Over the last few weeks, my wonderful wife Naomi and I have been having a debate about the difference between EMPATHY and SYMPATHY. Whether it be a discussion about family life or a discussion about work life, the ability to be both sympathetic and empathetic is extremely important. So what is the difference between these two words?
- Empathy – the ability to understand and share the feelings of another
- Sympathy – feelings of pity and sorrow for someone else’s misfortune
The definitions are actually quite different and could be easily confused. I often HOPE that I am being empathetic towards others, but have to acknowledge that on occasion I am just merely being sympathetic to their plight. There is a difference.
When we take these definitions in the context of business, all too often I believe that leaders of organisations are FAILING to empathise with either their customers or their employees. They may sympathise with customers and employees, but that is a completely different thing. Let me explain what I mean. A few weeks ago, I featured a story about a very negative experience with a UK company. A senior leader of the company involved had the courage to ‘tweet’ a response to the blog post. On the one hand this leader’s message was one of sympathy, but on the other hand, it was one of explanation of why things happen in the way they do. In no way did the message come across as empathising with the customer to the point of resolving the issue for her or any other customer in the future.
So WHY are leaders of organisations failing to empathise with customers and colleagues? My answer to this is simple – I personally do not believe that enough leaders of businesses have exposure to what it actually feels like to be either a customer of their own organisation, or an employee. Have a read of this letter that has been kindly sent to me by Lucy Stuchbury:
I will allow you a few more seconds to let this sink in………………………. I am not sure what your conclusion is, but the first word that came to my mind was SHOCKING! Lucy Stuchbury wrote a letter of complaint to the Directors of a huge multinational corporation – and that is what she received back. I can guarantee that not one member of the Board of Directors has seen the letter that was sent in their name – I would be very interested to know when they last looked at a letter written by their Directors Office. It would be interesting to know if they even know who Elliott Dunne actually is!
I recently endured a dreadful experience with Scandinavian Airlines – you can read about it in this article I wrote for CustomerThink in October – the story was all about a cancelled flight – something that is sadly not uncommon for the air traveler. If you read the story, I am sure you will agree that it is another example of an organisation whose senior leaders almost certainly have NO IDEA what it feels like when they do certain things to customers. If a Director of SAS has not experienced what they do when they cancel a flight, then that Director is NOT (in my opinion) in a position to make informed decisions that affect the customer.
Have a read of this story about restaurant chain Prezzo, sent to me by Angus Tozer:
Just had terrible experience at Prezzo in Broughton – Went out for early Birthday meal for Sally and part way through the meal she found a long hair in her salad – uuuurgh – at the time she was offered a replacement but not surprisingly didn’t want it. At the end of the meal apparently because she had a desert (small ice cream) they decided it was perfectly acceptable to charge us for the meal with the hair in it! I suppose we should count ourselves lucky they didn’t try and charge us for an extra item.
For the manager to then stand there and tell me that we had accepted her desert as compensation and because it wasn’t him who served us he couldn’t do anything was shocking.
One thing is for certain – we will not be returning.
Angus posted this story on Facebook. It received a lot of response – both in terms of support for Angus and Sally – and with an agreement that Prezzo is not a chain of restaurants to be paid a visit anytime soon. Just consider this for a second – what would the manager have wanted to happen if he had been the customer? I very much suspect he would have been as unhappy s Angus was. When (if ever) had the manager visited this (or any other) Prezzo restaurant as a normal paying customer? When (if ever) have the board of Directors ever visited Prezzo restaurants and observed what they do to customers?
I strongly believe that so many behaviours, processes and actions by companies are taken by well-meaning PEOPLE who are just following RULES and ORDERS. The rules and orders have often be made by PEOPLE who have never had to actually carry them out, or have never seen the effect of the rules and orders on the PEOPLE they are acted out on. These PEOPLE do not actually know how it FEELS to be a customer or an employee.
That is fundamentally why so many employees LEAVE businesses and why so many CUSTOMERS ‘vote with their feet’. That is why this post is as much a PLEA to all business leaders as anything else. PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE – if you do nothing else for the rest of this year, just take a little time to find out what it FEELS like to be an employee and a customer of your organisation. If you want to know how your business is doing, there is no better way of doing it. What you may find are stories like those above. Hopefully though, you may discover that your own people UNDERSTAND what it really does FEEL like to be a customer – those people do amazing things like this (thank you to Mike Bellis and Paul Kirwan for sharing):