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The Fast Company Executive Board is a private, fee-based network of influential leaders, experts, executives, and entrepreneurs who share their insights with our audience.

The cultural element that drives profitability

Instilling empathy into the fabric of a company is setting organizations apart.

The cultural element that drives profitability
[Flamingo Images /AdobeStock]

The pandemic has taught us many things about improving the customer experience. One of those lessons is how important experiences rooted in empathy have become. While many business leaders have been discussing this concept for both the employee and customer experience, we’ve reached a pivotal point in its evolution. As organizations realize the opportunity for empathy to be a force multiplier in their business success, it has moved beyond being a nice-to-have and become a differentiator.

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Instilling empathy into the fabric of a company is setting organizations apart. Organizations that are getting it right are the ones that put the employee and customer experiences at center stage, increasing employee happiness and retention, improving customer satisfaction and loyalty, and ultimately driving profitability. Those unable or unwilling to change course may quickly fall behind and risk everything.

THE FIRST STEP IN THE EMPATHETIC JOURNEY

While some organizations have already begun to realize the benefits of empathy, so many more are struggling to put it into action. Much of that hinges on understanding what the word means. Typically, when people think of empathy, they think about being nice; and while that is important, it is much more from a business culture perspective. In Empathy in Action: How to Deliver Great Customer Experiences at Scale, the new book by my company’s CEO, Tony Bates, and Dr. Natalie Petouhoff, our senior customer experience strategist and business consultant, they define empathy as “the act of a company putting themselves in the shoes of their customers and employees to reorient the way they make decisions and conduct business, resulting in amazing customer/employee-centric experiences.”

Following this definition allows leaders to move beyond the concept of empathy as “niceness” and equips them with an actionable strategy: listen, understand, and act upon what you learn from your employees and customers. With an upfront investment in technology to execute this strategy, your organization will be empowered to unlock the potential of empathy.

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EMPATHY AND THE EMPLOYEE EXPERIENCE

An empathetic organization starts with the employee experience. To evaluate whether your culture is built on a foundation of empathy, ask yourself these questions:

• Have you created a culture where employees feel they can speak up to share new ideas or raise the alarm when something isn’t working?

• Do your employees feel they have an important role to play in contributing to the success of the company’s mission?

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• Have you equipped and empowered them with the right tools to help them serve your customers’ needs?

If you answered no to any of these, it’s time to reevaluate how you are putting empathy into your employee experience.

The thing is, employees aren’t just assets—they’re brand ambassadors. And while it can be easy to make the mistake of not considering how employees feel as a reflection of how customers feel, the reality is that these experiences go hand in hand. When employees are frustrated, chances are high that customers are too. But when employees feel valued and are equipped with the tools that enable their success, customer satisfaction grows.

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This is where empathy in action can really show up, and it’s how you fuel a culture where employees feel purpose, passion, and engagement.

EMPATHY AND THE CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE

Once organizations lay the foundation for an empathetic culture for their employees, moving on to the next horizon—an empathetic customer experience—is that much easier.

Empathy is increasingly becoming a critical factor in providing excellent customer experiences. Our research shows that many consumers view feeling listened to and understood as the key to delivering the experiences they want. And in a reality where brand loyalty is shaky at best, meeting consumer expectations is essential for customer retention.

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Whether customers want to do everything themselves, want everything done for them, or have the option to fluidly switch from digital to the human touch, organizations need to meet them where they want to be at any given moment. Starting their interactions off via the method of their choosing sets the stage for experiences where they feel heard and understood, which in turn fosters loyalty and brand advocacy.

With two-thirds of the consumers we surveyed believing that a company that remembers them offers better experiences, personalization plays a large role in consumers feeling seen as individuals rather than just a potential sale. For large businesses, providing that feeling of shopping at your local mom-and-pop store, where owners remember your name and preferences, is impossible without technologies like artificial intelligence and orchestration. Equipping employees with these capabilities allows them to recall individual history and provide experiences that are unique to each customer.

We’re living in an experience-driven world, and for businesses to thrive, they may need an organizational transformation. Empathy is central to a culture that drives loyalty and profitability.

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Joyce Kim is Chief Marketing Officer, Genesys 
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