For my wife’s birthday one year, we had a mind blowing experience at dinner that left a lasting impression on us. I’d mentioned, while making the reservation, that it was her birthday. And everyone who interacted with us that night wished her a happy birthday— from the first person who greeted us at the door, the one who sat us, our waitress, to the person who came to refill our water. It was one of the most amazing customer experiences of my life.
Now remember the last time you had a similar experience. A time when a company seemed to know and anticipate all your needs, making you feel special, as if every aspect was carefully and mindfully crafted to give you an unforgettable experience.
I’m always looking to find information and clues for what separates those experiences from the rest. And one of the answers I came up with is empathy. I talk a lot about empathy in this newsletter and I don’t always offer practical advice for how you, too, could infuse a great dose of empathy into your organization and your brand. So here are five things to consider.
1. Have a purpose
Empathy is the ability to put ourselves in other people's shoes. And when we put ourselves in our customers’ shoes, it becomes clear that they don’t buy from us to make us rich or help us fulfill our deepest aspirations. They buy to solve their problems, fulfill their personal needs and advance their own agendas.
Great companies know this. So they understand that their products and services are always a means to an end. And as such, the fundamental purpose of any company can’t be to make money. Every business exists to fulfill the needs and enhance the lives of those they seek to serve. So what’s the contribution you wish to make in the world? How do you want to enhance the human experience of those who entrust you with their fears, insecurities, needs, desires, hopes and dreams?
2. Know your ideal customer
When we do market research to understand who our ideal customer is, most of us stop at demographic markers such as age, gender, ethnicity, socioeconomic background, and geo-location.
But in an interconnected world, people no longer fit neatly in the boxes we would like to put them in. So we have to take this exercise a step further and ask better, more important questions. What is the worldview of the people we seek to serve— what are the beliefs and values that color the way they see the world and understand their place in it?
What are their needs? What challenges are they facing? How will their lives be transformed as a result of doing business with us?
These questions force us to go deeper and to put ourselves in our customers’ shoes. It moves research from an intellectual to a visceral exercise.
3. Treat competitors as allies
If we are sincere about putting our customers and their interests first, then our competitor isn’t an enemy; they’re an ally. Fundamentally, everyone in the same industry or category is out to solve the same problem for the end user.
We might disagree on the best solution or the best method of delivery. Maybe we’ve identified a segment of the market that the industry leaders are neglecting or that we are uniquely capable to serve. We may have found a cheaper way to bring it to market or a way to bring higher quality. Sometimes, our unique value isn’t even a better solution but simply a better story.
All of those options are reasons why we can justify the existence of multiple players within the same industry. But ultimately, we are all allies. Competition is a distraction. And differentiation is about creating unique value, not beating our competitors.
4. Highlight the benefits
When Steve Jobs introduced the iPod he didn’t talk about the technology and innovation that was required in order for this amazing device to come to life and to market. He didn’t talk about the bits and the megabits. Instead he said: 1000 songs in your pockets.
He talked about the way life would be different for the people who bought and used the device. The benefits of being able to go on long runs and put all of your favorite songs on one playlist, or to create a playlist of 1000 songs for your next party. That’s what was amazing about this new device, not the technology that made it possible.
5. Understand customer costs
With enough empathy, we understand that it costs customers a lot more than just money to buy from us. It also costs people their attention, time, and the mental, physical and emotional energy to search, evaluate, and finally to buy from us. Getting it wrong is costly. Unlike money, those other resources are not renewable nor refundable, so the cost of making a bad purchasing decision is high.
Furthermore, we are wired to prioritize risk and loss aversion over pleasure seeking because our survival, as a species, depends on it. People often prioritize minimizing the risk of making a bad purchasing decision, over the anticipated satisfaction of buying from us.
This means we have to do everything in our power to lower the cost of buying from us. Building a solid brand reputation, showing case studies or testimonials, and offering money-back guarantees or free trials all lower risk, and therefore the cost of buying from us.
Other great cost-saving measures are making sure that our website ranks well on Google so people don’t have to look too hard to find us, using language that’s accessible and easy to understand, offering different payment options, simplifying the checkout process, and reducing the wait time on orders.
Ultimately, the real power of empathy in business lies in our ability to find ways to apply and operationalize this core value through everything we do. That’s how you create the illusion that an entire restaurant is mobilized to give one customer an unforgettable birthday dinner.
written by Junior Nyemb-- chief empathy officer