Empathy is a skill. It is the ability to see through someone else’s eyes. And, just like piano playing or calculus, this skill is developed through practice.
There are lots of ways to practice the skill of empathy: Have conversations with someone who has lived a long time; really listen to them tell their stories. Watch a documentary and try to imagine yourself living the events you witness. Visit someone's house and try to imagine living there.
The skill of empathy, when applied to a business, is extremely powerful. Large corporations spend billions just trying to understand the minds of their customers. But plowing through reams of data is not the most effective way to understand motivation. There’s a much easier way — talk to people. Ask them what they think. Make notes. Then, each time you look at any portion of your business, ask yourself how your customers will see and interpret what you show them and use the information you get from your customers to refine and improve their experiences.
As you walk around your store, look through your customer’s eyes; see everything for the first time. What words come to mind? Sophisticated? Discount? Sloppy? Beautiful? Do the same thing with your website. Are your pages clean or cluttered? Fun or serious? Educational or entertaining? Call your business and act like a potential customer. Are you getting the information you need? Does the interaction make you want to become a customer?
As you develop your brand, practicing the skill of empathy will enable your offering to resonate much more clearly and effectively with your customers. Every large corporation has gone through this process hundreds of times, then built policies and procedures to ensure that every customer experience builds the brand in the right way. If you want to see this in action, visit a McDonald’s or take a trip to Disney World — very little is left to chance, and each aspect of the business has been carefully thought through to make sure that the brand experience is unmistakable.
It’s difficult for a large company with thousands of employees and millions of customers to go through this process. They create surveys, filter vast amounts of data, monitor advertising initiatives and create branded “clubs” that provide an excuse to monitor what you purchase. But a small business owner can get close to customers in a way that large corporations can’t. This is a tremendous advantage.
If you use the skill of empathy to understand your customers it becomes much more difficult to dismiss their wants and needs. The closer you are to your customers, the more they will care about you. For most small business owners, practicing empathy with your customers is not that difficult:
- Talk to your existing customers. Ask them what they want.
- Have friends go through the process of interacting with your company as if they were strangers, then give you the benefit of their experiences.
- Listen, even when you hear things that you aren’t happy about.
- Respond in ways that build the brand you want.
Seeing your company through the eyes of your customers can provide the information you need to differentiate yourself from your competition.
Over the next few days, we’ll visit each step of the customer thought process. This exercise will guide you through the process of turning strangers into customers. There are two jobs you need to do during each phase of the customer’s mental process. Here’s a quick overview:
Before the Sale: first get attention, then create desire
During the Sale: establish value in the mind as customers evaluate your offering on its own merit and compare your offering with your competitors
After the Sale: remind customers of your value, then create or rekindle desire