To Empathise is to humanise, is it time to go back to our roots?

Over the last 20 years we have seen how organisations and their shareholders have become richer beyond even their wildest dreams, but at what cost to our employees and customers and ultimately our society.

Has this unfettered drive for short term profits affected how organisations treat their employees and customers and ultimately the quality of both the employee and customer experience? I would add here that the employee experience is what drives the customer experience and therefore without engaged employees it is nigh on impossible to deliver the type of customer experiences that organisations are purporting to want to deliver.

If we consider the raft of statistics on employee engagement, it is evident that a majority of employees feel disengaged from their work and the organisations they work for, are concerned about job security and now face further attacks on their pay and conditions in the belief that employment rights have somehow reduced the ability of business to compete and grow in what is a changing and challenging economic environment.

There are some who believe that the problems of economic growth are linked to employee engagement, and whose answer is to suggest that uk employees are inefficient or put simply do not work hard enough. The  sound bite of the moment is ‘doing more with less’ which in reality for much of the private sector means making more profit using fewer people, and encouraging those remaining employees to work harder, to bridge the gap left by their redundant colleagues. Is this really how we should treat our most valuable assets?

If our employees are so valuable, why do we treat them as a commodities? If our customers are so valuable why do we treat them as nothing more than transactions?

Do we really care about our employees’ wellbeing, and beyond their ability to perform? Do we really care about our customers and how they feel about the service they receive, beyond their ability to spend? Whether you are an employee or customer it’s important to feel valued, cared for, listened to and treated as human being rather than as a means to line the pockets of faceless shareholders.

It is my view that this lack of empathy in business and how we treat our employees and customers, rather than any lack of efficiency has created the disconnect highlighted above, and only be refocusing on our shared humanity and genuinely caring for our employees and customers alike can we develop and grow the successful businesses of the future.

Shep Hyken one of the leading thought leaders on customer service recently suggested that if organisations focused on customer service and how they treat customers they could help power the US economy.  I would agree with this but would add, only if they really do genuinely care about their employees and customers and their purpose is meaningful, rather than just creating more wealth for a small number of rich institutions and individuals. Doing good business that benefits your customers, your employees and society will for those companies brave enough to embrace this new world lead to far higher levels of sustainable performance improvement, more engaged employees and more loyal customers, who in turn become advocates for your business and the way it operates. This of course will lead to and create what I term good value for all.

Interestingly more and more customers now want to know that the organisations they are doing business with are ethical, do care about the environment they operate in, and treat their employees and customers as human beings with care, compassion and empathy. They want to trust and feel confident they are doing business with organisations who do care and share similar values and until they know this, they will not listen to what you are offering or will see it as just another marketing exercise focused on how you can sell more product to an already disillusioned and dissatisfied customer base.

This transformation in how we treat customers has to begin with how organisations treat their people. If they are not empathetic to the feelings of their employees how can they expect these same employees to be empathetic to their customers, something we now know is critical in building customer confidence, trust and loyalty. In fact on a recent linked in discussion every contributor highlighted empathy as the number one quality required by customer service employees, another organisation has developed an empathy measurement system and every organisation I speak to, talks openly about the need for more empathetic connections.

The good news is there are a growing number of organisations, large and small who recognise this and unsurprisingly are held up as leaders in their fields. Think First Direct, Zappos, Apple, John Lewis, LV=, my question is what has prevented more organisations grasping this essential truth, especially with a whole industry dedicated to customer service and numerous research highlighting the benefits of this more enlightened approach.

Could it be that this is another instance of organisations talking the talk yet failing to walk the walk?

Tony Dain MD Future Vision

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