When you think of essential practices, empathy is probably not high on your list. Yet, leadership coach Julien Adler calls it a critical business skill due to it being a trait that is one step above sympathy. Sympathy is your concern for another's welfare regardless of the presence or absence of shared emotions. Whereas empathy is putting yourself in someone else's shoes and living that other person's life at a particular moment. The result of empathy is a more nuanced understanding of what that person is going through, and this can lead to the formation of more profound, more meaningful bonds. That said, how exactly does empathy translate to business, and why is it a crucial element to success?
The way your organization treats customers can mean the difference between securing their loyalty and losing them forever. A feature on the importance of empathy by Entrepreneur details that treating customers with a high level of empathy is the number 1 factor in securing word-of-mouth support that can entice new patrons. This is because you promote active listening, which entails responding to customer concerns and acting on them. From the customer's perspective, you treat them as a person rather than a revenue source, which is much more likely to lead to retention.
Nowadays, many businesses ask influencers to promote their brand on social media. But an INC. article discusses the link between empathy and business success and explains that influencer partnerships do not necessarily result in meaningful connections. This is because influencers tend to make their audience feel inadequate in order to persuade them to buy certain products. The opposite happens when you communicate with empathy: Your audience will be empowered, and you will connect with them on a human level. This is because "you can connect with the parts of people who feel lost, unsure or behind the learning curve, you can [then] put your focus on creating content that empowers them with the hope, knowledge or worthiness they lack."
A culture of empathy is equally vital in-house because it helps increase productivity and innovation. Google's 2017 study Project Aristotle confirmed this, as it found that many of the company's best ideas came from employees who demonstrate an assortment of "soft skills" such as generosity, emotional intelligence, and empathy. In short, empathetic employees tend to be more productive, reliable, and creative.
This empathy-centered treatment is the kind of customer service (CX) that translates to real revenue. With just a 1-point improvement in the CX Index Score can lead to an extra $244 million in revenue — all because of your ability to meet your customers' demands for excellent CX. And as you win over your customers' loyalty through empathetic CX, your customer retention increases, with a 5% increase leading to a 25% to 90% increase in profit. Aside from that, improved customer retention can keep operating costs down as well since it's 5–25 times costlier to win over a new customer than retain an existing one. That means you earn more due to empathy and even save some in the process.
If you want your team to demonstrate empathy, you must be the first to show it. As discussed in 'Happiness & Humans: Finding Connectivity & Community Now,' this is simple to implement into your management style: Think beyond yourself and consider others' needs first. In this way, you will be able to relate with your team, which in turn will make them more open to discussing any issues with you.
Actively seeking your team's input and feedback is an effective way to find out their different concerns, and it's a hallmark of empathy. While this is now much more difficult due to the current global health situation, online communication platforms allow leaders to keep open the same office feedback channels while also offering unique ways to collect opinions. One of the most popular platforms for this is Slack — an app used by 65 Fortune 100 companies. A guide to using Slack by HP notes how leaders can collect ongoing feedback with polls, which lets you get general insights about how employees are doing, especially in these stressful times.
You can also do informal polls using emojis [or reacjis Slack calls them] for quick feedback on a question. Microsoft Teams, a platform similar to Slack, used by over 500,000 businesses, offers the same feedback mechanisms, including the ability to create polls via Microsoft Forms. By merely offering a channel in which to express concerns, you are promoting a culture of empathy.
A guide to instilling a culture of empathy by Harvard Business Review details that empathy often belongs to the silent majority who are drowned out by the "phantom norms" and toxic attitude of a few. The key is to bring empathy to the foreground, and you can do that by incentivizing and recognizing consistent displays of empathy. In doing so, you are normalizing positive behavior and encouraging the silent majority to lead culture building.
The current ongoing health crisis magnifies the need for empathy. While businesses are affected by this prolonged pandemic, companies must strive to make it part of their culture regardless of the situation. Empathy in the workplace promotes internal growth, wins over customer loyalty, and helps ensure company-wide stability.