customer Engagement Strategy

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When it comes to customer engagement, empathy is the buzzword du jour. Almost everyone is striving to be more empathetic in their customer interactions, but it’s important to understand what that means. Too often, empathy is merely a label that’s slapped on without verifying that what you’re calling empathetic really meets that description.

Moving beyond the buzzwords

It’s important to start with an understanding of what empathetic engagement means. “Empathetic” is much more than just offering different types of channels for customers to interact with. It’s great to offer options like web chat and text messaging; those are legitimate channels that are more empathetic than making customers wait on hold on the phone, but is that true empathy?

Real empathy is about meeting customers where they are – communicating with them in a way that acknowledges how they are feeling about a certain situation, like a policy change, a past-due bill or a significant event such as a natural disaster or a crisis in their community.

Defining true empathy

Meeting customers where they are at, making them feel heard and understood requires an approach that’s far more personalized – hyper-personalized in fact – based on the factors that motivate the individual to make decisions. If you can adjust your interactions to take account of these factors, that’s more empathetic.

For example, imagine that you’re on your way home from vacation and your flight is canceled. The airline texts you to tell you that now your departure is the next day. You’ve already checked out of the hotel and your kids are all packed and ready to go. Well, texting is easier than having to wait on the phone to sort out the situation, but that’s not really empathetic. It’s slightly more convenient but not empathetic.

What if, instead, the airline provided you with options and a chance to discuss what would work best for you? What if there was more of a dialogue? Would you prefer a phone call, for instance? Or live online chat? The company needs to demonstrate that it understands the situation you’re in and try to provide solutions that are helpful and timely, given the circumstances.

Think about your reaction if that was the kind of service you got – you’d probably tell everyone you knew. While this may be an extreme example, there are many smaller, more day-to-day ways companies can improve the customer experience.

Implementing empathy

Implementing this type of empathy all comes back to hyper-personalization and a deeper analysis of who your customer is, what they want, how they want to be communicated with and when they want that communication – which can change day-to-day or moment to moment. Developing a deep empathetic understanding of your customers is achieved through a combination of:

● Understanding what strategies and behavioral tactics are most effective
● Interacting with your customers so you can continuously learn from their motivations and behavior and adapt as your customers change
● Learning what works for different personas within your own customer base is key and moving away from what works for “most,” which can exponentially improve the effectiveness of your engagement strategy and overall customer experience.

There are a lot of factors to be looked at – and a lot of analysis that can be gleaned. It’s too much for individuals to collect and analyze on their own – but fortunately, that isn’t necessary.
You can seek out systems and services that do this analysis, looking at numerous customer interactions and learning from those – in a continuous way – so that those learnings can then be applied to your engagement strategy.

Avoiding negative experiences is crucial to being empathetic because the influence of a negative experience often outweighs the influence of positive experiences. This unfortunate reality has been coined “negativity dominance.” Even if a customer has had multiple positive interactions with your brand, one negative interaction can put your brand in a bad light. Consumers can easily become brand damagers, using social media and other channels as a soapbox to create negative perception.

Fortunately, there are countless opportunities to turn everyday moments and difficult conversations into positive experiences across the entire customer journey. Ease of decision-making, for instance, can significantly impact satisfaction. Customers are empowered when they feel the decision-making process is simple and that their decisions will lead to positive outcomes. Examples of difficult decision-making include having to switch between channels or move through multiple steps in order to achieve their goals, and user experience impacting the customer’s confidence to achieve the task at hand.

Personalized engagement

Empathy is a huge buzzword when it comes to customer interaction, but truly making your engagement empathetic takes some work. You’ll need to put yourself in your customers’ shoes. How would you like to be treated in a given situation? How do they define what empathy is? Hyper-personalized communications will show customers that you are paying attention to them individually, that you care about their specific needs. This approach creates ongoing positive interactions with your brand that will strengthen your relationship and foster greater loyalty. When empathy is no longer just a catchphrase, everyone wins.

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