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Empathic CX: Boosting Profits the Humane Way

4 minute read

I’ve had the pleasure of living and breathing issues of customer experience (CX) employee engagement and retention since the 1990s. It might sound glib to describe what I’ve seen as “evolution” but that is the apt word because this industry is growing, and not just in the financial sense. The shift now gathering pace will make the years following 2022 very different from the two preceding it, and relates not only to the way organisations think, but also - dare I say it - the way they feel.

By Kim Robertson, Head of Consulting, DigitalWell

Olden Days, Old Ways

It wasn’t always this way. When I entered the industry even AOL and Netscape were still just start-ups, and customers were sometimes transferred eight times before connecting to the right person or department. Worse though, CX was perceived a “cost centre” - not the soul of the business. This began a trend of trying to use technology to reduce that ‘cost’, and lockdowns in 2020 exasperated things. Technology was leant on heavily as a short-term fix for the remote-working headaches of CIOs, CEOs, and heads of HR alike. Whilst it’s true we jumped five years into the future and Harvard Business School case studies will likely describe how deftly industry responded with technology, not all solutions are stable long-term. It was relatively easy for us to initiate cloud-based contact centres within 48 hours when our clients desperately needed it, but that wasn’t the industry norm. Even now organisations are still juggling quick fixes upon insufficient infrastructure, and often only the least humane of artificial intelligence’s (AI) capabilities, such as chatbots, were deployed.

The focus was on firefighting with technology, not realising business is based upon people whether employees or customers, and making work life as satisfying as possible. Humanity and empathy can’t be deployed like a cloud-based CX platform, and the mental and physical repercussions of lockdowns reminded us that humans are a tactile, sociable species needing meaningful interaction as much as oxygen. It’s odd then that technology, of all things, is bringing us back.


Post-Pandemic Humanity

Among our clients really grasping this evolutionary nexus of HR practice, change management, customer experience and technology we’re seeing a powerful focus on empathy. Before lockdown, performance metrics ruled and call centre staff were tracked, monitored, and analysed so rigorously that employees even knew how much time they spent taking comfort breaks! Meanwhile their days were long, arduous, and repetitive, making the delivery of consistently amazing CX almost impossible. This especially when stakes are higher because customers expect whomever answers the phone, chat, or email to know their entire history with that organisation.

So disruptive organisations aren’t just using the tech to inform and empower their CX teams, they’re altering HR practices so that people actually want to do the customer service job. Empathy can’t be mandated, time-managed, or streamlined - you need to live and breathe it. One famous UAE airline began moving in this direction some time ago - aligning hobbies and pastimes of their CX people with their customers’, providing common ground and a basis for empathy. From this mindset you get a CX team knowing a customer’s calling about a lost suitcase, and answering that question first with initiative, autonomy and common sense. Similarly, a now very successful and expanding online shoe retailer gives new recruits $200 to spend on shoes, sending them through the entire customer experience before they’ve ever answered a phone. It’s the difference between being happy to have a job, and fostering a culture of people happy in their job.

More recently, lockdowns increased awareness that humans need both ‘me time’ and social interaction, so smart employers now build workdays around personnel’s out-of-work routines. There’s time for yoga, pilates, and to collect the kids from school. We’re even seeing personnel given vouchers for grocery shopping, or having groceries ordered for them so they’re not trying to deliver epic CX while fretting about chores they have to do after work.


CX as the Organisational Heart & Soul

This empathic mindset encompasses the call centre and recruitment, but stretches far beyond it. For example one utility client of ours revamped its brand based solely upon empathy. Their ad campaigns boasted that their CX staff spent however long was necessary on the phone with elderly customers to coach them on how to programme their digital thermostat. It took hours, but it was worth every penny because once word got around, they started growing their market share as if by magic.  

But even that’s not the full extent of it - living that empathy impacts the HR department as well as the marketing department. People still ask me, “How do we solve the recruitment crisis? We have one million CX jobs to fill!” The answer is not just in deploying technology that enables your CX teams to do great things, it’s in realising and accepting humans are your most important resource and building an environment that they thrive in. Humans are motivated by money only when the job to be done is repetitive and mundane. For everything else humans are motivated by mastery, purpose, and autonomy. So smart employers now promote horizontally as well as vertically, and reward CX employees for their versatility i.e. mastering not only voice but also email, chat, and any other mediums of customer communication. This perception engenders employee retention, if only because their days are more diverse, more stimulating, and more rewarding.

It’s the difference between wanting the best for your customers and staff because they make you profit, and because you just want to see them thrive. Ironically though, if they thrive, then sooner or later so does your profit.

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