Why empathy is more important than ever

16th Feb 2021

2020 will always be the year that was. A year that saw us shop from home, browse from bed and try on a new shade of lipstick via an app. We bought our nappies in bulk and swapped weekly shopping for store cupboard stocking as we saw our world rock. As we reach the middle of the first quarter of 2021 not much has changed.

As human beings we don’t much like change, yet the last twelve months has thrown it upon us in a never ending flow of unexpected events. From the pandemic itself to the social and political turmoil all around us, the need for more empathy and understanding has never been more important as we seek to navigate these tumultuous roads. As humans we always have sought togetherness when times challenge us most. It is a default of our human nature.

In a recent survey conducted by AXA, 64% of respondents said that their stress levels had increased since before the pandemic while 81% said that they had a ‘poor’ or ‘low’ state of mind. Further research from O.C. Tanner’s 2021 Global Culture Report, which surveyed 40,000 employees and leaders across the world, shows that Covid has driven burn out rates up by 81%. The connection between our mass uncertainty surrounding job security, financial hardship, a lack of social contact and a potentially fatal virus, have led us to see the highest levels of emotional stress in many years. We cannot assume this hasn’t impacted every tenet of our approach to business today - from our relationships, HR approach and organisational culture, to our product and marketing strategies beyond.

As human beings we do far better together than we do apart. The pandemic has altered our requirements for finding this at work as well as at home.  If there was ever a time for sales executives, marketers and leadership teams to shine and prove a connected and emotional intelligent organisational culture it is now. It has become a criterion for both performance and loyalty.

As organisations continually adapt to this new world, our customers are, of course ,doing the same thing in a never ending cycle of behaviour changes . The impact of job losses, furloughing and the uncertainly surrounding our health has made us as inconsistent as we are needy when it comes to our brand choices.

We know from developments in behavioral economics that consumers make decisions in seemingly irrational ways, influenced by emotional, social and behavioral drivers. It is only through the true understanding of these, of having empathy for these needs, that we will get any closer to solving the puzzle that is the shopper decision making journey. Whether in food retail, luxury goods or the local car showroom, an empathetic salesperson and customer journey can make the difference between a  decision to stay and shop, or one to retreat to our phones in the hope of finding a more rewarding experience elsewhere. Surveys show that eighty percent of companies think they deliver great experiences, but only 8 percent of customers now agree. Today we are ever harder to please.

Given that we know that it is emotions that drive us and our sales, we shouldn’t underestimate the fact that people are looking for more understanding than ever before. It’s a subconscious cry for help that humanity is exuding en-masse. Maya Angelou once said, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel." Perhaps this should be our rallying cry for our businesses sand marketing in the year ahead?

As we navigate these continued times of uncertainty our mutual understanding, our empathy, isn’t just about our ability to offer emotional strength as the virus continues to circumnavigate the globe, but the feeling of safety and confidence that familiarity and authenticity offers our teams and our shoppers. Our need to see an increase in empathy in our relationships and our strategies represents the new normal we all so nervously look toward. A true recognition that things aren’t the same, and probably never will be, but that our mutual understanding and experience of these months is the one thing we can continually rely on to connect us.

Mimi Nicklin is a globally recognised millennial thought-leader. She is host of the Empathy for Breakfast show, Secrets of The Gap podcast and author of new book Softening the Edge out now priced £10.95. For more information go to www.miminicklin.com

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