4 Ways You Can Showcase Empathy With Your Customers

Customers are needy—especially in times of need. The old rulebook for engaging with audiences has been torn to shreds, and companies the world over are brainstorming new ways to show customers how much they care.

In a time where everyone can use a little extra grace, the best way to win a customer’s trust and build beneficial long-lasting relationships is by showcasing a lot of empathy. Everyone’s lives have been upended in previously unimaginable ways (e.g., not being able to visit loved ones in the hospital), and putting yourself into their shoes is the first step toward understanding their pain.

Savvy marketers and disruptive entrepreneurs know all too well that attempts to be empathetic through content can be lost in translation (remember Pepsi’s ill-fated social justice ad featuring Kendall Jenner in 2017?). It’s much easier to task frontline salespeople and customer-care professionals with the chore of personalizing interactions and building brand loyalty at the ground level. Still, to really resonate in today’s emotionally charged environment, brands and marketers must incorporate empathy into the messaging if they want to stay relevant.

Establishing empathy in genuine ways

Creating compelling content that connects with consumers requires a thoughtful approach. Long gone are the days when brands could expect customers to look to them for all the answers and obediently nod their heads in agreement.

No, today’s customer is hyper-opinionated, super-educated, and more than happy to take their business elsewhere if the brand doesn’t check all the boxes—superior product, outstanding customer service, elevated stance on important issues, philanthropic, deeply empathetic, etc. It’s a long list, but commerce today is all about survival of the fittest. Those brands that put forth the effort are rewarded with customer loyalty. Those that don’t vanish into the dustbin of history.

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So how can marketers establish empathy in genuine ways? Here are four key places to start:

1. Be creative.

To stand out from the competition—and to resonate with an audience whose collective attention span seemingly gets shorter by the day—brands need to crank the creativity up to 10. Chiquita Bananas did this by removing Miss Chiquita from its logo in an Instagram post that promoted social distancing (“I’m already home. Please do the same and protect yourself.”). If you haven’t checked out Chiquita’s social media accounts, do yourself a favor and make a quick visit to see just how creative bananas can be, then work to make something equally appealing.

“Don’t underestimate the power of creativity: Ideas matter only when they connect with people, so it is important to understand people and the cultural forces that influence how consumers think and behave,” says Tina Posey, CEO of advertising agency Javelin. “Listening and learning from customers to build empathy is the key to designing positive customer experiences, which create brand desire and build long-term relationships. Creativity is the ultimate effectiveness multiplier.”

2. Be patient.

People are stressed these days. The daily demands can be overwhelming, so expressing patience can have a calming effect. Nobody wants to be pressured into buying a product or service, especially now. Besides, building relationships (and letting a content marketing plan take root) is a process. The results from effective marketing don’t happen overnight; it takes a methodical approach.

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Nestlé seems to understand the importance of patience. With families struggling to make ends meet amid the coronavirus, the food manufacturer set up a dedicated webpage to express empathy for its global customers and share details about how it was working to combat any snags in the supply chain. This statement has the added benefit of silently urging customers to be patient with Nestlé as the company works to keep operations humming during unstable times. With pressure coming at consumers from so many sides, the best approach for marketers is to remind the audience that you are here for them and patiently await their business.

3. Be gracious.

Two words that go a long way in 2020 are “thank” and “you.” In years past, it was easy for a brand to take its success for granted; expressing gratitude for a customer’s loyalty was often an afterthought. Now, with millions of small businesses chopped at the knees due to the pandemic, the importance of every customer interaction has been magnified. If you don’t appreciate your brand advocates now, you likely never will.

As such, brands need to express gratitude gratuitously. Don’t hesitate to show your love and appreciation for your customers, particularly now, when times are tough and budgets are thin. JetBlue, one of many airlines bracing for the worst as COVID-19 concerns gut the travel industry, is well-known for its attention to detail and over-the-top customer satisfaction. The company continues to send personalized notes via email and Instagram to its valued customers, which goes a long way toward strengthening brand loyalty. Be timely, be sincere, and watch the brand affinity swell.

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4. Be informed.

Performing research and learning what issues matter to your customer base seems like a no-brainer, but many companies have been felled by assumptions and shortcuts. As mentioned earlier, customers today hold most of the power in the brand-buyer dynamic because they are more informed than ever.

Consider Millennials, who comprise the biggest demographic in the United States (recently overtaking Baby Boomers) and have explosive buying power. Does this group passively consume content? Hardly: YouTube research finds that 70% of Millennials who use the platform seek out videos to learn how to do something new. And 45% admit that a piece of YouTube content altered their perspectives on an issue, which shows that these younger buyers want content that helps them make personal changes. When you empathize with this desire to learn and grow, you’ve unlocked a key characteristic.

Consider the late, great Tom Petty when you wonder how most customers think about the majority of businesses: You don’t know how it feels to be me. So let’s get to the point and put empathy first. When you do that, you create a company that knows how to care and build valuable relationships that last.


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