Empathy: meeting customer expectations and delivering on needs
5 Min Read
Treating customers with empathy has been an increasingly important area of focus within the customer experience industry. For some time empathy was considered a lower priority to ensuring an easy and painless customer journey but the Covid-19 pandemic brought to light the importance of treating customers with empathy and those who got it right reaped the benefits.
The last eighteen months have seen remarkable changes in the customer experience (CX) world. In addition to the direct impacts of the pandemic, there have been seismic changes in the way consumers behave, and the extent to which companies and their ethics are being put under the microscope. This combined with changes in consumer attitudes and needs, and the challenging economic situation, has resulted in a complex CX ecosystem, fierce competition and customers who demand more from the brands they engage with.
With these developments, the customer focus has changed. Being treated empathetically has become front of mind for many customers when they’re dealing with organisations post Covid-19 People expect their unique needs to be understood and expectations met. But a truly empathetic interaction is possible only when efforts are made to understand how the customer feels – then the response can be tailored to be more meaningful, credible and effective.
We commissioned Ipsos MORI to undertake a series of research sprints to define the fundamentals of CX. In the second sprint, qualitative interviews with CX leads and experts across key industries aimed to define the fundamentals of CX*. A key pillar at the top of the agenda was empathy. Results from the research demonstrate how empathy has become a crucial pillar for organisations to consider. The findings from the qualitative research have been condensed down into some key themes below.
Customers should feel valued:
Customers should feel as though they’re valued as an individual and that their business is valued by organisations.
- Customers should feel as though organisations are acting proactively to ensure that their expectations are met.
- Organisations should look for ways to delight customers along their journey. As a minimum they need to look to match the customers’ base level expectations to ensure they retain their business.
- This is particularly true for long term customers. More loyal, longer term customers tend to expect a level of preferential treatment. Companies need to find ways to demonstrate this by showing their flexibility when needed and recognising customer loyalty.
Customers should feel that their needs are understood and met accordingly:
Customers should feel as though their unique situation is understood and the resulting action aligns with this.
- Organisations need to consider the life moments a customer may be going through and be sensitive to this. It’s about understanding the needs of the particular situation as well as the individual.
- Organisations should use the data they already hold on a customer to ascertain how to treat them and the best median of doing this. A one-size-fits-all approach to CX is no longer acceptable. With the wealth of data organisations have on individual consumers, it is expected that CX should be personalised throughout the end-to-end journey across all channels.
Customers should feel fairly treated:
Customers should feel as though the organisation is treating them fairly, regardless of the channel of contact.
- Customers should be able to contact the organisation in their chosen way. The clients spoken to have seen vast increases in the use of digital technology to service customers over the past eighteen months. However there are still customers who will need to phone an organisation and this option should be made available to them.
- Fair treatment should also align with an organisation’s employee strategy. Fairly treated employees are more likely to treat customers fairly and demonstrate empathy.
- As well as feeling fairly treated, customers should feel as though they have been well treated. Organisations have a duty of care to the customers who are contacting them, particularly in states of distress.
- Organisations should match what they think of as fair treatment within their organisational values to customers’ expectations. Taking this next step will take their customer service to the next level.
Emotional attachment is proven to drive positive behavioural and business outcomes, and improve customer retention. This goes beyond the benefits achieved from functional attachment alone. Demonstrating empathy to customers will drive an emotional attachment.
The research has identified three themes which are important for organisations to consider when looking to deliver an empathetic response:
- Customers should feel valued
- Customers should feel as though their needs are understood and met
- Customers should feel fairly treated.
For customers, empathy is the organisation’s ability to walk in their shoes. It’s important for customers to feel that you know, hear, value and anticipate them. Understanding and meeting customers’ relational needs is essential to creating the emotional connections that will drive meaningful customer-company interactions, generate positive memories, and lead to strong profitable relationships. Empathy is important as it is the ability to have meaningful interactions with customers by connecting with them and understanding their situation, even if you are unable to resolve their problem.
*Ipsos conducted 15 1-hour telephone interviews between July and September 2021 with Capita stakeholders (n=6), Capita key clients (n=5) and CX industry experts (n=4). Participants were recruited by Capita or Ipsos MORI from known contacts with relevant CX expertise. All interviews were conducted on an anonymous basis using a discussion guide to cover the topics under consideration. As qualitative research, this research does not quantify the responses from participants; instead, it explores the range of views held. Key themes from the interviews have been reported in this summary.