The E-word you ought to know!

It’s the beginning of a new year. A fresh start, and the time in which our inboxes and news feeds get flooded with what supposedly are the newest, most revolutionary, most groundbreaking trends for 2017. But instead of giving you yet another Top 10 list, I’ll give you one magic word. It is the one you need to internalize for the remainder of the year – and beyond – if you plan on boosting your brand and your business. That seven-letter word is ‘Empathy’. 

Psychology Today defines it as the experience of understanding another person's condition from their perspective; to place yourself in their shoes and feel what they are feeling. 

Of course, the concept is not new. It’s been widely discussed since the 19th century, and even Homer is linked to it. Today, it is a pre-requisite to success that enlightened business leaders run their organizations by. Apple, for example. In 1977 it included Empathy as a core pillar into “The Apple Marketing Philosophy”, stating that they would always “truly understand needs better than any other company.” Fast-forward to 2017 and the company with a portfolio of intuitive, user-centric products sits right at the top of the list of companies with the world’s highest market cap. Coincidence? I doubt it. A stroke of genius ahead of its time? More likely.

Today more than ever, many of us are looking for Empathy. Quite literally, as Google Analytics reveals with a steady increase in search queries for the E-word:


Google Searches for "Empathy" over time

Why does this matter?

If Empathy seems more important than ever, why is it not yet the top recruiting criteria of every Fortune 500 company? Why aren’t organizations training senior leaders on it, regularly? Why do so many Americans, caught in the middle of significant political and societal change, feel that there is a widespread Empathy vacuum?

It is a paradox: we live in a world that has brought us closer to each other than ever before. Social media bridges continents, media channels give us access to different cultures and expose us to an abundance of diversity. Yet at the same time, we seem to have grown further apart. Why?

I believe Civil Rights Activist Maya Angelou got to the core of it when she said “I think we all have empathy. We may not have enough courage to display it.”  

But guess what – we must. If not prioritizing Empathy can cause widespread political upheaval, we should not assume that businesses are immune to the lack of it – especially in a time where customer experiences are the core competitive battleground. Brands must do whatever is in their power to understand what motivates the people they serve? What anxieties drive their decision-making? Which aspirations motivate their actions? Or better said: they must learn to empathize. Why? Because it creates experiences that are meaningful, relevant, and desirable. It leads to products and services people want and need. And, wait for it…: it is profitable for the ones that design and create them.

There are some very tangible examples that highlight how some organizations have been embracing the E-word:

Take Ryanair. The low-cost carrier once known for introducing a ‘fat tax’ for people who were unable to fit into the arguably small airliner seats realized in 2015 that being hostile to customers probably isn’t the best strategy – and started to be more empathetic to what travelers need and how they want to be treated. The result: passenger numbers went up 17%. “If I’d known being nicer to customers was going to work so well, I’d have done it ages ago,” commented Michael O’Leary, CEO.

Other tactics that empower employees to practice and express empathy: Ritz Carlton allows their frontline staff to spend up to $2,000 on a guest whenever they see an opportunity to enhance an experience. Zappos works without pre-defined call center scripts or time limits to resolve customer requests and allow for a more human-centric service experience. Disney encourages its staff to create magical and personalized moments for guest – right in line with brand’s core promise.

If you feel your organization is not quite there yet, let’s look at some ways of how you can make the E-word part of everyone’s vocabulary.

How do you cultivate Empathy?

Empathy is not something you are either born with or without. Empathy can be learned. And organizations should do whatever they can to get everyone fluent in it, no matter where in the organization a person lives. When designing a product or service, a user experience (UX), or an entire business model – people in charge need to be empathetic to their end users.

Here are 4 ways to get you started:

Mythbuster, anyone?!

People tend to think of Empathy the way they think of marshmallows: soft, fluffy and nice to have. If that is what comes to mind when you hear the E-word, think again. Empathy is much more than that – it’s a very real necessity for company growth.

So, let’s make sure we are taking Maya Angelou up on her challenge, and have the courage to show Empathy – not only as generally good human beings, but also as excellent business leaders.

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Dominik Prinz