When you run a business, you make connections with people all the time, some of which develop into stronger bonds than others. What makes the difference? Often the more substantive relationships are those in which you feel a sense of empathy… and your clients appreciate it.
There are actually many definitions of empathy. John Steinbeck said; “You can only understand people if you feel them in yourself.” The noted psychoanalyst, and founder of individual psychology, Alfred Adler explained empathy as; “Seeing with the eyes of another, listening with the ears of another and feeling with the heart of another.”
Personally, I describe empathy as taking someone’s perspective, recognizing it and being able to verbalize it back to them. This means more than just paraphrasing what a person says. It is about making that person feel understood, and connecting with how they are feeling. Someone shouldn’t have to be yelling at you for you to know that they are not happy or jumping for joy for you to figure out that you’ve “made their day.”
Today, there is a lot of talk in business about being mindful. What does that mean? It is being aware of, and able to articulate, your own feelings as well as understanding how someone else is feeling. By being mindful, and reflecting their situation, you build up empathy.
Recently, a woman in my neighborhood told me that she had called an appliance company to send someone to fix her dishwasher. The company, which sold her the appliance, sent a representative to her house who said only that one of the parts was defective, and left. No he didn’t say; “we’re really sorry,” or “we apologize for the inconvenience,” or “we understand your frustration,” because he simply didn’t. Nor did he provide an explanation of how and when the situation would be remedied. The representative could not even spare five minutes to let her get her frustration out.
Clearly he did not “get it.” Yes, the part needed to be repaired, but he did not understand that this busy woman, a doctor, was agitated because she could not use the appliance and her frustration was not even acknowledged. This is where having empathy separates those who “get it” from those who don’t. It’s important to have the conversation and then tell the client what you are going to do. That doesn’t just mean giving them money back or a discount, because that is just sugar coating it. Instead it means knowing mistakes happen, fixing them right away, making the customer feel that you understand his or her frustration, and that you recognize that they are being inconvenienced.
If empathy is going to be part of what you offer, and it should be, you need to talk with your clients, ask them the right questions, listen closely and focus on what they have to say. It is up to you to “get it.” One of the things that we’ve read in write ups, or reviews from clients, over the years is “they just really got us, they understood us, they heard what we had to say.”
Those are the comments we strive for.