Wednesday, January 2, 2019

True Empathy Can Win the Day

A farmer had a litter of puppies for sale. As he was driving the last nail into his advertising yard sign, he felt a tug at his overalls. "Mister," said a boy at his feet, "I want to buy a puppy."


"Well," said the farmer, "These puppies come from fine parents and cost lots of money. How much do you have?"


The boy dropped his head momentarily, then drew several coins from his pocket. "I don't have much, but is this enough to take a look?"


The farmer paused reluctantly but before he could answer three puppies rolled out of the doghouse. One tiny, awkward pup hobbled behind. The boy's eyes lit up. "I want that one," he exclaimed, pointing to the runt. The man shook his head solemnly. "Son, that puppy will never be able to run and play like the others."


The boy rolled up his trousers to reveal a steel brace running down both sides of one leg. "I do want that puppy. I don't run too well myself, and he'll need someone who understands him."


That day the boy won the puppy because he moved the farmer's heart. Why? Because empathy impacts people. Researchers define empathy as the ability to sense other people's emotions and to imagine how they might be thinking or feeling. Empathy is essential to human interactions because it allows us to connect in authentic ways and to offer helpful words, comfort, or assistance. Empathy is essential in every human interaction but is especially significant for those in customer service.


Empathy Begins with Real Listening


Would you like to be more successful in minimizing difficult situations or by helping customers overcome their hesitations as you're trying to make a sale?


All empathy begins with real listening. As you listen with empathy, ask questions like:


  • "How is this situation affecting you?"
  • "Can you tell me more about _____?"
  • "What do you think would be your ideal outcome here?"

As a person processes, take care not to interrupt. While you may not be equipped to address their concerns, asking empathetic questions can shift your focus to listen more effectively, opening new lines of communication and diffusing tension so everyone can move forward.


Empathy involves reflective listening, using phrases that demonstrate your understanding. Phrases that show customers you are taking customers seriously might include:


  • "I can understand how frustrating it is when . . ."
  • "I see this is very complicated/upsetting."
  • "I'm sorry to hear that and I'll do my best to help."

Pair Compassion with Action


As you communicate compassion, be ready to follow your words with action.


Take ownership of a situation by following up immediately, by referring it to a superior, or by positively addressing both the person and the problem. Phrases like, "ok, we can fix this," or "let's get this sorted out right away," will reassure customers you're taking ownership of the problem.


Action-based empathy also means thinking outside the box for large-scale change. Erin Henkel, portfolio director at the IDEO global design and innovation company, says often positive innovation begins with empathy:


"Effective companies need employees who constantly imagine themselves in the customer's shoes. As they make the customer's problems their own, they are better able to meet expectations, make necessary changes, and to retain customer loyalty for another day."


Being able to put yourself in someone else's shoes is a hallmark of intelligent leadership and of excellent teamwork. Work hard to grow empathy and you will open new lines of communication, create greater understanding, and help everyone achieve common goals.

Gain the Mouth-Watering, Competitive Advantage

In 2011, Matt Salzberg was a restless associate at a Silicon Valley investment firm. He and his friend Ilia Papas wanted to create a business and were intrigued by food.


"We both loved food," Salzberg said. "We liked trying new ingredients, new recipes, new techniques, but we found it really inaccessible to cook at home. It was expensive, time-consuming and difficult to find recipes that we trusted."


The duo tried a few ideas before landing on the one that became Blue Apron: give people an easy way to make dinner using chef-recommended recipes and the fresh, precisely measured ingredients they'd need. With 20 friends beta-testing the product, Salzberg immediately realized they had a winner. Beyond rave reviews and contagious social media sharing, they had undeniable momentum:


"Pretty much from day one we've had steady exponential customer growth. I think the moment we did our first week of deliveries we sort of knew that we had a business that we thought would be really successful."


By August 2012 the team was shipping recipes to early testers, and three years later Blue Apron was delivering millions of meals to monthly subscribers, the company valued at a whopping $2 billion!


Find Your Competitive Advantage


Initially, some scoffed at the thought of paying restaurant prices for something you labored to cook at home.


But they overlooked Blue Apron's unique advantage: appealing to "foodies" who loved high-end meals but relished the opportunity to cook them. Blue Apron found a niche in the market that catapulted them to exponential growth and national exposure.


Competitive advantage is that "special something" that draws customers and keeps them coming back.


Why do you buy a Ford versus Chevy? Why do you spend $80 on a certain brand of jeans? The answer lies in the competitive advantage, the unique set of features a product has that makes it superior in the eyes of a target audience.


Competitive advantages include niche strategies (like Blue Apron), cost advantages, and product or service differentiation. Consider these examples:


Cost Competitive Advantage


Companies can grab an edge when they control costs and efficiency in ways that create maximum value for consumers.


Walmart uses this advantage by providing a large selection combined with low prices through its retail size and strength. Some companies draw from years of experience, overseas production, or streamlined workflows to minimize expense.


As you brainstorm cost advantages for your customers, consider how you can improve productivity from your team, if your technology or equipment is cost-efficient or needs upgrading, or where you can give customers a cost break via delivery options, locked-in service rates, or freebies that come as a bonus for specific orders.  


Product Differentiation


Another way to gain a competitive advantage is through product differentiation.


As you distinguish yourself in the marketplace, focus on the value you offer through your unique products. What makes your toothbrush one of a kind? How is your technology superior to other market options? How does your farmer's market produce outclass the bounty of your competitors?


People love getting the best product for their penny, so work hard to highlight your advantage and shout it loud through print and digital pieces that spotlight your strengths.


Service Differentiation


While cost or product advantages can quickly disappear (or be duplicated), every company can offer one-of-a-kind service advantages.


Whether its bundled subscriptions, outstanding customer care, or unrivaled warranties, build a benefit that is exclusively yours. Consider bonus delivery features, apps that are user-friendly and easy to learn, terms that are simple and risk-free, or energizing ambiance (like funky d├ęcor or stellar store atmospheres). Make customers so spoiled they'd never consider your competitors!