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The Customer Empathy Solution

Having the lowest price will not be your greatest market share growth engine in 2009. Loving translates to loyalty.

We live in a world of stress, heartache and daily disruptions. Your material handling customers aren’t just thinking about you and your competition. Your customers have lived a full life before they ever talk to you about their material handling needs. They are emotionally and financially affected by rampant bankruptcies, rising unemployment, an unstable stock market, crashing home values, financial institution collapses, a new President, fluctuating fuel prices, shrinking credit lines, Amber alerts and anything else that threatens to disrupt their already shaky lives. These compounding disruptions can violently shift your customers’ attitudes toward spending money with you.

It doesn’t take a social scientist to enlighten you that, because of the above list, your customers are highly emotional these days. They are emotional because their off-work lives are so stressed. Their tempers are short and their expectations for perfection are higher than ever before. They get stress and high expectations from their bosses and pass it on to you. So, it is in your best interest to show them you understand they are vulnerable and worried. That’s why the concept of customer empathy is so powerful. Simply “serving” the customer is transactional. Empathy is emotional and implies, “I feel your pain, and we will work this out together.”

Empathy skills are easy to learn. You just have to slow down and focus on other people, not yourself. Empathy is listening to learn and not listening to respond. Empathy is paying attention to customer’s tone of voice and watching their facial expressions to pick up on their current emotional state.

For the stubborn who are still thinking, “I need more convincing. I’m trying to make sales. Why should I do it?” I’ll give you four compelling truths to consider.

1. When People Love You, They Will Give You More Money
This single elementary law should be reason enough for you to adopt an empathy attitude over service. If customers feel understood by you, it relieves their stress and anger. Better yet, if they think you understand their concerns and vulnerabilities, you can make a mistake and they will forgive you. Nice side benefit, huh?

For that reason, your customers don’t want a vendor anymore. They want a trusted advisor—an expert who can help them navigate a very complicated world. Contrary to what anyone tells you, having the lowest price will not be your greatest market share growth engine in 2009. Love and expertise will win. Loving translates to loyalty. Customers will reward you with their loyalty when they feel they have a human relationship with you. Let me underscore this by saying your customers do not want a business relationship with you—they can’t tell the difference between business and person, especially women (more about this later).

Customers respond to bad service with the same hurt and emotional triggers they experience in a bad personal relationship. If you ignore them, they feel unimportant. If you second-guess them, they feel defensive. If you dismiss them without satisfying them, they get angry. They can’t help it. Unless they are heavily medicated, humans don’t have a firewall to protect them from their feelings. However, the feelings of happiness and cooperation surface if they feel loved and respected by you. They want to feel understood by you. We all want to fill our lives with people who treat us well. We want to see those people as often as possible because they make us feel good. Customers want to be emotionally connected to you. So, all you have to do is love them. Loving your customers makes them want to return. When they do, they will give you more time, more market share and more money.

2. Loving You Means Your Customers Can Stop “Dating” Other Companies
You want more market share. In turbulent times, you want to be the supplier of choice, right? Well, your customers have a dizzying number of choices these days. You know that savvy customers often experiment with several companies before settling in with their favorite place to buy. You want to be the place they “settle.” Because, when customers finally find a service provider they love, it means they can stop “dating” other companies and fully commit to you. Feeling loved by you is a relief to your customers. It makes them feel smarter for picking you.

3. Women Rule Every Checkbook
I’m going to spend more time on this item because this is probably the most important thing you can do to retain customers and attract new ones. You need to do a much better job of understanding your most powerful customers—women. In checking the unemployment statistics, I found that (in the United States) we currently have 10 percent unemployment for men because men have dominated the construction and manufacturing trades. Those are two sectors hit hardest by this economic downturn. Women only have 6 percent unemployment because they work elsewhere.

You’ve probably noticed how important they are to your customer base, at all levels. You’d better understand how women think because they control a lot of spending. In the consumer world, women account for 83 percent of all consumer purchasing. They are smart, selective, comprehensive shoppers. You better believe they bring that expertise to work with them. If you do a great job, they will be loyal. If you don’t, they will complain—vehemently.

In researching for The Customer Shouts Back, we dissected 1,000 random complaints we found on Web sites and blogs worldwide and discovered that more than 80 percent of the complaints were written and registered by women. When the transaction goes badly, they get mad and stay mad. Their complaints registered words like “embarrassed,” “helpless,” “out of control,” “hurt,” “crushed” and “rejected.” Those are the same words you would typically use to describe a love relationship. Because women are so involved in every transaction that results in parting with money, these transactions are always personal and almost always emotional to them. Not only do they complain about the perpetrator, they tell everyone else about that person or company. Faith Popcorn, author of EVEolution – Understanding Women, says that the average satisfied female customer will recommend a service, shop or client to 21 other people. Since women speak an average of 20,000 words a day (versus a man’s 6,000), women were indeed the first “viral marketing” machines. Therefore, having a good feeling about your company can create a vast army of unpaid spokeswomen for you. Can you do better than that with traditional marketing? Not in a dozen Madison Avenue ad executives’ lifetimes. If you make an effort to understand the emotionality of her purchasing mentality, she will start to form a relationship with you. That’s critical because an emotional bond is the only factor that breeds true loyalty, not “favored customer” cards, not reward points or discounts, not even repeating their name in a friendly manner. Our own research verified the depth of relationships and money. When a woman feels understood and appreciated, you not only have a loyal customer, but her referral engine kicks in.

4. You Can Actually Quantify Loving Your Customers
After one of my seminars, a man named John Hixon from Sweetwater, Texas, told me he took over his father’s grocery store when his dad passed away. John found out that the little store had annual sales of about $250,000 a year but had lost $200,000 during the same period. He decided to take a leave from his insurance business to liquidate the store. When he couldn’t find a buyer, John decided to step in and see what he could do to save the market.

He couldn’t afford to renovate or add new products, so he turned to his customers, something his dad would never have done. John started loving the customers. He would stand at the front door and say hello to everyone. He’d tell them, “I appreciate you coming into our store.” With a twinkling eye, he’d say, “We’re small, but we’re mighty.” If they asked for an item, he wouldn’t just point them down an aisle. He would escort them to the correct aisle and explain why he carried that particular brand. Then, after the customer went through checkout, John would be standing at the door to say goodbye and wish them a nice evening, weekend or holiday.

Within nine months, the little store was on pace to gross $1.5 million! And the only thing John Hixon changed was that he started loving his customers. Even more incredible, a Wal-Mart opened just a few miles away during that period and John’s business still grew.

Need more reasons to start shifting your thinking to customer empathy instead of customer service?

Material Handling Equipment Distributors Association
Ross Shafer is the author of Are You Relevant?, Nobody Moved Your Cheese and The Customer Shouts Back and founder of the Customer Empathy Institute, located in Anaheim, California, and on the Web at www.rossshafer.com.

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