The pursuit of empathy
It's been quite a week for lovers of economics, with the first budget from a new Government, together with the ongoing drama surrounding the future of Greece and that awful phrase 'Grexit'. Balancing the books, whilst being seen to act humanely poses a challenge, and calls for deeper understanding than just the numbers.
We've had a full on couple of weeks at CCA with a series of member visits and events all over UK and Ireland. Empathy is the word which seems to surface regularly during these discussions and it appears to be a commodity in high demand and relatively low supply; in economic terms it should attract an extremely high value rather like a precious mineral.
Recent CCA research revealed that 80% of organisations believe that they will recruit for empathy in future, above a selection of other traits. Empathy training is in vogue and of course performance measurement and rewards are increasingly aligned to this behaviour. It seems that we all want lots of highly empathetic customer service professionals; from banks and public sector organisations to retail outfits.
Helping a close friend to deal with essential transactions following the tragic death of a loved one highlighted to me variances in service from wonderful caring understanding to thoughtless uncaring disregard.
Diagnosing the reasons for these differences can be tricky, but perhaps a clue could be in our understanding how empathy is created; nature or nurture? Having just read John Kay's book 'Obliquity' he cautions against viewing complex issues in a linear fashion, in other words just because we rigorously recruit train and measure, we may not get the results that we expect.
Perhaps empathy is a bit like happiness, appearing like magic when the correct conditions are created rather than it being sought as an end in and of itself?
Can we expect empathy to flourish at the frontline in an organisation where employee’s needs aren't met with the same empathetic response as is required of them? Or where customer experiences aren't prioritised by other departments in the supply chain. Or indeed, where dealing with complex issues requires juggling between 10 or more screens? Or where your brand is being challenged in the media and the board response is lacking in understanding? Being asked to defend the indefensible or explain the inexplicable is a tall order and requires more than empathy training.
Imagine taking calls from customers following the findings of the CMA report this week telling us that we have all been paying over a billion pounds too much for our energy. Equally, those charities named and shamed in the debacle over aggressive treatment of elderly donors by outbound callers will find it more difficult to relate in an authentic manner to customers, and will have to work much harder to earn back that trust.
Empathy is required in so many of today's situations from explaining confusing new pension regulations to dealing with changes in benefits from the budget, to reassuring passengers about travel, following terrorist attacks.
The pursuit of empathy requires great people at the front line, but at the end of the day empathy is a chain reaction starting at the very top.
Let's empathise with the empathisers! If you have a couple of minutes to spare, here is a short clip reminding us what empathy is.