Why empathy is as crucial to business as people - Andy MacMillan

According to a recent Washington Post story, more than 2,000 scientific papers were published about empathy in 2019 – just one sign of empathy’s emergence as one of the hottest topics of conversation in society.

We’ve all talked so much about empathy in recent years for a simple reason: We’re afraid we’re losing it. Economic disparity, political divisions, and technological isolation have all taken a toll on our sense of connection and caring.

The pandemic, social unrest, and other sources of extreme stress in the last year are raising urgent new questions about how we can be more compassionate toward and understanding of each other.

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For businesses, empathy seems to have become not just a value but a paradigm governing nearly every aspect of the operation, from marketing strategy to employee engagement to corporate citizenship.

That’s certainly a very positive trend. But as empathy has come to indicate so many things to so many people—one of the scientific papers I mentioned earlier noted 43 different definitions of the term—I’m wondering if its meaning is becoming muddled.

There are many flavors of empathy in the world, and one that particularly excites me is its relevance in a business context—i.e. how empathy can be brought to bear to make customers’ lives better and easier.

As UserTesting’s CEO (and I think of that acronym as standing for both “chief executive officer” and “chief empathy officer”), I believe empathy is critical to organizations serving their customers better through a deep, emotional, human understanding of their needs and wants, their likes and dislikes. It’s about complementing the abundance of data in the workplace with the realization that our employees, our customers, and our stakeholders are actually people.

A perfect storm of factors is making it absolutely necessary that companies be able to put themselves in customers’ shoes and experience their products and services as their audience does.

One, the internet has given consumers more information, choices, and easy access to competitors than ever before in history.

Two, social media has become word-of-mouth on steroids for customers airing their experiences with a brand, good or bad.

Three, digital commerce tends to create distance between companies and their customers’ actual experience, making it easy to lose sight of the human beings involved.

All of this demands that businesses must do more than try to be empathetic to customers—they must make empathy a real business strategy.

That involves going beyond guessing at customers’ attitudes or relying on data analytics and surveys to try to extract insights. It means seeking out human insights to gain non-numerical, first-hand knowledge of customers’ real emotions, goals, and behavior. UserTesting helps companies do that.

In a way, empathy means having enough respect for customers to make the extra effort to get inside their heads, and then, in every single interaction, to deliver what they want.

This kind of empathy should be every company’s true north where customers are concerned.

Andy MacMillan, CEO, UserTesting

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