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Introducing Empathy: The New Benchmark For Customer Experience

Editor’s note: This article was originally published on bandt.com.

There is a quote by F. Scott Fitzgerald that often comes to mind when I talk to clients about transforming their customer experiences, “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”

This is because a first-rate customer experience requires two key elements which may initially appear counter-intuitive; on the one hand highly sophisticated technological automation and on the other highly individual one-to-one human interaction. Far from being contradictory, they have to work symbiotically to create truly exceptional customer experiences, particularly as the ability to interact and respond with empathy is becoming the new benchmark in the CX space. 

Most (if not all) brands are acutely aware of the importance of being consumer-centric. Digital has transformed the rules, hours and methods of operation for practically every industry segment in Australia and will continue to do so as newer technologies and platforms become mainstream. Today’s consumer has more choice and more options than ever before when it comes to selecting brands to purchase goods and services from and are quick to vote with their dollars, walking away from a sub-optimal customer experience. This has necessitated overhauling traditional siloed operational structures to integrate sophisticated customer experience and CRM solutions in order to put the customer at the heart of a brand.

While many brands have made significant inroads into gathering customer data from an increasing web of consumer touch-points, fewer have implemented the technical capabilities and organisational structures to empower employees to be able to respond with informed empathy in customer facing situations.

However, smart brands have begun to do so and are realising the value employing empathy brings when it comes to brand loyalty and consumer choice. I spoke to some of them to find out how they are tackling it.

You Can’t Be What You Can’t See

For Cindy Cash, head of customer experience improvement at Australia Post, visual storytelling has been an incredibly powerful tool when it comes to humanising the customer. According to Cash, it can often be the simplest ideas that can most effectively drive a message home.  Her customer experience team used the photo of a customer who had, without any prompting, written to Australia Post’s CEO to say what an amazing job the company had done managing their issue. The customer was part of a pilot scheme that was trialling new process and the customer’s photos and story was used as a compelling visual prompt to remind the organisation of the reasons – and the importance – of their ongoing customer transformation journey.

Walking in Their Shoes

You may remember the TV program Undercover Boss where a CEO or high-ranking executive acts as an entry-level employee to discover problems and issues in their company. Well, this type of approach has been incredibly successful for some of the brands we work with. It’s one thing, signing off on a CX programme and another to genuinely walk the walk and talk the talk of front line customer services employee to see the issues, challenges and the differences new solutions make. It is a highly effective way of humanising the customer and can be an important element in building advocacy within the C-Suite.

Empowering Empathy

Across the Tasman in New Zealand, Hamish Wood, senior customer experience and insight partner at telco Spark NZ outlines how empowering front-line teams to go the extra mile for customers has had a material effect on customer experience.  Agents are empowered to give out gift cards, flowers, and even take out unhappy customers for a coffee and a chat as to how they can help improve. He tells of one unhappy customer who had recently become a grandfather for the first time who received a gift card for coffee and morning tea along with a personalised note saying, “Thank you again for your feedback. We know how important time with young grandchildren can be but also how important it is to have time with your wife. So, here’s a little gift from us, take her out for coffee and have morning tea on us.” 

In a world of customer-centricity, it is no longer enough to simply meet a customer’s needs; instead it’s about delivering an exceptional customer experience. This means treating each customer as an individual and displaying warmth, compassion and empathy. Technology can go a long way to enabling an empathetic culture; it does a great job at capturing customer feedback, sentiment and emotion, and providing insights that can drive a better customer experience.

But to be truly customer obsessed, employees must be empowered to use this information to act in a spontaneous, individual and entirely human way. Winning the hearts and minds of customers, means engaging the hearts and minds of all employees.