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Why empathy is the most important tech tool in today’s economy

We’re back from Web Summit 2022 and ready to share some of our key learnings from the world’s largest tech conference!

At Forsta, we prize empathy for our clients, customers, and our employees. So, we were super keen to hear what Jennifer Tejada, Chief Executive Officer at PagerDuty and Velia Carboni, Chief Digital and Technology Officer at VF Corporation had to say about empathy in their joint panel.

Read on to find out how empathy is more than just paying lip service to the concept, how you can create empathy even when the (virtual) environment is against you, and how empathy can help you take your customer experience to the next level.

Maximizing the human experience

We might be moving further away from face-to-face interactions and deeper into a digitally driven world, but that doesn’t mean people are ready to do away with the human factor.

When it comes to our workplaces, people still want the personal touch. No matter how remote our teams, or how hybrid our set-ups, there’s still one thing that workers prize above all else: empathy. They might not put that particular name to it in every case, but empathy as a core value (and the behaviors that go along with it) resonate for every person, at every level. To define empathy, it’s the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.

If you’re planning for the future of your company, and you want happy and engaged employees to be a part of that future, you need to focus on integrating empathy into the very DNA of your company culture – led, and driven, by empathetic leadership.

Creating empathy in a hybrid workplace

If your workforce rarely meets in person, it can be challenging to foster a culture of empathy: challenging, but certainly not impossible.

The most important tool in your empathy-building arsenal will be frequent reach-outs. Nothing says empathy like getting to know your people personally, and building a direct connection through interactions that go beyond work talk alone.

Leaders are reimagining company cultures post-Covid, so get in on the transformative action by showing a genuine interest in the wellbeing of your people. The human touch is needed now, more than ever. But this has to go beyond individual teams: your company needs to be very clear on its purpose, and your hiring policies must support this. Focus on hiring people who are willing to work as part of a team – even if the level of interaction they need differs from that of their co-workers.

It’s not about throwing a one-size-fits-all solution at the problem of waning human interactions, but instead, building an equitable world of experiences – for employees and customers alike. And making sure your people are empathetic is crucial to getting that right.

Empathy is more than just a buzzword

You might think that ‘empathy’ has transmuted into a meaningless buzzword, but you’d be sorely mistaken. Empathy came under the spotlight during the pandemic – as perpetual lockdowns amplified our need for human interactions – and soon became a mainstay, with savvy companies searching for ways to place empathy at the heart of everything they do.

Empathetic leaders show a genuine interest in the lives of their employees, care about their feelings, and take pains to understand the challenges they may be facing. Because empathetic leaders typically use empathetic listening (also known as active listening), they find it easier to understand how to meet the emotional needs of their teams – leaving them with a strong sense of being respected and valued on both a personal and professional level.

This style of leadership is particularly effective in a challenging market (did anyone say recession?) as it often leads to greater levels of productivity, increased engagement, and higher retention levels.

It’s safe to say that post-Covid, management styles and business strategies have changed forever. There is simply nothing that holds a candle to good old human interactions, and if your world has become heavily digital in focus through remote or hybrid working, empathetic leadership is even more important.  

Now, that’s not to say that empathy is purely about human interaction, because it’s not. In fact, empathy is one hell of a business tool.

Why empathy is the Holy Grail for customer satisfaction

Empathy, like any other business tool, can be harnessed for the development of better products and services. But how?

Unless you’re incredibly niche, your business is probably operating in a super crowded marketplace right now. You’re vying for customer attention in a crowd of rowdy competitors who can all shout as loudly as you. So stop shouting, and start listening.

The customer of today wants to be seen, heard, and understood. It gets overwhelming, trying to work out which product to buy or service to go with. We’re bombarded with marketing messages from the moment we open our eyes, and sometimes, we just want to be seen as a person with actual needs, rather than a number to sell to. We are all humans and want to be treated like humans too. This is where empathy comes in.

If you want to stand out against the masses, it’s absolutely crucial you understand the entire viewpoint of the persona you’re targeting, that is, to listen to the full story. In other words, you need to get to know your target customer, better than you know yourself. How is your product going to change (or at least improve) their lives? What is the need you’re trying to solve?

Instead of thinking about empathy in the moments when consumers are using your products, consider the impact your products will have on their lives.

Empathy is a major responsibility for all company leaders, and something that should be in your plans right from the start – rather than as an afterthought. That means including empathy in the design stage itself and building your products and services around it. After all, your digital ecosystem, infrastructure and product design show just how much you care about the customer experience.

What does an empathetic tool look like?

Empathy is all about identifying and appealing to a human need. For employees, this about meeting your people where they are, and forging a strong sense of connection – irrespective of digital distance. For this, you need to build an internal culture that focuses intently on empathy.

During Covid, a much greater emphasis was placed on employee mental health. While many people found that they could work just as well remotely, and relished a move away from tedious daily commutes, they also realized the importance of human connection.

Creating an empathetic connection with your workforce calls for a good balance between formal collaboration platforms (such as Teams and Zoom) and more informal texting apps capable of facilitating frequent micro interactions (such as WhatsApp). People don’t want to feel bombarded or “checked up on”, but they do need steady communication and easily accessible personal interaction.

For customers, empathetic tools can be found in the form of loyalty programs that bring different users together as a community. Chatting with and directly engaging users of your products is another really effective way of bringing them closer to your product – particularly when chatting ‘live’, as you’re able to better assess their emotions at the time of use. In fact, this level of customer feedback is essential for operating with empathy, as you can’t make improvements that really speak to your customers without truly understanding their pain points.

Interactions between companies and customers are overwhelmingly transactional these days: to really set yourself apart, you need to build real relationships, with empathy at the core.

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