Welcome to the Age of Empathy

By Oisin Lunny, Chief Evangelist at OpenMarket, for Customer Experience Magazine

In today’s digitally connected society, it’s more important than ever to understand and properly demonstrate empathy.  According to Belinda Parmar, CEO of The Empathy Business, empathy is just as important in business communications as it is in personal communications. Empathy should shape how you get a delivery update on the package you just ordered, how you obtain status updates for an upcoming flight, or receive a confirmation number from a hotel concierge service.

Belinda’s research has proven that the more empathetic a company is, the better they perform in terms of growth, earnings and productivity. Corporate empathy, far from being an oxymoron, actually has a direct impact on a businesses’ bottom line. Unfortunately, this vital tool is not being used enough by businesses in how they communicate with their customers. To appreciate how a business can be empathetic, we need to define the term correctly.

What is Empathy?

Empathy, in the most literal sense, is “the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another,” according to Webster. What it means in terms of brand-to-customer interaction is effectively communicating what they need, when they need it, in the right way and using the right technology. OpenMarket calls this the Empathetic Interaction™. Sound complicated? It really isn’t—it’s all about getting to know your customers on a deeper level and using what you know about them to anticipate what might make them happy at a precise moment. When a business gets it right they earn the genuine consumer trust, loyalty and advocacy which are the hallmarks of most sustainable businesses today.

Empathy and Respecting the Customer

Needless to say, there can be an overwhelming lack of empathy from many businesses today. At the same time, what people expect from a brand in terms of customer service and experience has significantly risen over the years thanks to digital connectedness.

While we may have unprecedented access to customers today thanks to the availability and immediacy of mobile devices, channels such as voice calls, emails and text messages should be treated respectfully and as a privilege. No one, regardless of the brand in mention, wants brand-to-consumer interactions that are irrelevant sent directly to his or her device.

Why Now?

We know we’re more connected today than ever before in history, but we also know this connection is virtual, and therefore, lacks a certain personal touch. This doesn’t create less of a need for personalization in our day-to-day interactions; it does quite the opposite—it creates a hunger for it. This goes for both personal and business communications. As a brand looking to build lifelong relationships with its customers, the way to not only reach them but keep them is to make each touch point personal, from using a customer’s name, to anticipating and addressing their individual needs, recalling past engagements, or using an appropriate tone for their personality type.

It goes even further than this; it’s about making a customer feel heard. Know what your customers want, when they want, and how they want it delivered.

People of all ages live and breathe via their mobile device, and they thrive on accessibility and convenience. This is where text messaging comes in and the numbers don’t lie: 98 percent of text messages are read, compared to 20 percent of emails. What’s more, 70 percent of all email sent worldwide is spam. In fact, a mere 2% will interact with an email by clicking on a link. This means that almost every recipient is ignoring almost every email sent by every company.

When it comes to voice calls, customer experience isn’t much better. Inbound calls from unknown numbers are seen as intrusive, and avoided. Customers today also get infuriated waiting on hold, or being routed to wrong departments and getting cut off. No one wants to spend 40 minutes listening to a flute solo while being told their call is very important.

The moral to the story is to stand in your customers’ shoes, and actually see their needs using the lens of empathy. They’ll respond with appreciation and earned respect while also becoming more loyal to your brand. Empathy is a “soft skill” for businesses that translates to hard cash by providing the customer experience that modern consumers demand. The tolerance for a bad customer experience using the wrong communication channels is close to zero. By designing around key empathetic moments, companies can get the customer experience right first time, every time.