Some top companies are investing more of their training budgets into developing empathy because it is shown to build successful leadership, improve performance and improve the customer experience. The common definition of empathy is “put yourself in another’s persons shoes” It sounds easy, but in reality many people find it really difficult and it is more complicated than that, especially in this age of automation and technology. So you would think there would be more training on empathy in the work place, yet more budget is allocated to online technical training than essential soft skills. This has to change as it is acknowledged that empathy is one skill we have as humans that AI can’t currently replicate.

The large businesses out there that are investing in training empathy such as LinkedIn, Tesal Motors, and John Lewis are doing it because it makes business sense. Development Dimensions International’s research shows that empathy tops the list as the most critical driver of overall performance. Also, the top 10 most empathetic companies on Harvard Business Review’s Global Empathy Index generate 50% more earnings than those ranking at the bottom. The Global Empathy Index ranked the top 10 most empathetic companies as:

  1. LinkedIn
  2. Microsoft
  3. Audi
  4. Three
  5. John Lewis Partnership
  6. Sony
  7. Google
  8. Nike
  9. Direct Line
  10. Boots UK

How empathy affects customer experience

Empathy is also shown to increase customer satisfaction. The same Harvard Business Review research reports the effects of empathy training at Telefonica Germany. They implemented an empathy training program and within 6 weeks of the program’s start, customer satisfaction increased by 6%

A recent news report on UK TV talked about the “death of the high street” and put it down to lack of empathy for the customer and as a customer myself it rings true, If you are going to get robotic service you may as well shop online which off course is what we are doing. If the high street is to survive it needs to make its customer experience more human not less human and empathy from leaders and staff is a very important factor in making this happen.

Empathy is not just an emotional response it is also an intellectual one, so if we are able to make intelligent and empathetic decisions about what customers need they will come back. For example, if a mother wants to take her baby out shopping it is more than buying stuff, she is looking for some time out. If she gets dirty cramped baby changing facilities and staff in outlets that treat her like a nuisance she will shop on line and find something else to give her that time out.

How to develop empathy in your business

  • Incorporating empathy into the organisational culture from the top down by demonstrating empathic leadership and highlighting the importance of managers showing empathy for their employees. Organisations can establish the values of caring, understanding and developing others as desirable leadership traits, and emphasise that giving time and attention to their employees can enhance not only employee performance but also leadership effectiveness. This will then filter down helping to develop empathy for your customers as well.
  • Help staff develop good listening skills through training and coaching. To understand others and sense what they are feeling, employees must be good listeners, letting customers and colleagues know they are being heard and that their concerns and problems are understood. Employees need to develop active listening skills, including the ability to reflect the feelings being expressed, read nonverbal cues, withhold judgment, clarify misunderstandings and summarise the conversation. Listening to people makes them feel respected, builds trust and strengthens relationships.
  • Including the topic of empathy in training programs, and encouraging employees to take into account the experience and perspective of others when they are resolving issues, managing conflict and dealing with customers.
  • Make empathy important, this is vital, senior leadership need to take about empathy and see it as important as any other business skill. They need to stop thinking of empathy and soft skills such as listening as fluffy nice to have and see them as vital to the survival of their business especially if they are customer facing.