Communicating Empathy in the Experience
By Mary Aviles
Earlier this year we wrote about customer satisfaction metric: Net Easy. As an attribute, ease of use has always been important, but the interest in Net Easy suggests that more clients are interested in A) measuring to what degree (if at all) their customers experience ease and B) uncovering specific related insights. This school of thought, combined with some others we have blogged about earlier this year concerning the Year of the Customer, has me thinking about EMPATHY. In our research practice, we spend time trying to understand what various behaviors/elements/experiences COMMUNICATE to customers/patients/shoppers/employees/etc. What we find time and again is that EASE communicates EMPATHY. An easy experience communicates an understanding that customers are chronically short on time whether they’re small business owners, mothers, patients--whether they're banking, having a billing issue, setting up cable service, etc. An easy experience communicates that the entity values the customer and their relationship with the brand/company/product, etc.
Easy to use/do business with is an attribute. But, EASE is a benefit that people truly appreciate and EMPATHY instills emotional engagement that people remember and share with others. Consider a recent client engagement: small business owners are telling this client that they need an easier purchase decision, that the onboarding process could be made even easier. In essence, they need more 'trip assurance' before they pull the trigger. As marketers, we need to figure out how to meet those needs.
Expressing customer empathy via a brand experience is of particular importance because the brand itself is a actually a collection of experiences that develop into an overall perception. It's even more important if brands themselves are becoming less relevant, as Hub Magazine surmises:
"In a recent book called Absolute Value, Itamar Simonson and Emanuel Rosen 'argue that consumers are becoming less rational and need brands less.' Their essential contention is that brands are declining in importance because of all the information now available online means 'brands are less needed as a mental shortcut.'"
John Maeda (partner at Kleiner Perkins) looks at the same issue through the lens of DESIGN. He sees thoughtful--even participatory--design as a means of expressing empathy. In this image, excerpted from his video on How Moore's Law is Influencing Design, he illustrates the tension we often uncover during research. Participants want MORE while also wanting LESS. Maeda considers design (or an intentionally-designed experience) as a means of balancing this dichotomy. His position is that design helps people DECIDE. In fact, in healthcare circles a similar school of thought suggests that patient satisfaction problems are really design problems.
There's an inherent competitive consideration as well. Ray Poynter discusses this idea as Democratizing the Brand. He cites Amazon and P&G as examples of companies that understand "customers are a brand’s last, best source of competitive advantage." After all, everything is relative.
Are you easier to deal with than your competitors? And easier in a unique way? Could you differentiate based on ease? Are you involving your customers/patients in design? Are you thinking in terms of design when it comes to experiences for your customers?