Empathy and Connection: The Not So Secret Weapons for Customer Experience and Life Success

While in Las Vegas last week in the immediate aftermath of one America’s most horrific mass shootings, I was overcome by a myriad of emotions. Beyond obvious and deep sorrow, I was struck by confusion over the intentions of the perpetrator and heartened by the outpouring of genuine compassion and concern of locals and visitors alike.


Connecting Emotionally

In that vortex of emotion, I found myself contemplating issues of empathy and human connection. How could someone become so damaged or evil as to train a weapon on a throng of concertgoers with a complete lack of compassion for the lives of those in his sights? Conversely, I appreciated the intense empathy being demonstrated by absolute strangers who were seeking to do something – anything – to connect with one another, the wounded, and the families of the victims.

I have long written about the role of empathy and human connection in business. In fact, most of my books about customer experience hinge on the distinction between “caring for” and “caring about” one another. It is my fundamental belief that human beings want to be cared for by the quality of products and services we provide but need to be cared about by the way we take an interest in and create a connection with them. Companies that care about their people create connected workplaces which in turn forge stronger connections with customers. More importantly, all people (employees and customers alike) want to be heard, understood, appreciated, and acknowledged as unique human beings.

Wisdom from a Restaurateur

As my book, The Starbucks Experience was being blessed by commercial success, another book titled Setting the Table was also on the bestseller list. That book written by Danny Meyer (famed restaurateur) and founder of restaurant concepts like Shake Shack and Blue Smoke has been one of the most articulate thought leaders on the importance of empathy and human connection in service and hospitality. In a recent CBS 60 minutes interview, Danny noted:

Everyone on Earth is walking around life wearing an invisible sign that says, “Make me feel important.” And your job is to understand the size of the font of this invisible sign and how brightly it’s lit. So make me feel important by leaving me alone. Make me feel important by letting me tell you everything I know about food. So it’s our job to read that sign and to deliver the experience that that person needs.

Over the years, I have developed countless training tools to help service professionals “read the signs” of customers and place themselves in the role of the customer. Someone once told me you can’t “place yourself in your customer’s shoes unless you take your shoes off first.” Much of great service involves stepping out of our own assumptions and chatter inside our heads so as to listen intently and observe fully.

A Genius Weighs In

Einstein once wrote, “Know where to find information and how to use it – that’s the secret to success.” For me, information is tucked away in the hearts and minds of those we serve. It is written on those “invisible signs” described by Danny Meyer.

If we develop the ability to read those signs and use the information we garner to make other people’s lives better, we are truly successful at work and in life.

While the effective use of information may not put us on the genius level with Einstein, those skills truly will make us emotionally intelligent (EQ). In fact, EQ is commonly associated with five core competencies:

  • Self-awareness
  • Self-regulation
  • Motivation
  • Empathy
  • Social Skills

In the context of ghastly images from a concert in Las Vegas, I am reminded that all of us can be a force of good at work and in the world. As Danny Meyer and Einstein suggest we can make a powerful difference if we “read the invisible signs” in others and take what we learn and “use it” for their betterment!

Smoke over black background

Joseph A. Michelli, Ph.D. is a professional speaker and chief experience officer at The Michelli Experience. A New York Times #1 bestselling author, Dr. Michelli and his team consult with some of the world’s best customer experience companies.

Follow on Twitter: @josephmichelli

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