In this opinion piece, Andy MacMillan, Chair & CEO at UserTesting, talks about the importance of empathy on a company’s leadership level and how it can help lead to success if applied correctly.
In an internet-driven era, customer experience finds itself challenged frequently with data and an app-driven interface. An organisation is constantly struggling to create an emotional connect with its customers, caught between the urge to introduce the quantitative measurement of customer data or assess qualitative customer preferences based on human connections.
Marrying customer centricity and business growth
The above is the most rational explanation of ‘digital dilemmas’ that affect corporates, to focus on what the tech is talking about or ‘see, hear and comprehend’ what the human is feeling. However, it is this crossroad that decides how the path in front unfolds for the company in question – is it a bumpy drive or a smooth sail to home? Will they end up successful or fail miserably?
Success stories in Australia of the likes of Mecca, First Choice Liquor, Afterpay, and Ikea are testimony to the fact that focusing on empathy and customer experience has actually led to the building of billion-dollar businesses. They have managed to find a sweet spot between personalisation (a key arm of empathy and listening to what the customer wants) and delivering top-class customer experience excellence.
Empathy begins at home
A recent Businesssolver report discussed that empathy is also what a company’s top leadership displays within the office walls, just as much as it is a requisite outside. Lasting emotional connections with employees, displaying the attribute of ‘I care’, and worrying about employee experience is a foundational value, which adds up to the financial performance of organisations. The fun part of building a business with empathy is that there is no holy grail, and neither can there be a formalised structure to train people to deliver empathy towards each other or customers. It is open to experimentation for each human and can only be practiced daily for perfection.
Therefore, it is not one person in an organisation who can be given a role to play in this regard. Company leaders, the C-suite category, need to understand and instil the need for empathy in daily operations. The fun part is that if it is stitched well into the company’s culture, deliverables on empathy do not seem like mounting KPIs, they tend to become reflexive such as the force of habit and intuition.
Let’s take a look at a range of C-level roles and how each leader can help.
The CEO is primarily responsible for creating evangelists and fans of the business. From forming a strong culture to hiring a strong leadership team, the CEO has to champion the cause of customer experience and human equity for and within the company.
However, it cannot be just words and no actions. The CEO needs to roll up his/her sleeve and show the team how it is done. He/She needs to see, talk to, hear and understand customers, translate the experience and use the insights for creating actionables for each facet of product design, development, and delivery.
An easy way to execute this would be to set up “empathy hours” within the calendars, where employees can devote time to understanding and analysing customer insights. Whether it requires discussing issues with the customer support team or observing customer behaviour from a distance, these immersive hours can lead to useful insights for the business.
In a world that is ‘eaten’ by data, technology such as Big Data and AI is being widely used to gain deeper insights into customer preferences and patterns. While its contribution is highly valued, it has been observed that it is being over-exploited as a gap-filler for invaluable human insights. Clickstream analytics, for example, may tell us what’s happening but not why.
That is when the company turns to its CMO, who possesses the capability to squeeze into any sized customer shoe. A CMO cultivates a mindset of understanding customer requirements, creating processes and technologies that help touch base with customers by using our very own human senses.
For example, CMOs and their teams in the past were usually tasked with drawing up customer profiles, such as a crypto company might say their typical customer is a 25-30-year-old millennial who is tech-savvy. But today this approach might not be the best way to think. Why are customers investing in crypto? What is keeping them awake at night? Are all age groups equally invested in the proposition? The ideal strategy today might be to draw up an empathy map, and understand customer needs, what they do, and what they think and feel. Based on that, in-depth profiles can be built on learnings from various sessions, user videos, research, data and corresponding surveys.
Traditionally, the CFO has been responsible for the books and record keeping, financial planning and correction, risk management and statutory compliance. However, the hats are juggling. According to a McKinsey study, today’s CFOs are more likely to be involved in a variety of broader strategic activities, such as “setting overall corporate strategy, pricing a company’s products and services, or collaborating with others to devise strategies for digitisation, analytics, and talent-management initiatives.”
This clearly indicates that CFOs now have a strong hand in customer experience, they should be engaged in aligning company resources to deliver the best customer services and satisfaction. Although this role might be niche and unknown to many, the world is moving in this direction. He/She has to stay abreast of customer needs and play the risks and opportunities in the market to address them and simultaneously grow the existing business model.
Gone are the days when people, processes, and enterprise systems were the only roles that a CIO was expected to play. Since customers experience a brand through its technology, it is essential today for CIOs to stay informed about customer choices and preferences.
Beyond these C-Suite designations, companies are also investing in creating spaces for job profiles such as Chief Insights Officer, Chief Product Officer, Chief Peoples Officer, and Chief of Staff. This is a clear indication of how essential customer experience is becoming to running the core business.
Brands that prioritise a customer-focused mission and encourage a culture of ‘customer experience is the king’ will always have an edge in the market. Since all key stakeholders often experience a company through its innovative touch-points and also the top-level management, therefore to administer long-term advocacy, it is essential that CIOs uphold and implant the significance of empathy and human insights within their respective teams and clusters.
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