Empathy: Can It Be Measured?


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Back at the end of January I spoke at the Furniture Marketing Group Symposium in Las Vegas. I talked about building a winning organization and fixing the experience from the inside-out. My focus was on deliberately designing a customer-centric culture, getting leaders committed and aligned, and ensuring the employee experience is a top priority. Put people first – take care of employees so that they’ll take care of customers – and the numbers will come.

As I mentioned in last week’s post, there were some great questions afterward. One of them was around empathy and if and how empathy can be measured.

Let’s start with defining empathy.

What Is Empathy?

According to Merriam-Webster, empathy is the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner. It has also been defined as the practice of putting yourself into another person’s thoughts, feelings, personality, and circumstances to better understand their desires.

In it’s simplest form, it’s the ability to understand and share the feelings of others.

It’s not to be confused with sympathy, which is the feeling that you care about and are sorry about someone else’s trouble, grief, misfortune, etc.

It reminds me of the Platinum Rule, which states: Do unto others as they would have you do unto them, not as you would have them do unto you. In other words, treat others the way they want to be treated, as opposed to the Golden Rule, which focuses on treating others the way you want to be treated. The Platinum Rule recognizes that we don’t all want to be treated the same, that we want to be treated the way we want to be treated. It requires us to take the time to listen to – and to understand – the person we’re talking to or interacting with. Empathy.

Can Empathy Be Taught?

I believe that empathy can be taught; some people just need more help with it than others.

  • Use journey maps as a training tool to help employees understand and live what the customer is going through. 
  • Empathy maps help to frame the customer through the lens of seeing, feeling, doing, and thinking. Socialize and operationalize.
  • Share customer feedback – especially verbatims or video interviews (i.e., straight from the customer’s mouth, to pick up tone, feelings, emotions, etc.), as well as the personas. Customer insights are at the heart of building empathy.
  • But don’t forget to teach them to really pay attention to what the customer is saying, both verbally and through body language.
  • Employees need to recognize when/how to use empathy; role play for them to really make it click. 
  • Teach them the cues that signal time for empathy to kick in. 
  • Show them that it’s important to always be listening and to be prepared to respond in the way the customer needs you to respond, not in the way a script tells you to respond. 
  • Lose the script. 
  • Continue to reinforce using empathy when interacting with customers – and with each other.
  • And make sure they understand that empathy and sympathy are not the same thing.
Why Is Empathy Important?

Why is it important? In short, it’s how you put the “customer” in customer experience (and “employee” in employee experience)! It’s how you put the human in the experience. It’s how you put people first.

For your customers, when you take the time to listen and to understand them, their needs, preferences, problems to solve, and jobs to be done, they feel like their voices are important to you and your brand. When you use that understanding to interact with them, to develop products and services, and to design and deliver a better experience, they feel like they matter and that you care. As a result, you’ll create loyal, long-lasting relationships with your customers. They will tell others! In the end, everyone wins.

By taking time to get into your customers’ hearts and minds and walk in their shoes, you will be able be more proactive in designing and delivering the experience customers expect. You’ll connect with them in a way that you’ve never connected before. (That assumes that the insights about others’ feelings translate to actions that showcase the organizations focus on empathy, for employees and for customers.)

The same holds true for employees. Listen to them. Understand them and their needs. Treat them the way they want to be treated. See how that changes things! That same loyalty and advocacy will be a result for your employees, too.

This quote from Stephen Covey is fitting: When you show deep empathy toward others, their defensive energy goes down, and positive energy replaces it. That’s when you can get more creative in solving problems.

Better yet, leading with empathy, operating in an empathy-driven manner can and will be your competitive advantage. Trust me – very few brands do this right now.

How Can You Measure Empathy?

Empathy can be measured. While some believe that measuring it is counter to what empathy really is, I do believe there are ways to assess an individual’s empathy. As a matter of fact, it appears there are a lot of ways! One of the most popular tools is the empathy quotient, which is a long survey (60 questions) to make the assessment. Upon reviewing that, I believe for customer experience and employee experience purposes, we could probably pare that down a bit to a few critical questions to guide us in the right direction.

Once measured, the next step is then to link it to business value, but this is a challenge for many because it’s hard to connect those feelings to outcomes. This is one of the challenges, as well, with the ROI of customer experience.

How Does One Put Empathy In Action?

Putting empathy into action requires that your workplace culture is one that is empathy driven. So let’s start by taking a look at the culture. Do you have the core values in place to support your empathy-driven culture? If not, it’s time to make that adjustment and add an empathy core value. Do the other core values align with an empathy-driven culture? Do they go hand in hand with empathy as a core value?

Dr. Natalie Petouhoff’s book, Empathy In Action: How to Deliver Great Customer Experiences at Scale, which she co-wrote with Tony Bates, chairman and CEO of Genesys, outlines four pillars that must be in place to operationalize empathy.

The pillars form the foundation of a framework that allows you to put empathy into action.

  1. Listen wherever the customer wants to leave feedback or wherever the customer is talking to you. As I always say, be sure to capture those breadcrumbs of data that customers leave behind as they interact and transact with the brand, too.
  2. Understand what the customer’s needs, pain points, and problems to solve are, as well as their current sentiment, and then predict and prescribe what’s next for the customer based on what you’ve learned. Act on what you hear.
  3. Act on what you predict and prescribe. Orchestrate the experience. Personalize the experience. Ensure customers achieve their outcomes.
  4. And then learn from your actions, your interactions, and the outcomes in order to continuously improve.

I’ve always said that customer understanding is the cornerstone of customer-centricity. We cannot put the customer at the heart of the business, at the center of all we do (with employees more first), if we don’t take the time to understand them, to see what they see, and feel what they feel.

You can only understand people if you feel them in yourself. ~ John Steinbeck

Image courtesy of Pixabay.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Annette Franz
Annette Franz is founder and Chief Experience Officer of CX Journey Inc. She is an internationally recognized customer experience thought leader, coach, consultant, and speaker. She has 25+ years of experience in helping companies understand their employees and customers in order to identify what makes for a great experience and what drives retention, satisfaction, and engagement. She's sharing this knowledge and experience in her first book, Customer Understanding: Three Ways to Put the "Customer" in Customer Experience (and at the Heart of Your Business).


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