Customer experience has always been viewed as the final piece of the puzzle for the top B2C businesses in the market, and in the post-COVID world, it’s still the linchpin. Popular measures of satisfaction, customer effort, and even emotion have helped companies further activate and continually improve their customer experience initiatives.

However, those measures sidestep what we’ve collectively learned as an industry in 2020.  Although continual improvement around key driver metrics such as wait time and helpfulness will still drive satisfaction with your customers, the single most important aspect 2020 has brought to the forefront is the concept of intentional empathy—the ability to sense other people’s emotions, coupled with the ability to imagine what someone else might be thinking or feeling.

Today’s consumers desire to be communicated to in a way that addresses the complex and unique individuals they are—each with their own views on COVID-19 safety, among many other elements. Businesses cannot feasibly market to all sides, but they can commit to respecting varied viewpoints and showing understanding in a manner that creates positive lasting customer connections.

A few primary avenues must be walked to achieve empathy within your organization.

Examine the company culture by talking to frontline and midline employees about their experience with the company. Let their voices lead the way. Be willing to listen and to be uncomfortable.

As part of these conversations you will want to discuss where empathy is missing in your organization. Likewise, where can it be enhanced? Creating an actively empathetic organization for the post-COVID world means taking a hard look at how the business is currently structured and operating, so positive changes can sustain it into the future.

Management teams cannot be present in all areas of the company on a daily basis to observe the interactions and relationships that nurture employee and customer impressions of your culture. Take active steps to provide a secure, anonymous employee feedback channel to capture authentic impressions of the strengths and weaknesses of the culture as it currently operates. Be prepared to make short and long-term changes to the organizational culture and structure if findings indicate doing so would improve empathy within the organization.

Meet your customers where they are.

Many of your customers are still working, but others are unemployed and may be struggling financially. Some of your customers are healthy, while others have experienced a new and challenging illness, either themselves or with their families and friends. Beyond marketing through general statements such as “we’re here for you in these challenging times,” you must show your customers that these words are genuine, with policies and pricing that match.

For example, companies currently experiencing increased customer traffic (Amazon, Walmart, grocers) can empathize with their customers by lowering prices on necessities (staple foods, paper goods, cleaning supplies, thermometers) to help unemployed customers afford what they need, as well as directing surplus products and profit toward local food banks and community organizations. Hiring people who need employment and creating new positions to keep the nation working also prove your commitment to empathizing with customers now and in the future.

Furthermore, you can improve convenience elements wherever possible for customers who have limited time or energy. Frontline workers must interact with customers with the understanding that they may be first person that customer has interacted with outside of their household for some time. Empathy and understanding go a long way with every customer, and reducing customer stress through policies, fair pricing, and kind service delivery shows your company empathizes with their situation.

Empathy must extend to your employees, both now and in the post-COVID world.

Providing essential benefits to employees such as hazard pay for frontline positions, paid sick leave, childcare coverage, bereavement leave, paid family leave for new parents, medical and mental health coverage are all critical to not only caring for the people who keep you in business every day, but showing your customers that you recognize the importance of your employees. Investing in the full scope of employee needs reduces turnover, improves customer loyalty, and shows the market at large that you’re not just in business for profit, you’re a company with a soul.

Diversity investments are crucial to future growth.

The nation and the world are paying attention to those companies that prove their commitment to diversity, and which ones aren’t willing or prepared to bring voices that have historically been left out onto their management and decision-making teams. There is no better force for driving empathy in an organization than the people who’ve been systemically denied it in the past.

Multi-generational brand alignments are made in times like these, and only those companies who make valid and lasting steps toward an equitable future for all will benefit from long-term customer loyalty. These decisions must be led by those who know best what needs to change and how to do it in a way that broadens your customer base and strengthens brand loyalty.

Environmental Empathy is an instant and high-impact way to build customer loyalty.

Task your teams with researching where to invest in clean energy, waste reduction, and water conservation. The clock is ticking for every organization worldwide, and we’re nearly out of time to save the resources that sustain us all. Change that positively impacts the environment is possible sooner than you think with smart investments and forward thinking.

Customers and employees will remember who was truly there to help during the pandemic, and they’ll leave behind those who relied on platitudes without enacting real change. Customers who know your company followed through on its promises will share that with their own personal and professional networks, and their children will align to those brands as they enter the workforce and make decisions for their own households and companies. Active empathy will ensure your company is one of the brands people will trust for life.

April Ryan is Vice President-Client Services, Second To None, a brand experience and customer satisfaction research firm that has helped highly respected brands across North America achieve customer joy for over 30 years.

Outside Insights, Story