In Demand More Than Ever: Empathy in Customer Communications

illustration of a woman comforting another via phone to suggest the need for empathy in customer communications

It’s very likely that during the last two weeks of December your inbox was flooded with holiday emails from companies that you do business with.

Sometimes there’s a lesson there.

I opened one email expecting a cheery holiday message only to find it was a blunt reminder that my rent was due. Normally, a payment reminder wouldn’t be irritating. However, when received at the same time as all those other emails thanking me for my business, it struck an unpleasant chord. Context is important, and sometimes that means thinking beyond your own emails to the other communications in your customer’s inbox. At its heart, that requires empathy.

After a year of difficulties for all of us, both individuals and businesses, empathy has become essential. Major events, from the Black Lives Matter movement to the pandemic and economic turmoil, have highlighted how critical empathy is to keeping us healthy and successful. Empathy is crucial to business operations as well.

Of course, every customer service representative knows and lives this. While organizations often focus empathy training on front line staff like customer service reps, it’s important in digital communications too. That became clear after the arrival of Covid, when customers turned to digital channels for help. Many of these customers did this after long wait times or other frustrations. We need to bear in mind the importance of empathy whenever communicating with customers. This article puts it well:

“The bottom line is this: being empathetic towards your customers makes good business sense – it can protect revenues, avoid losses and enhance the reputation of the company. Furthermore, it’s a competitive necessity – consumers have figured out that they still have plenty of choice and in a world where digital channels are now a normal way of life, it’s easier than ever to vote with their feet.”

Are your digital communications striking an empathetic tone with customers? This same article makes some good suggestions that can be applied to your customer communications:

Apply customer-centric business processes. Don’t let business process automation overrule you. Especially during this pandemic, processes and workflows should allow for flexibility to enable your staff to help customers.

Explain what is happening. If a process is automated and there is some delay between steps, explain what is happening and what to expect next.

Ask for feedback. Include an ask after any digital interaction. But don’t just send out a survey. Most customers don’t have the time or the bandwidth to fill one out. Instead, ask one simple question, and leave an opportunity for the customer to follow up with additional comments. This is a simple way to gauge the success of communications and gain an understanding of where to improve.

And this article from Mailjet has a succinct suggestion (one that my landlord should have heeded): “Send emails you’d be happy to receive.”

At some point we’ll see the end of this pandemic. Until then, customers will continue to be anxious. They may have held off going to appointments and need to resume them. Or now have health or financial issues to contend with. Once these challenges are over, I think many organizations will continue using more empathic and emotionally resonant communications with their customers. If you understand what your customer is feeling, even the simplest touchpoint is an opportunity to practice empathy.

At DataOceans we help our clients deliver better experiences to their customers every day. Learn how our end to end Customer Communications Management solution creates, delivers and measures personalized communications across channels to increase customer engagement and loyalty.