Management and Leadership Series Posted by Nicola Maxwell

Empathy at the heart

It turns out you can measure how empathetic a company is.

The Global Empathy Index showed a clear correlation between company success and the level of empathy it demonstrated. The top 10 companies in the index increased in value more than twice as much as those at the bottom and generated 50% more earnings.

Why does empathy have such a significant impact on business performance?

Let’s look at four reasons why empathy can have such a significant impact on business performance:

1.Empathy improves sales

In discussions with one of our clients we shared some feedback on the delegates who had recently attended a consultative sales programme.  The delegates had recently been recruited, so the client was surprised when we identified one of them as a potential high performer.  They asked how we came to this conclusion. We observed that she was particularly good at asking challenging questions; through further questions she was able to shape her clients’ perception of their needs. And, critically, she had a real strength in demonstrating empathy.

Twelve months later, at a review meeting, we were informed that the person identified had indeed excelled in the role. When asked about the secret to her success she replied, “I don’t see myself in sales. I see myself as someone who cares deeply about our clients’ problems. I feel their pain and become obsessed with helping them solve those problems.”

The outcome of this was that the client developed a more sophisticated recruitment process where they could measure a candidate’s empathy as opposed to interpersonal skills.

Whether you’re selling investments, legal services, insurance or any other professional service, your ability to demonstrate empathy with your client along with a product or service that can demonstrate value will significantly enhance your ability to sell.

2.Empathy improves collaboration

Most of us have to collaborate with others to achieve the results we’re looking for.  Let’s say you are part of a group responsible for launching a new app for clients.  You’ll likely have representatives from Marketing, Sales, Technology, Legal, Risk & Compliance around the table all contributing their ideas and giving advice on how the app can best be delivered.  If those people are to achieve their shared outcome, they need to be able to understand different viewpoints and see why something that seems unimportant to one person is a priority for another.  Empathy helps us build buy-in from others and generate commitment, which is vital if you have to collaborate to achieve a goal.

3.Empathy improves the customer experience

If you’ve ever had to make a complaint about poor service, you’ll be well aware of the difference empathy can make.  On phoning a train operator’s customer service team I initially spoke to someone who was dismissive of the difficulties I’d encountered when my train was cancelled late one evening.  When I asked to speak to the supervisor, the contrast was stark.  She empathised with my predicament and quickly resolved the situation leaving me feeling satisfied that my complaint had been heard.

Following Ryanair’s introduction of their ‘Always Getting Better’ customer charter, which removed many customer frustrations like hidden charges, un-allocated seating and carry-on baggage restrictions, the company saw a 40% increase in profit and a doubling of its share price.  Their CEO, Michael O’Leary, famously remarked, “If I’d only known being nice to customers was going to work so well, I’d have started many years ago.”  It seems empathy really does pay.

4.Empathy improves staff engagement

When companies show their staff that they care about them and treat them as individuals this can have a hugely positive impact on staff engagement.  If line managers spend time with their team members and listen more to really understand what’s important to each person, they can work out how to get the best out of them.  By doing this they develop stronger connections with people, which helps to build trust.

Likewise, being willing to show flexibility with employees also demonstrates empathy so managers should consider how they respond to requests for time off, flexible working and working from home to attend to personal matters.

How managers and leaders communicate with people can also indicate their level of empathy.  Do they make it clear that they’ve considered how decisions will impact others?

Empathy is a positive attribute for so many people in a multitude of business roles.  It’s difficult to see how anyone can perform at their best without it.

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