Empathy can be about ‘wow moments’, too

Empathy is still big news for businesses. A couple of weeks ago, one of Lloyds Banking Group’s directors stirred some fierce debate when he said ad agencies can’t write, citing the e-word in his justification.

So – as many ad execs must now be frantically wondering – what does it mean to be empathetic? In last year’s event on death, debt and serious stuff, we talked about when companies tend to get it wrong. Passing bereaved customers from pillar to post; labeling people struggling to pay their bill as ‘debtors’; replying to a complaint with long-winded waffle.

If you’re going to be more empathetic as an organisation, you need to iron out these trickier moments. And although that’s a non-negotiable, it’s not the be-all-and-end-all. Empathy can also be about going above and beyond for customers; about adding wow moments.

Let’s move elegantly from Lloyds Bank to er, Los Angeles

 In The Power of Moments by Chip and Dan Heath, they talk about the Magic Kingdom Hotel in Hollywood. Alongside big names like the Beverly Hills Hotel and the Hotel Bel Air, this place gets some of the highest TripAdvisor scores in the area.

If you google the hotel, this might be a surprise: it looks like any budget holiday place – bright yellow walls and dated furniture. How does somewhere so cheap and cheerful earn its rave reviews?

Two words. Popsicle hotline. There’s a bright red phone by the pool: all you have to do is pick it up, say the magic words (‘I’ll have the blue one’), and a waiter in white gloves delivers a popsicle on a silver platter to your sun lounger. Free of charge.

It’s a tiny moment, but it’s perfectly – and empathetically – placed. You’re sweltering in the Californian sun, you’re parched from schlepping down the strip: what could be better than a popsicle? And you’re a tourist, dying for the Hollywood experience: silver platters and white gloves are exactly it.

The hotel has thought about their guests and how they’re feeling at that moment, and designed a wow moment to fit. And the reviews show it puts the ‘magic’ into Magic Castle Hotel for customers.

Okay, so this isn’t new news – people have been ‘delighting the customer’ for years

Or trying to, at least. But if you’re going through journey maps and incessantly asking ‘how could we delight the customer here?’ at every stage, the Heaths say you’re doing it wrong:

‘Magic Castle isn’t worried about changing the awful yellow colour of the building or upgrading the bathrooms. Its managers are thinking about doing a couple of things during a stay that will really stand out in guests’ minds. That’s an advantage, because then you don’t have to excel at everything. You only have to excel at a few things that are memorable.’

In other words, you don’t have to try to put these empathetic wow moments in place at every turn (‘how are guests feeling when they first walk in their room? Shall we add a confetti canon?!’). You only have to do a few.

Behavioural scientists call it the Peak End rule

It says that when we look back on an experience, all we really remember is the most intense part (the high or lowlight – in this case, the popsicle hotline), and the end.

In other words, customers can forgive a meh experience if you add one stand-out moment. And often, these moments can be comms-shaped. For example, doesn’t it make your heart flutter just a little when your online order arrives with a nice little sentence on the side? I love it so much, I take photos when it happens:

Bloom and Wild Brewdog Rick Stein

And okay, maybe I need to get out more, but well done BrewDog, Rick Stein and Bloom & Wild all the same. It’s empathy in action: understanding that a customer might feel excited at this moment, and making the most of that with a cleverly-worded sentence or two.

Empathy is about being there in sickness and in health; the good times and the bad. So yes, you need to clear up your complaints comms and simplify your bereavement process. Just don’t forget the wow moments along the way – it might be as easy as sticking some words on a box.

(And if you’re interested in empathy, here’s Alan’s take on why you don’t need training in it.)

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