Are you showing your customers enough empathy?

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Customers talking to a Relationship Manager du...
Customers talking to a Relationship Manager during the Edelmetallmesse (Photo credit: GoldMoneyNews)

Big companies say they care for their customers. Some are now trying to use empathy as a way to increase their value, change their marketing research and focus more on people. It’s easy to take potshots at these big companies but what about when the focus turns to small businesses? Are you using caring as a business tool?

I’m sure many of us have our examples about being treated just as a transaction from the larger supermarket chains, especially in retail. I recently bought a juicer machine only to find out when I got home that the pulp container section was broken in the box. I called the store. No apologies – nothing like that. One hour after buying it, I was asked, “When did you buy it?” That’s all. No apologies for the inconvenience. No free parking ticket to go back to the shopping centre. No speedy service to resolve the issue when I went to the store.

When I tried to make juice from this juicer machine, a well-known brand, the seal was faulty and the carrot juice leaked into the unit and into the motor and then it went dead. How do manufacturers get away with making products like this? Don’t they have test labs to check the quality of their products?

The issue is not about the will or motivation to have empathy towards your customers but it is really whether you have a system that delivers empathetic or caring customer service and this means that you are able to deliver a consistent quality service or product to people.

A branding consultant remarked the other day that without empathy, a business is just creating products for targets that serve needs that the company decides it has. I agree with this sentiment on empathy and would like to add that it just becomes another empty statement or promise unless backed up by a changed structure and culture.

The big branding gurus have come out discussing empathy again as if it’s a long-lost secret. Before making statements like this they should check with the customers who will tell them how they have failed but if they listen to the voice of their customer which would then temper their propaganda. It’s a pretty open and visible secret these days what your customers think of you – they only have to go paste their comments on a consumer website or tweet their bad experience with your brand or service to their social network. Agreement on what’s best for the customer can be made in luxurious, panelled boardrooms with refreshments enough to feed several families but it’s harder to get commitment at the customer retail interface where you and me experience the shocking reality of horrific products and service.

I agree that you don’t believe that caring and empathy is lacking in your small business yet and that is why it is still important to ask how could you show more empathy towards your customers? If you did, what would be the pay off? How would a more caring approach to your customers benefit your business?

As you think about these questions, you may visualise what typically happens in your business every day. How are customers acknowledged when they enter your store or premises? Do you have professionally trained staff that greet them and are able to handle their queries without being pushy? What is your attitude towards returns and refunds? Are your customers your adversaries? Do you think that each time a customer walks into your store they are out to chisel you or take you for a ride?

Innovation not only involves creating new products and services but also applies to looking at areas in your business such as your personalised service, the way you present yourselves to customers and the listening tools you have to know what they hope, dream and fear rather than just what motivates them to buy. New ideas on how you can use caring or empathy as a business tool in your small business will help attract and retain customers as you add value to their lives.

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