Empathy as a Survival Tool in 2020 – by Kelly Davison

Business owners have faced a myriad of challenges this year from closures, criticism, insecurity, and distress. It seems like every week has brought another disappointment or disillusionment. It’s a wonder as many survived as they have. In times such as these, when business owners are pleading for mercy, how can customer empathy still hold rank as a top priority?

Logic concedes that if there is no capital nor employees remaining, then there are likely no customers to serve, so customer empathy is irrelevant. But this would be a misleading sentiment. If a business fulfills a demand in the market, that demand doesn’t necessarily disappear overnight. Unsurprisingly, the business model during tumultuous times may need to evolve to meet changing expectations and to remain their customers’ first choice. This can feel daunting to business owners at first, but customer empathy, meaning understanding a customer’s point of view, can shed light on where to start.

Consider the insights below.

Generally speaking, during 2020, business owners often found consumers feeling:

  • more vulnerable causing them to reprioritize their lifestyles and choices
  • more lonely and searching for ways to find human connection
  • more confused and looking for clear direction
  • more fearful of their economic status resulting in more frugal spending, and
  • more cautious, invoking greater discernment as to where they spend their money, considering not only their safety, but the reputational and social implications of those with whom they choose to associate.

When stressors such as these are common, incorporating humor, colors, life forms (plants and animals – if in a physical location), doubling down on communication, amplifying company values, and finding ways to adapt and bundle services and products into, like subscriptions or “`a la cart” may help address consumer anxieties.

On a positive note, in 2020, some businesses are enjoying consumers who seem to feel:

  • more free, making them less hurried and irritable
  • more agreeable, becoming more open to adjustments in service or time constraints
  • more grateful and willing to effectively reciprocate for the products and services they are able to access
  • more forgiving and adaptable to changing environments and requirements, and
  • more purposeful, therefore more conscientious about their purchases.

How might a business more richly engage customers to gather feedback? What risks might the business take during this time that would be better received? How might a business include customers in their mission and success story in a more meaningful way? How might customers be better rewarded for their patronage? When consumer expectations are open to transformation, elevating customer benefits to new levels can garner allegiance from them even more.

Understanding empathy’s role in business points business owners in the right direction when rethinking customer experiences. Responding to the emotional realities of consumers continues to nurture the connection and communicates solidarity. Smart businesses will make an effort to acknowledge and reduce common debilitating emotions and take advantage of the opportunities that lie in the positive outcomes that the year has had on consumer engagement.

It is important to remember that with change can come unintended consequences. Here are a few thoughts to consider as society enters a new era of expectations:

  1. Think future forward. Choose steps forward that align with the vision of the business. Make sure investments move the business in the right direction, not weigh it down in short term solutions. Take advantage of consumers’ willingness to adapt in ambiguous times to spend capital on assets that will pay off in the long run.
  2. Think inclusively. Make sure that the changes to the customer experience don’t exclude existing or potential key audiences. It may be an ideal time to rethink the business’s approach to inclusivity overall. Asking employees for their input is always a great place to start.
  3. Maintain your core brand personality. Expressions of empathy and company values live in the details of the customer experience. Crises are not an excuse to kill the customer experience or to freeze the company culture. It is an opportunity to elevate them.

Peachy’s Building an Empathy-Based Customer Experience Activity Book provides some support to get started. Check it out here.