Building Employee Empathy towards Customers

“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.” –  Stephen Covey

We know that in the business world of today, the biggest differentiator for any company is its customer service. We also know that customer service for any company can never be top class unless everyone in the company is focused on making it the best and serving customers with genuineness. Going by the quote it becomes obvious that every company must focus on building employee empathy towards customers if they expect their workforce to concentrate on the needs and expectations of customers. Without feeling empathy, a company would not be able to create products and offer solutions that would address the needs of customers – rather these offerings would be what a company would deem appropriate. Another reason to build empathy within your workforce is so that they connect with customers and understand the emotional reasons for which customers buy and stay with a company. We know that emotions hugely affect the buying decisions and choices of customers today.

Building employee empathy towards customers is quintessential to the success of a company, since customers expect to be heard, and appreciated. Empathetic employees will not only listen actively, but also will take a genuine interest in understanding the needs of customers and providing the best solution to them. They would be keen to make improvements, and pass on the positive effects of those enhancements to customers. Every company has employees, but it is only truly empathetic and caring employees, who prove to be invaluable assets. As mentioned, customer emotions today drive their loyalty and business towards or away from a company. Given the time and money customers invest in a company, they would expect that their emotions be taken into consideration, and that whomever they contact in a company should be willing and able to serve them well. The main aspect of empathy is that it is hard to instil – people either have, it or not, which is why it is imperative for companies to choose their workforce wisely – especially their customer service staff. Asking pertinent questions during the hiring interview should enable a company to decide on the most suitable kind of people – those who would care about each other and the company’s customers.

While instilling empathy may not be possible, nurturing employee empathy towards customers is. The good news is there are several such training and coaching programs that focus on nurturing empathy within people, teaching them the importance of connecting emotionally with customers and their co-workers. In addition, to nurture and keep employee empathy towards customers, it is imperative for a company to foster a culture of customer service, and treat its employees well. The way employees treat customers is always a reflection of how the company is treating them – happy employees would make delighted customers. The converse would also be true. A company must have a robust and consistent reward and recognition program in place – one that appreciates the littlest to the most obvious actions employees may take to keep customers happy. Also extremely helpful in building employee empathy towards customers, is by sharing positive comments and heartfelt appreciation from customers for the service they receive. Sharing positive customer feedback is a form of encouragement and shows employees that their work is important and valued. This would serve to motivate and boost the morale of the workforce, goading them to serve customers even better.

There is another aspect to building employee empathy towards customers. Companies must focus on empowering their employees – through leeway, knowledge, information, right equipment, and updated technology. An employee could be genuinely empathetic and want to help customers, but in the absence of the aspects mentioned, would not be able to help. Empathy must be complemented by training, and authority to make decisions in favour of customers, else even the most efficient and empathetic employees would fail at helping customers. Building employee empathy towards customers is not just about lip service – a company must have the right processes, top quality products, and top class technology to assist its customer service teams to help customers speedily. Of course, every employee in the company must be trained in customer service and listening to customers.

Companies can build employee empathy towards customers in several ways. As mentioned, sharing with employees, the experiences customers have with the company can prove to be a huge motivator. Often, employees remain blissfully unaware of how their less than perfect behaviour could be affecting customers, and in turn the company. Customer videos, showing the discomfort of customers on various parameters would help employees understand what they need to improve. These videos can also prove to be highly effective training techniques for customer service programs. Videos showing happy customers, and others showing highly confused and frustrated customers – both would help to build and enhance employee empathy towards them. Companies must remember not to place blame on individuals or teams, but rather focus on learning from mistakes, getting better and moving on to serve customers in the way they expect.

One of best ways for a company to build employee empathy towards customers is to place employees in similar frustrating situations (in a training environment) as customers may face. Doing so not only helps employees to understand how their actions adversely affect customers but also encourages them to be the solution providers for poor customer experiences. A company must also ensure that providing good customer service should be part of every employee’s KPIs and there must be consequences for not meeting the service level mark set by the company.

Job rotations are a good way to permeate feelings of empathy and service to customers. Every employee (leadership included) must be required to spend some time in the customer call centre of the company, or be assigned some jobs of the customer service teams. This would not help all employees to understand the manner in which customers must be served, but would also be more empathetic to the complexities and challenges faced by their customer service co-workers. This would build empathy for other employees, resulting in a more cohesive and collaborative workforce.

It would be a great idea to organize events / workshops / discussion groups in which both employees and customers would be attendees. Interacting face-to-face is a great way for employees to understand customers better, see things from the customer’s point of view, and gain invaluable feedback on what works and where customers expect immediate changes to be affected. This also adds a human touch to employee-customer interactions – breaking down the ‘digital walls’, across which most business is conducted today.

The more a company can build employee empathy towards customers, the better would its chances at success be, given that the company’s customers would be a much happier lot. A larger number of happy customers would mean more and repeat business, and over time loyalty and brand advocacy.  Building empathy towards customers is a commitment that every company must make today, and work consistently to enhance it in order to keep its customers happy, and have a better chance at attracting many more.


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