What is 'Customer Empathy'?
- Personal Customer Service or the human element!
Have you noticed that over the last decade or
so there's been
a quiet revolution going on in Customer Service?
a customer you can now feel it in many service
It used to be
a rarity, but now it's increasingly common to actually be made to
feel good as a customer by the caring, genuine sincerity
of even busy call centre staff!
In 1992 I
coined the term 'Customer Empathy' to describe it...
How far are you and your organisation on
board with it?
Whatever you call it, we all instinctively love 'Customer Empathy'. Even
though it's difficult to describe, we know it and appreciate this kind of personal service when we get it;
not least of all because it's still relatively unusual (but, thankfully, on the increase).
Customer Empathy creates that warm glow you get when you return to
a business and they remember your name and are pleased you've come back, or when they obviously
interested in you as a
person, or are genuinely concerned about fixing some inconvenience they've caused, sincerely caring that
you've been put out.
Customer Empathy creates that wonderful sense of true (emotional) satisfaction
we feel when we're being valued and treated as a person, - as
a human being!
Assuming you're running a business, when you and your people give us,
your customers, some of your personality and put some of your heart into it (as well as your
willingness to do the job required) it feels SO good to be recognised as a real person that we're
likely to want to come back and do more business with you, and even to tell all our friends all about
This is because by bringing the human element into our interaction you've
created an emotional bond between with us that will make us loyal to you and to WANT to come back to you, even
if there's some better 'deal' elsewhere... even in a recession
When you're genuinely 'nice' to us (in an appropriate
way), when you're friendly and treat us with respect:
- we feel like you actually care about us as a person
(because you DO - you can't fake it!)
When you talk to us like a human being, almost like a
- we feel
valued, important, welcome
- we feel like we matter to you
- and not just to the person serving us,
but to the whole company...
... and we can't help wanting to come back
Carphone Warehouse begins drive to be nice
If you work for Carphone Warehouse, it is going to pay to
be nice to your customers. Literally. The company's sales staff are to be paid
according to how polite and helpful they are, in an attempt to boost sales in what is a
declining handset market
The Times - Saturday 6th June 2009
Do you recognise what we're talking about here?
I'm sure you do, but what do we call this?
Well, there's really no generic phrase or term in common use to describe
this obvious need to connect with customers at a human level in this way and to actually make
them feel good as people. (The terms 'Customer
Satisfaction' and even 'Customer Delight' don't quite cut the
So, way back in 1992, I coined the term 'Customer Empathy' as a generic term
to describe this whole idea of what Customer Service is truly about: serving us with heart, with
humanity and warmth, and with good old-fashioned values, like friendliness, caring and
reassurance (you know - the kind the old village shop used to do so well, and sometimes still does).
Why 'Customer Empathy'? Well, not only does it seem to naturally evoke
the general idea of what's been described above, but it's also true that it does require a certain level of
empathy to actually achieve it (i.e. the ability and sensitivity to appreciate where your customers are
individually coming from and so to naturally adapt to their own emotional as well as physical
Whereas Customer Satisfaction drivers tend to
make sure we DO the right thing for our Customers, Customer Empathy addresses the human side of our
relationship: it speaks to the heart, not just the mind. So, when you 'smile' because you want to, not
because you've been told to, it's from the heart - because it's genuine, it hits the
" [We now ask our customers:]
Did we demonstrate interest in you as an
In what way, specifically, did we demonstrate
Did it FEEL Like a good experience?"
" The word
'feel' used to be irrelevant, but what we now KNOW, absolutely, is that
if you can just press those buttons it's that which actually shifts the consumer's
advocacy of you as an organisation.
" The Customer just simply EXPECTS that they will get
the documents on time, that the phone will be answered in a minute, etc. What they don't
necessarily expect, and what is differentiating us where we are getting this right, is where we
are creating some emotional 'cookies' "
Darren Cornish, Director of Customer Experience at Avia (previously
Encouraging Customer Empathy
Interestingly, Customer Empathy does not lend itself to being 'trained', it's
more like being released to freely do what they already know how to do - relate to people as people; it's just
that up to now they been asked to do something else instead! Here are three ways of encouraging more
Customer Empathy in your people:
- By Example - people are inhibited and cautious if you're
asking them to do something that you yourself aren't doing and believing in
- By Permission - rather than try to control them with
rules, people will naturally know how to be friendly and 'empathetic' if you simply tell them that
that's what you want, and make it clear you're giving them permission to serve their
customers in the way that feels right to them (see the Free-Range Report for a great example)
- By Recruiting - most of your existing people will
'naturally' know how to be friendly/ empathetic when given permission; but you really only want to
hire new people who are already clearly brilliant at it! FirstDirect (UK's first Telephone
Banking company and renown for its great Customer Service) always said that they recruit people with
personality, since banking skills could always be taught. Zappos have two separate interviews: one for the
job and one for the cultural fit to their very demanding service, etc. values.
So, Customer Empathy often
becomes more about individuals being allowed to be themselves and to use their own abilities and
personalities, rather than trying to force-fit them into being carbon-copies of some ideal
corporate 'branded' personality with 'QA Approved' behaviours.
Keith Mansfield, Head of Individual Customer
Services at Friends Provident, enjoys telling the story of the turnaround of one of his advisors who was
on a final disciplinary written warning:
- She had been occasionally using too
familiar terms like "Dear" or customers' first names, against company policy (even though she
had explained that she only did this when she could sense that it was appropriate for a
- So, when Friends Provident began to
actually encourage that kind of discretion, this sensitive lady who had been about to
be fired, immediately blossomed to become an icon of great service, even becoming the winner of their
"Customer Service Advisor Award" based on customer and colleague feedback.
- Again, see the Free Range Chickens report for more detail of
this great example of this in action.
all this sound too good or to simplistic to be
You might be surprised at
how easy and economical this 'Customer Empathy' can be
But, to be fair, it DOES require a simple,
but profound paradigm shift of approach, away from simply:
WHAT you DO in trying to get everything right
(essential, but doesn't buy loyalty anymore)
and towards HOW you make customers FEEL -
bringing the human side into the transaction.
This shift is not just for your Customers but
also within your business too,
starting with the management/ leadership - to do this properly, it actually does require a cultural shift,
that is, a shift in the real core values you all hold (not just the ones in the annual report or on
Are you on board with the shift?
originated the concept of 'Customer Empathy' there were only a few pioneering business people
(mainly Blue Chip business leaders) who recognised the common sense that I was pointing out
and who didn't think I was nuts!
But that early determination has gone on to play
a significant role in shifting the entire UK Customer Service industry from being driven by
just what's being done to customers, towards also how customers are being made to
And the results are palpable. Again, think of your own experience
- is it like mine? In the early 1990s almost all call centre calls were, frankly, appalling
- often making you feel truly awful (those early Empathy Audits were typically
deeply embarrassing for the Board!)
But now things have changed and so many seem to be
getting on board fast with this shift towards a feel-good Customer
So yes, many call centre interactions are now actually
anything from pretty good to outstanding. Even utility companies, like BT (an old client of mine), can
now come up with delightful staff that really show they understand and care about you (despite their
organisation sometimes failing them and the customers badly).
Example of Outstanding Service, from a call centre
Recently, I had cause to call a large business and I ended up in one
of those dreaded Call Centres. Now, when my 'Customer Service Agent', Raj, finally
said, "Thank you for calling," I simply couldn't let it rest there, particularly because Indian call centres tend
to get bad press!
I simply had to thank HIM for his outstanding service to
me: "Are you speaking to me from
India?" I asked. "Oh yes, sir, from Delhi," he proudly
"Well, I just have to both thank you and congratulate you on the
fabulous service you've given me. I feel reassured, cared for and valued, and I just wanted to let you know
how much I appreciate the personal, attentive care you've given me."
He was surprised and deeply touched that I had acknowledged him in
this way. It was clear that he already knew he'd done a great job with me and was proud of it, but he wasn't
used to people telling him so: "Thank you sir, it's very kind
of you to let me know, I really appreciate it!"
It felt good to let him know; it wasn't so much a transaction, but
more a genuine human exchange. It made a deep impression on me.
So, what was the call about? A huge purchase? A massive
No! A simple run-of-the-mill enquiry about a telephone fault
- nothing special!
Am I big client?
No! Just a regular private account holder (not BT in this
Did this call have an impact on me?
You betcha! I felt elated and impressed, and it made a lasting
impression on me. I have thought about it often, and shared it with many people.
This one call has had more
impact, and cemented my relationship and loyalty with this telephone supplier more profoundly, than any
amount of special deals, perfect telephony service, etc. could ever achieve.
And how much does it cost?
How much did it cost Raj to achieve that?
The transaction took no longer than usual, in fact, it was
probably quicker as a result of the excellent communication and reassurance experienced. His genuine,
helpful and caring manner was simply to do a normal job in a better way, a way that included ME as a
Now, although there's no doubt
that Customer Empathy is on the increase (and probably is in your own business too, or
you wouldn't be reading this!), there's still so far to go in making customers feel good
emotionally; it still represents an enormous (unparalleled?) competitive advantage opportunity
to any and every business.
On the 1-10 Scale of objective Empathy measurement, even the
very best companies are still only achieving around an Empathy Rating average of 6.5 - 7.0,
And even though this is a GREAT accomplishment, because it means
that they are actually beginning to consistently making customers Feel Good, there's still PLENTY of
headroom between 7.0 and 10 for further improvement.
This means that when Customer Empathy is properly embraced, it's
perhaps the most potent way to distinguish and differentiate yourself in times of recession (or at
As the original developer of the 'Customer Empathy Audit' and
the 'absolute 1-10 Empathy Rating', with 20 years' experience,
I'm in a unique position to help you take advantage of this opportunity for your
So, please do just contact me if you're interested in:
- a measure of how you're really making your
customers feel today
- bringing the personal, human side back into customer
- how to measure feelings-based measures within your own
- and so leap-froging your competition by having
Customers that love your company
....quickly, powerfully, reliably and on reasonable budget
I look forward to hearing from
you - it should be very interesting!