Empathy in service: “Kindness Begins With Me”

23rd Jun 2020

I had a terrifying experience involving a brand new car.

I was an auto finance director for a dealership in Utah. We had a used, but practically brand new vehicle. It was less than a year old and had under twenty thousand miles. However, the battery was having an issue. I took the car to the local branded dealership and was worked on for two weeks. Upon picking the car up, I merged onto the freeway and within just a few moments, all the warning lights flickered. The car suddenly stalled, the brakes froze and the steering wheel locked up. This was all happening at freeway speeds. I had no way of controlling the vehicle. Cars were speeding past me, honking and issuing obscene gestures. Thankfully, I could pull the steering wheel hard enough and get it to the side where a tow truck brought it back to the same dealership.

The dealership did not call me to tell me the vehicle had arrived. I shared the story with the service advisor who showed absolutely no interest in what I had just been through. The service technician diagnosed the problem as a faulty alternator fuse. I once again stated I could have been killed, or a serious wreck could have occurred. I asked the technician if he has ever experienced losing complete power and control of a vehicle on a busy freeway. He laughed and just proceeded to make fun of the situation. There was not a single apology, not one “Thank goodness you're ok”, or anything of the sort. They just shrugged it off and went about their day.

Service like it used to be, but service that never was

Customers don't really ask for much. They ask to be taken care of. Is that really an outlandish request? I recognize fully some customers are more difficult than others, and many you will never please no matter how far you go to serve them. But for the vast majority, they just want to be treated well, honestly, and made to feel appreciated for their business. When things go wrong, they want to have someone listen to their concerns and offer a genuine solution.

Companies design business models to make things easier for the company, not the customer. Right there is the first major problem. John Nordstrom believed: “We don’t determine what good service is; the customer does.” I think companies would do well to adopt this customer-centric philosophy, providing “service like it used to be, but service that never was.”

Customers today expect the worst from companies. They depend on bad service and anti-consumer policies. Naturally, customers will be defensive and on-edge. Why should your business be any different than all those others? This is what your customers are thinking, so they come in with the gloves on and ready to fight. They are like Rocky Balboa facing off against Ivan Drago. They are the underdog: outmatched and outgunned. They know they probably don't stand a chance. So they will fight to the death. Their defenses are raised, and they are ready to rumble. But you have a competitive advantage over all those other businesses who provide humdrum and bland experiences. By being kind, you will exceed your customers' expectations in every way. Watch as the defenses come down and the money rolls in.

If you want to create customers for life, then you must develop a spirit of empathy.

When faced with difficult situations, customers want to know they have an advocate, a champion in their corner who will fight for them. If you want to create customers for life, then you must develop a spirit of empathy. Put yourself in the shoes of your customer. Think to yourself, “if the roles were reversed, how would I want to be treated?”

Don’t just sit back and listen to your customer; make things right! What good is anything if you can’t/won’t resolve the actual problem? The customer has wasted their time explaining all the problems. They are even more angry they spent a significant portion of their day trying to get a situation resolved which was never going to be solved in the first place. Don't just sit there and listen to their problems; do something to actually resolve it! Save yourself a lot of time and headache by coming up with reasons why you can be of help rather than the voice of doom.

The role of empathy in the service experience

Empathy and compassion is crucial to positive customer experiences. But this transcends business. We all want to be treated as we hopefully treat others. We are all employees, and we are all customers. We have been in their shoes, and they have been in ours. A little understanding goes a long way. When a customer complained to me about something, nearly nine times out of ten, the same thing had happened at least once to me. I genuinely try to empathize with the customer and approach the situation from their perspective. 

I asked a friend of mine, who is the HR director for one of the largest and fastest-growing cities in the state of Utah, to elaborate on this topic. He answered that he tries to see people as humans first. He is passionate in the belief that all people are to be respected. To him, the genuine human concern is a far better ROI than lip service and a lack of empathy. 

Many organizations have completely forgotten that there are real human beings on the other end of the phone or the computer. The mantra for many organizations has become one of passive indifference. “If I can’t see them, then they aren’t real. Therefore, their problems aren’t real and I don’t have to deal with them!”

We all deserve kindness. We all deserve respect. The world is a tough place. The odds are generally not in our favor. The cards are usually stacked against us. I am not saying that you must like everyone or be everyone’s friend. Some people are just difficult to get along with. But simple acts of kindness go a long way. And this is especially true in the workplace.

As humans, we have progressed and changed the world through medical and technological innovations. We have broken barriers and achieved things only capable in this day and age. But, we have lost a part of our innermost identity: our sense of compassion for others. We have lost the ability to see each other as people and fellow travelers of this shared world. Now, I am not a philosopher or student of the humanities. I am not the most religious person anymore. What I do believe is in our own small ways, we have countless daily opportunities to change the direction of the human race. We are given numerous chances to put humanity back on the right track and create the kind of world we would want to leave to our children and our grandchildren.

Empathy and compassion is crucial to positive customer experiences. But this transcends business. We all want to be treated as we hopefully treat others.

This world is not an easy place to live in. At the time of this writing, a major worldwide pandemic has taken root in virtually every country, including my own. We are seeing the worst of humanity unfold. Like millions of Americans, I have watched people be incredibly selfish, hoarding and buying up all the supplies in stores, in turn leaving the rest of us to fend for ourselves. But I have also seen the incredibly good we can produce. I have witnessed groceries being left anonymously on the doors of the elderly. I have seen people be extra generous to the homeless. We have seen the best and the worst of each other.

Throughout my life, I have endured many personal trials. I have been fired for being homeless. I have no family. I have been abused by employers and business owners. I have been on the verge of suicide more times than I care to count, and I have buried my pain in alcohol. Despite all I have been through, I still have faith. I have faith in you, the readers of this article and my books. I know people can be difficult and even evil sometimes. It is hard to find the humanity in people who do horrible and unthinkable things. But kindness has to start somewhere. I recall a very basic hymn the children of my church use to sing:

“I want to be kind to ev’ryone, for that is right, you see.

So I say to myself, ‘Remember this: Kindness begins with me’.”

Poet Roy Stolworthy says, “a stranger is just a friend you have not met”. Customers are strangers, but they are also real people. Employees are real people too. We all share this small planet. We are more connected than we are divided. We all want to be happy. We all want the best for our children. We all cry when we are hurt. We get angry when we are mistreated. We all struggle with some things and excel at others. We all have unique and beautiful talents. You can be the change you want to see in the world. What better place to start than how you treat customers and employees!

My hope is you will take away one message from my books and my articles: be kind to yourself and to each other. Whatever you do in life, do it with passion, excellence and integrity. And most of all, let love guide you every step of the way.


About the Author

Bryan Horn is a customer experience trainer and corporate culture development expert. He has 16 years of experience as a financial services manager. He has been homeless, jobless, and everywhere in between. He brings real-world applications and stories that relate to every culture and industry.

He is the author of the internationally successful book The Customer Service Revolution: 8 Principles That Will Change the Way Companies Think About the Customer Experience and the Employees Who Work for Them and is currently publishing his second book.

Bryan is the founder of CS Solutions, a customer experience training consulting firm. He resides in Salt Lake City, UT.

For more information, please visit www.thecsrevolution.com.

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