Why creating empathy in your customer service is so hard

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In the summer of 2019 I published a new book called Punk CX.

It came about due to my frustration with the lack of progress with improving customer and employee experience outcomes despite a huge amount of activity, enthusiasm and investment in the experience space.

In the book I was calling for a more ‘punk’ approach to customer experience one that focused on thinking differently about the experience problems we are trying to tackle, daring to be different and focused on a back to basics approach amongst other things.

Then, the pandemic happened.

A couple of months into the pandemic a friend wrote to me and said: ‘Amazing to see how much punk CX is going on – people bootstrapping their way through enormous changes in days rather than years’.

Reflecting on that as we approach the end of 2020, I am pleased about the amount of progress that has been made but also know that there is still a lot to do.

However, over the last 6 months, what has also emerged is that an organisation’s ability to deliver great service and experience is dependent on their ability to be empathetic towards their customers. This is understandable given the increased levels of stress, anxiety, fear and insecurity that the pandemic brought on for many people.

With that in mind, I wanted to share a ‘track’ from the book on empathy:

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Empathy is not soft, it’s hard

O wad some Power the giftie gie us, To see oursels as ithers see us!

– Robert Burns – To A Louse

Everyone is talking about how having more empathy for customers can lead to the delivery of better service and experiences.

So, why do some companies get it wrong and others get it right?

Researchers at Pennsylvania State University and the University of Toronto recently conducted a study that produced a clue.

They found that empathy is hard work. And, because of that people tend to avoid being empathetic because of just that: the hard work involved.

Some dismiss empathy as being touchy feely nonsense and a bit soft. But, in reality, empathy is hard work.

The most empathetic companies hire the right people and the best people.

The most empathetic companies hang out with their customers.

The most empathetic companies require their people to be their customers too, even if only for a little while so they can live the experience they are to be part of.

The most empathetic companies conduct empathy building exercises.

All of which can be hard work and take time.

Do you want to improve the empathy you have for your customers?

How hard are you willing to work?

What are you willing to do to achieve that?

Where are you going to start?

When are you going to start?

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Now, while the effects and the threat of the pandemic may recede over time, what is becoming clear is the economic, industrial and technology disruption that we have experienced is not going away any time soon.

Much of this disruption will continue to place stresses and strains on many customers, and so the continued need for greater empathy in interactions with customers looks like it is here to stay.

To deliver on that, I believe, organisations need to start thinking holistically about empathy and about developing an empathetic musculature for their organisation, another concept that I started musing about in Punk CX.

If they don’t, then there is a risk that any empathy capability initiative could get reduced down to a mere training course.

That would be a mistake and would run the risk any benefits would atrophy over time, as shown by the researchers at Pennsylvania State University and the University of Toronto.

Therefore, organisations need to acknowledge that becoming more empathetic will take time, discipline and commitment but that it will also need to be supported by strategy, systems, processes, design, technology, leadership and the right sort of people and training if they are to see the benefits.

That won’t be easy, and they won’t always get it right. But, building a more empathetic organisation is becoming a competitive necessity, will protect and, potentially, grow revenues as well as enhancing the reputation of the company — no bad thing.

This post was originally published on Eptica’s/Enghouse Interactive’s blog(s) here and here.

Photo © Leslie Barrie (cc-by-sa/2.0)

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