By Don Peppers @Linkedin | Mar 11, 2016
Empathy is one of the most salient traits distinguishing human beings from most other animal species. Nearly all people are born with an innate ability to feel what others feel, sharing in their pain or joy. More than an ability, empathy is actually an irresistible instinct. It’s virtually impossible for 99% of people not to cringe a bit themselves when they witness pain or suffering being experienced by someone else (or even by an animal).
Statistically, fewer than 1% of us are born without this instinct, and we call these kinds of people “psychopaths.” When other people encounter them, often their first reaction is outright astonishment. People are baffled when they confront a psychopath, because they simply cannot believe anyone’s mind could be so unemotional, so mechanical, so cold and…inhuman.
Empathy has always been extremely important to the human race, because human beings are highly social animals. But if people didn’t have a decent amount of empathy for others, there would be no sharing, no cooperation, no society, no civilization. We just wouldn’t be here.
For a business, I think the desire to understand and improve the “customer experience” represents something very similar to empathy. Businesses themselves, of course, aren’t human and don’t have feelings or instincts. But their managers are human, and smart managers focus on trying to understand the customer experience. They want to know how the customer experience makes a customer feel. What is it like to be that customer?
Understanding what it actually feels like to be a customer is the best possible kind of “customer insight.” Focus groups and market research, voice-of-customer feedback, customer-satisfaction and NPS surveys, customer journey-mapping –all these activities are designed to provide ever more accurate and useful customer insights. And the ultimate goal, the fundamental reason why managers undertake these tasks, is to put themselves in the customer’s shoes. To see things through the customer’s own eyes.
So while empathy plays an indispensable role in the rise of civilization, it’s also critical to the success of a modern business. Empathy is the fuel that powers every successful effort to manage and improve the customer experience, and the more genuine empathy is shown, the deeper a company’s understanding is likely to be. Moreover, as technology continues to improve, more companies are making the effort. They have to make the effort, or they will be left behind by their competitors.
There may still be a few companies out there that aren’t all that concerned with their customers’ experience. But soon the customers who encounter such companies may find themselves nearly as baffled as people who encounter psychopaths today.
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