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Why empathy matters in business

Empathy helps us to understand how other people feel so that we can respond accordingly – but in business, it’s a skill that is often left lacking. 

The shared experience of the pandemic helped to highlight just how crucial empathy is to business. As the world handled separation, isolation, loss and uncertainty, it was the businesses that deployed empathy that did well. They created new products, refined their brand position and made themselves relevant because they took the time to listen to and understand their customers’ needs. They showed they understood people’s individual needs and responded accordingly – the dictionary definition of empathy in fact. 

But there were plenty that didn’t and as a result, missed an opportunity to not only get closer to clients, but to help them during a time of difficulty. This lack of empathy will almost certainly be remembered. 

There are many business benefits to empathy so it’s important to check that your business’s leadership, people and practices are up to scratch. The more empathy your leadership shows, the more empathy your employees will have, which in turn improves the workplace culture and impacts productivity, recruitment, retention and sales for the better. The more empathy you have with customers, the better the rapport, understanding and loyalty – which, in turn, drives revenue and sparks innovation. 

There are some important nuances to empathy though – it should not be confused with sympathy (sympathy is understanding from your perspective, rather than empathy which puts you in their shoes) nor is it helpful to presume you know how other people feel. 

One of the best empathy-led behaviours a business can have is to ask brilliant questions of those they’re trying to help. Asking the customer to articulate how they feel – instead of imagining or assuming – can expedite the best outcome. By listening, we provide space for people to express themselves, which can offer hugely valuable insights. It also creates time for customer service representatives to really consider what’s been said and think about how they can help before they respond. 

Who would you rather talk to: a customer agent that finishes your sentences and talks over you, or one who asks questions, listens deeply and responds thoughtfully? The answer is easy. 

​If you’d like to better understand empathy and find practical ways to build it into your customer care, download our new report ‘Putting empathy at the heart of customer care’ here.

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