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How empathy could lead the organization to growth

The concept of empathy, in a professional context, is that of a very sensitive nature. We observe that companies, on one hand, want less of it in order to balance the work environment to harness maximum productivity, while the employees, on the other hand, desire more of it, for it is a mechanism which fosters relaxation, understanding, and nurtures relationships enabling growth, wellness, and happiness in the employee. Empathy is also crucial for customer interaction, satisfaction and retention. While both sides of the scenarios may be extreme, it is important to realize that empathy in professional setting is needed in today’s modern world, towards customers and employees alike. It is the element that keeps relationships bonded and fosters understanding among different individuals, companies, and their customers. However, too much of it negatively impacts productivity in organizations while too little of it has a similar impact. The art is in what most organizations fail to achieve successfully, striking the balance from a corporate culture, financial, as well as a psychological aspects.

In order to foster a culture of empathetic environment and put it into practice, one must start by accepting the need to foster such a culture internally or externally (based on requirement), for without such identification and acceptance, any initiative will lack soul of implementation. Secondly, once you have accepted the need, it is time to identify the trouble spots, they are the activities and behaviors in the organization that communicate lack of empathy. This can include policies, procedures, and strategy of the organization. Ryanair conducted a program in 2014 named “Always Getting Better”. In this program, the organization eliminated unallocated seating and many hidden charges while also reducing restrictions on carry-on luggage, thus fostering transparency and policy shift from traditional ways of doing business. Michael O’Leary, the CEO of Ryanair, said “if I‘d only known being nice to customers was going to work so well, I’d have started many years ago.” This resulted in the net profit increase from EUR 867 million to EUR 1.24 billion in the year post this change ending March 2016.

An organization can also and further engage with their customers empathetically in cost effective (or zero cost) ways, it doesn’t have to be costly or flashy. A simple idea can lead to deep and major positive impact on customers (or employees alike), known as “empathy nudges”. An idea from a European bank to set-up an “empathy fund”, a small pot or pool of money used at the staff’s discretion to engage with customers, such as sending a sympathy card to a grieving, disturbed, or unhappy customer. A similar practice in automotive company where salesmen were allowed to go tie-less when demonstrating vehicle’s benefits and features to the drivers, resulted in increasing sales by up to 23% compared to the companies that did not adopt this method.

There are 5 sub-elements of empathy:

  • Ethics
  • Leadership
  • Company culture
  • Public Messaging (E.g. Social Media)
  • Brand Perception

Top 10 companies in the Global Empathy Index 2015 increased in value more than twice (2x) as much as the bottom 10, and generated 50% more earnings (defined by market capitalization). This study has also found the correlation as high as 80% between departments with higher empathy and those with high performers in the organization. This simply translates into the following quote by Sir Richard Branson, the founder of Virgin Group:

“Clients do not come first. Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients.”

And then as I have always said in my surroundings:

” If an employee has no smile to give, customers have no smile to take with them”

Hence, as the saying guides “Charity begins at home”, so does customer service and through that the growth of the organization. It is rather important for firms to focus internally before the external application of the concept. 

A firm communicates with its employees through its policies, culture, and brand perception, to name a few. A company’s direction and strategy also plays a significant role in gaining empathy points from its employees. 

The company “Facebook” has a designated team called the “Empathy Lab” who are consistently working to integrate an empathetic culture into the organization and fostering customer engagement through empathy. The company is determined to make sure its social network is accessible to all users, including the disabled. It has ensured the “accessibility toolkit” is made public and “includes everything, from how Facebook ensures that its engineers think about those issues and incorporate them into their strategies for building accessibility features into the Facebook sit”.

Finally, as is the case with all change initiatives, it is important to measure empathy. There are several pieces of public data that correlate to empathy (from a global perspective), such as ethics of a company, how a company is led, what are the views of employees about their CEO, and how many scandals and audit infractions has the company had, to name a few.

Every journey begins with a step, and the first step towards empathetic culture is by identifying the need, and then diagnosing whether the problems and the strengths of the company are in order, so to focus, manage and optimize the resources available towards the change internally and then externally.

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