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How To Close The Digital Empathy Gap And Build Customer Loyalty

How To Close The Digital Empathy Gap And Build Customer Loyalty

No matter how digital-first customers engage with brands, they are quick to realize which ones will offer them empathy throughout their experience.

If empathy was a product available for purchase, companies would be smart to stock up on it the way they used to fill storage rooms with paper, pens, and staplers.

Empathy was once associated with behaviors we expected from our parents, teachers, and other authority figures. As businesses become more aware of the importance of the customer experience they deliver, they’re also realizing the importance of infusing empathy across every stage of the customer journey.

The relationship between empathy and customer experience was clear in the latest Salesforce Connected Consumer Report, which suggested many firms have a gap that needs to be filled.

According to the research, a majority of 86% say the experience a company provides is as important as its products and services. This marks the highest percentage since Salesforce began tracking this sentiment.

A great experience is about more than simply providing the right products and services at the right time. The report showed that 68% of consumers want brands to demonstrate empathy, too. Based on a similar study from consulting firm PwC, however, only 38% of consumers believe brands truly understand their needs.

Empathy is defined as understanding how another person feels – and articulating the fact they understand. This is what makes it different from sympathy, where you might share the same feelings as another person.

In a customer experience context, this means a brand’s employees should behave empathically when customers are frustrated that a product they ordered wasn’t delivered on time. They should be equally empathic when customers experience anger or disappointment when a product doesn’t work, or when they didn’t realize the terms of the return policy.

The difference with ‘digital empathy’ and your customer experience

The need to infuse empathy within the customer experience becomes more complicated when you consider that so many of the ways people engage with a brand happens through digital channels. It’s one thing to use your body language to help convey empathy during a face-to-face encounter. How can employees do the same via phone, video, e-mail, or chat?

The size of a digital empathy gap between what a brand offers through its customer experience and what consumers expect can have dire consequences. It could mean customers will switch to a competitor, and that they’ll spread the news to their family and friends. This in turn can lead to lost revenue and missed targets.

3 ways to build digital empathy across your team and culture

Fortunately, any company – including small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) can strengthen digital empathy among their team using the right combination of technology and strategic thinking. These are some of the steps you need to take:

1. Assess your ability to develop empathy at scale

Like almost every other facet of successfully running a business, the quality of your data will have a big impact on your ability to offer the kind of empathy customers expect as part of their experience. Only by having a platform to centralize and analyze data across your customer base, for example, will you be able to learn where they’re experiencing moments of friction or discontent, and their core values.

This might require thinking about how you make better use of first-party data versus third-party, and how you can collect more of it. It will also take unifying data from across different departments, including not only customer service but marketing, sales, and more.

2. Identify the moments where human knowledge can be used to express empathy

It’s hard to feel much empathy from an auto-generated e-mail. Customers may long for human connection, rather than a recorded message on a phone line. An empathetic approach ensures they get the person-to-person experience they need.

This could lead to business rules that trigger interventions from human contact centre agents, for instance, when customers hit a wall amid a self-serve experience like a chatbot. In other cases it might mean having marketing team members craft their own responses to questions or comments to social media, or sales agents to follow up on a form the customer filled out with a phone call.

Sometimes the best way to demonstrate empathy is a willingness to listen. Offer up surveys or other feedback mechanisms when customers first complete a purchase, after they reach out for support, and any other key moments of contact.

3. Collect and celebrate examples of digital empathy in action

Companies may need to offer training to help show employees how to respond to customers with empathic statements like “I understand how you must feel.” This kind of education shouldn’t be limited to those on the front lines directly dealing with customers. It should also be part of the thinking that goes into everything from product design to operations.

Of course, digital empathy is still a relatively new area, and we’re all in a constant state of learning best practices. Why not encourage practices where employees and managers actively look for instances of digital empathy done right? These could be showcased on a company intranet, a dedicated Slack channel, or even recounted in a video shared at company town halls and off-sites.

Conclusion: Empathy is core to customer experience

Most of what we’ve discussed in this post relates to moments where empathy needs to be explicitly communicated between a brand and its customer. There are also ways, however, in which empathy can underpin the customer experience in a more subtle way.

Having an experience that is simple, easy, and consistent across channels is just one example of how a brand can show it empathizes with all the competing demands for a customer’s time and energy. The same is true for policies that make it easy to pay, to click and collect when they pick up products and hassle-free returns.

No matter how digital-first customers engage with brands, they are quick to realize which ones will offer them empathy throughout their experience. You can understand why they feel motivated to give their loyalty to the ones that do.

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