Empathy – it’s what you need

There’s one thing my clients have been crying out for in recent weeks, it’s empathy. I don’t mean they think I’m not hearing them (at least they’ve not said so). It’s empathy for their people and customers.

Some are concerned their marketing and comms teams might be sounding tone-deaf. Others are worried about how their sales and customer service people are coping and connecting, suddenly forced out of their usual support networks.

The trouble is, with lockdown and protest, our background stress is higher than usual. Our flight and fight responses are in overdrive – we’re more easily triggered and our customers are too.

When we’re under stress it’s harder to listen and understand. It’s harder to reach out and empathise. And it’s harder for customers to hear us clearly.

But if you want to remain part of your customers’ lives then you have to be on the journey with them. You need to connect to what’s happening for them and understand how they feel.

Here are some practical ways to check you, your brand and colleagues have the empathy you need

1. Start with a skills check

Do you know what empathy looks and feels like for your brand? What are your people like at their best?

Do your teams looking after customers have the training and confidence to look after themselves, and to look after customers in distress?

Do your comms, marketing and social teams have the training and confidence to step out from behind the corporate jargon and connect as human beings?

Create an empathy model based on your organisation, and industry, at its best and you have an inspiring standard for everyone to work to.

2. Build some training

Put together simple, impactful virtual training that’ll get your whole organisation (including your leaders) into the shoes of your customers.

You might want to include:

  •     neuroscience – what’s going on in our brains, high vigilance and how it makes us react
  •     behaviour – how we behave under stress, transactional analysis
  •     language – how what we communicate might not be what’s received
  •     calm – how to maintain your own calm and wellbeing under pressure
  •     empathy – understanding customers’ situations
  •     listening – not just solving and selling
  •     rapport – building it when things get tough
  •     leading – achieving a resolution
  •     helping – how to support customers through tough times

Before lockdown, I couldn’t see how this could work over Zoom. But I’ve found using actors to role-play customer scenarios has huge emotional impact (we even have them crying!). And emotional impact is essential for getting the message deep into peoples’ understanding.

3. Give ongoing support

You’ll also want to prepare your team managers to support the folks coming out of the training.

Start by exploring what challenges their teams have, and get them supporting. Then train them in the behaviours you want their teams to adopt. And train them in the coaching skills they’ll need, eg:

  •     facilitation and coaching skills
  •     learning styles and preferences
  •     the difference between telling and coaching
  •     group dynamics and how to manage them
  •     caring for a team remotely
  •     know what can go wrong and having tools to cope

As we get more used to working from home, and some start going back to work, the importance of being human never changes. Let’s make that our priority over the next few months.

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