The Empathy Series, Part 3 – Implementing Organizational Empathy


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This is part three of a three-part series. To catch up, read parts one and two, here: Why Your Brand Needs Empathy and How to Build Trust Through Empathy.

Throughout this blog series, we have covered what empathy is, why it is essential for building brand loyalty, and how to build trust with customers through emotional connections. In the third and final installment of this series, we discuss how companies can implement empathy throughout their entire organization.

Digital transformation has increased automation within sales and customer service departments, increasing the need for contact center agents’ to focus on delivering more personalized and empathetic experiences to customers. It’s critical that empathy is executed at scale across an organization. Without empathy, your phone representatives could put your ability to grow and retain customers at risk.

What is Organizational Empathy?

We talked about the definition of empathy in part 1 of the blog series, but organizational empathy is different. The cut and dry definition of organizational empathy is a company commitment to developing a deeper understanding of their customers’ needs, and using that knowledge to serve those needs better. Empathetic organizations are more aware of the impression their behavior leaves on others and are able to modify their verbal and nonverbal behavior to create certain impressions. This awareness creates a deeper connection with customers and helps ensure the organization as a whole is adaptable to customers’ changing needs. Ultimately, it aligns very closely with the concept of being customer-first or customer-centric – concepts lauded as the future of business and key to success.

Company leaders recognize that culture can be both a barrier to and enabler of strategic business change. However, most fail to implement an empathetic culture capable of achieving such changes. For example, the CEO of a British bank confided in his audience a few years ago at the World Economic Forum saying, “We all know it’s important to be empathetic, but how do I galvanize 48,000 people in my UK operations – most of whom think that empathy is for wimps?” Though unfortunate, this mindset is commonly adopted by leaders, which can be detrimental to their organizational success and brand as a whole.

To be good at organizational empathy, a company needs to be able to measure, improve, and relate the emotional experience to positive outcomes. The need to justify empathy is one reason companies have been slow to make it a focus or adopt technology aimed at helping improve it. Executives, rightfully so, have been hesitant to focus on initiatives where they can’t measure or showcase improvement.

Advice for Enabling Organizational Empathy

Creating a customer-centric or empathetic culture doesn’t have to be an impossible-to-reach goal. Forrester Research compiled several different strategies and tactics for companies to consider when cultivating an empathetic organization. Below are a few of our favorite strategies:

  • Share real-time customer feedback to employees
  • Organize customer listening sessions and focus groups
  • Spend time with the front line staff serving customers
  • Organize empathy-building warm-up exercises
  • Transform employees into customer surrogates
  • Adopt tools and technology that can measure and enhance behavior

Ryanair Airlines implemented their own strategy to build empathy within their company with the creation of the “Always Getting Better” program. Created in 2014, the program works to identify trouble spots in the company and generates solutions to address them. While launching the program, CEO Michael O’Leary notably said, “If I’d only known being nice to customers was going to work so well, I’d have started many years ago.”

LinkedIn is another great example of a company dedicated to creating an empathetic corporate culture. Every month, LinkedIn holds “InDay,” where employees focus on themselves, the company, and the world. By dedicating time for their employees to connect, create, and collaborate, LinkedIn aims to build a superior culture, cultivated from within. This, in turn, creates an environment that is tailored for innovation.

Citigroup clearly understands the importance of empathy and in a recent interview for CNN explained how empathy is particularly important in critical situations when a company’s brand is on the line. Jane Fraser, CEO of Citigroup Latin America, said that she has “learned the courage to talk straight, but if you do it with empathy you can be a straight talker without being an unpleasant person.” Another Citi executive, Carla Hassan, Global Chief Brand Officer said, “For me, empathy is not just getting to know who people are, it’s also about understanding what people have to deal with day in and day out so you can help them add value.”

The Impact of Organizational Empathy on Customer Service

An empathetic organization has many advantages over an emotionally detached company, especially when it comes to successful customer experiences. In the 2018 State of Workplace Empathy Report, Businessolver found that “87% of CEOs agree the company’s financial performance is tied to empathy.” The report also found that “there’s a silent majority in U.S. workplaces who believe that empathy is lacking in their organizations and they’re willing to take action – even leave their jobs – to seek out employers who are more empathetic.” Employee retention is a top concern for the call center industry which, by nature, has high turnover. It’s crucial for these organizations to cultivate empathy across the organization to obtain more engaged employees. Additionally, Forrester reported that “customer-obsessed companies report having happier employees, more loyal customers, and increased likelihood to exceed revenue growth expectations.”

Fostering a customer-centric culture offers a competitive advantage when it comes to both recruiting top talent and maintaining customer loyalty. There is no doubt that customer experience training and empathy-building programs will become common industry practices, as organizations continue to recognize the far reaching implications of superior customer experience.

To recap our 3 part empathy series, we’d like to share some of the key takeaways:

  • Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.
  • Building customer trust and loyalty is important to sustain an organization’s success and the human connection helps create exceptional experiences.
  • Emotional connections between employees and customers is the heart of an empathetic experience; and how the relationship unfolds throughout the customer journey is the single largest contributor to a successful brand.
  • It’s impossible to control the customer’s actions, but a fully engaged agent who listens and expresses genuine interest in resolving the situation, fosters a partnership that leads to more engaging and successful conversations.
  • Empathy can be measured and coached, but it is reliant on one’s ability to improve his or her emotional intelligence.
  • Organizational empathy is a company commitment to developing a deeper understanding of their customers’ needs, and using that knowledge to serve those needs better.
  • Empathetic organizations are built for success.

To keep learning, check out our ebook, “The Cogito Guide to Emotional Intelligence,” where we discuss emotional intelligence and how to apply it at your organization.

Steve Kraus
Steve brings over twenty years of experience in marketing, selling, and delivering customer engagement solutions to the world's most customer-centric organizations. Prior to joining Cogito, Steve led product marketing for Pegasystems, growing the CRM suite from a niche player into a recognized leader for marketing, sales, and service applications.


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