Why Empathy is Important in Business
One of the lessons businesses have learned during COVID-19 is the importance of being personal and approachable in their communications and interactions with customers, clients and stakeholders. That means no more corporate speak (thank goodness). It also means knowing why empathy is important and making sure to include it in all communications.
While this may seem obvious, it has been, and continues to be, a hard pivot point for many traditional businesses. Especially for businesses that were established during a time when the customer was kept at arms-length instead of being an integral part of how the business operates and communicates.
Being empathic to the needs and realities of your community (customers, staff and stakeholders) is crucial during times of crisis. When I work with clients, I advise them to look at ways to include empathy in all their communications – in an authentic manner.
This begins with knowing your audience – who is it you are communicating to, drilling down as much as possible. See this audience as a real person with a name, age, education, interests and more. Once you know WHO you are talking to, you can then hone in on HOW they are impacted by the crisis.
Now visualize talking face-to-face with this person. How would you be empathic to their personal experience? What emotions are they feeling? How are they handling these emotions? What reassurance do they need?
Honing in on the emotions is an uncomfortable place for many businesses. I know some of you are thinking – look, I just want to sell my product. I’m not their therapist. Enough with the emotions.
But here’s the thing, without acknowledging these emotions, people will tune out what you are saying.
Think about your own experience living through the COVID-19 pandemic. Have there been times when you’ve been scared, frustrated, worried, angry, fearful, joyful, happy, relieved or experienced other emotions?
Now imagine a time when you were angry or afraid. How would you have felt if a friend called you up trying to sell you a used lawnmower or tell you about a new service that they were offering without first checking in to see how you were doing? I’m pretty sure your back would go up; you would grumble some negative words under your breath and stop listening.
Now here’s a side benefit to why empathy is important in not only your business communications, but also your corporate culture. It will help you retain your brightest employees, increase your productivity and ultimately improve your bottom line.
Just like your customers, when employees feel the company is empathetic to their needs, they feel more connected, inspired and engaged. And if you’ve ever worked in an environment where empathy was lacking, you know how it impacted your productivity and likely even your longevity in the job.
The businesses that will persevere through the challenges of COVID-19 will be those that have taken the time to build a community. They have gotten to know their customers or clients as individuals (no, I don’t mean knowing their names, but rather understanding WHO they serve and their needs).
These same businesses understand why empathy is important in their client interactions.
So, what does this look like?
Let’s look at a women’s clothing store that specializes in business clothing (which means its customers are women working in the professional field). I would expect many of these women are working at home while caring for children, and/or virtually supporting the needs of aging parents.
These women are stressed, tired, pulled in many directions and still trying to get through their workload (hmmm this is sounding way too familiar).
Instead of focusing on selling this year’s latest outfit (who really cares right now), the store would be empathetic to the realities of its customers. Commenting on the many balls these women are juggling, how they are expected to be teacher, chef, house cleaner, caregiver in addition to their day job.
Let them know you see them. You recognize their struggles and thank them for all they are doing. And then, instead of selling the newest outfit, maybe talk about how they can treat themselves to be Zoom ready. A nice pair of comfy pants (trading in the fitted pants for yoga pants) and a colourful top so they can stand out on Zoom.
This is a simplified example and sometimes being empathetic is a bit more complex. But understanding why empathy is important in business will help you connect with your customers, build a community and grow your business.
Now as you continue to pivot your business, I ask you to reflect on your communications and engagement with your customers, clients and coworkers. Have you been empathetic to their needs or tone deaf, focusing on you or your company’s needs? What small changes can you make to be more empathetic and share your empathy with those around you?