Let’s talk about feelings

FrodX / / Customer Experience

Last month my professional education focused on two topics: design thinking and the psychology of negotiation. While on any other occasion I’d happily engage in a more detailed debate on either of these two topics (I’m becoming a big fan of both!), the short version of everything I’ve heard and learned at this point could be summed up in just one word: empathy.

You might not guess this, but I’m a trained anthropologist (and also one at heart). During their studies, anthropologists spend most of their time practicing techniques for putting themselves in other people’s shoes, in which they must remove their own predispositions, opinions, and feelings from the equation. The aim is to fully understand their interviewees, the objects of study. Yes, it’s a technique you can learn, but most of all, it’s a mindset that you internalize. Some say that because of this acquired open-mindedness of mine, I’m sometimes a bit too suggestible—but I think it actually just makes me an extremely good listener.

Anyway, the ability to empathize is something I learned during my studies, when I never even dreamed that my career path would take me into the realm of public relations and later marketing. However, these techniques are something I use in my work every day, both in communication within the company and in working with clients. The more I pay attention to empathy in business, the more I realize that there is a strong possibility that this is what separates good companies from great ones.

Why is empathy profitable?

This “soft skill,” which stereotypically has no place in the business mindset, is receiving increasing attention from leaders around the world, no doubt thanks to research like this, which proves the business success of companies that foster a culture of empathy.

The top ten companies on the 2015 Global Empathy Index have more than doubled in value compared to the bottom ten companies on the index, and they also earned 50% more. Click To Tweet

But I dare say that (even without the numbers the research shows) every savvy marketer or salesperson is well aware that the key to closing a sale is to anticipate your customer’s needs and show them the way a product or service will best satisfy their needs. Truly understanding your customers in this context means you have insight into the customer’s emotions (fears, desires, pains, and doubts), and good sales skills also require the ability to anticipate and find the best solution. That’s actually the essence of empathy: feeling the client’s pain (or desire) even before they consciously feel it themselves.

the essence of empathy: feeling the client’s pain (or desire) even before they consciously feel it themselves. Click To Tweet

What do feelings have to do with business?

No matter what business you’re in, you can be sure, without a shred of doubt, that your customers make purchases emotionally. The sooner you become aware of this fact, the sooner you can start thinking about ways to develop your business so that customers will perceive you emotionally and treat you that way as well. It’s therefore appropriate to consider how to incorporate more empathy into your marketing activities, your relationships with customers and, last but not least, with your products or services.

How to promote awareness of empathy within your company?

Like most changes, this one, too, must begin within—by developing the culture, training employees, and raising their awareness. That said, empathy is a mindset that can be learned, even more effectively from a good example.

The second step would most likely be to build some kind of plan, a Customer Empathy Map or Customer Experience Map, which would include a list of events that can affect your customers’ emotional moods, mapping points of contact with customers, and anticipating opportunities when you can positively surprise the customer or (at least) protect him from potential negative emotions.

Probably the most difficult, but certainly the most important, step to success in tomorrow’s business world is adding the right emotional charge to products. Product development and user experience design, which anticipates the emotional states of users/customers, is what will give rise to competitive products in the future.

In our ranks, we tackle this by creating the next generation of the Instant Feedback product, which will be aimed at developing such a user experience that people will be happy to give their opinion about a service or product. In our business model, the feedback received is the basic unit of charging for our service and the better the response we achieve, the more we also get out of the service—not to mention that our clients are excited to receive so many responses from their customers!

Therefore, we carefully considered how we could increase the number of respondent responses and found, for example, that we need to design questions that take as little time as possible to answer, that people need to have fun filling out answers, and finally, that most people are encouraged and inspired by the “gamification effect.” So we’re currently also considering designing a product that would require respondents to respond like they do on Tinder. Not to mention the emotional value that a greater focus on displaying and interpreting statistics will bring. Here, we found that we need to present analytical data not only in the context of numerical averages, but also in the context of stories, comparisons with industry benchmarks,* guidelines for resolving escalations, and so on. When we add tips for companies on how to improve their customer satisfaction (a kind of analytical service that tells you which factors to focus on and which to improve), we get a product that touches on the emotional state of users in several places—and that’s precisely what must be the goal of all “empathy designers” who are already focused on tomorrow’s growth.

*Did you know that buying decisions are based roughly on a combination of six emotions: greed, fear, altruism, envy, pride, and shame?

P.S. If you’d like to chat about empathy, emotions in business, negotiation, design thinking, or anything else, come have a cup of coffee with us.