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Customer Empathy: Critical to the Goal of Consumer-Centricity

Buzz around “consumer-centricity” and “customer obsession” is ubiquitous. The implication of this ethos is that brands that are customer obsessed are able to deliver better, more successful products and create more effective marketing. Being customer-centric, however, requires that brands (and all of the stakeholders across the enterprise) develop a deep understanding of their customers’ perspectives, aspirations, and motivations.

Enter customer empathy. In life, the role of empathy in relationships is obvious. It motivates benevolent behavior and mutually beneficial engagement. When brands practice consumer empathy, they strive to understand the feelings, thoughts, and experiences of their customers. The motivation is to create the products and messaging that speak to consumers’ needs. While it obviously has positive outcomes for everyone — customers included — it is, in fact, imperative for consumer-centricity, and a major factor in driving brand growth.

Customer empathy isn’t really a new concept, but it has been so-labeled in recent years. Empathy in customer service has been a long-employed mission statement by many B2C companies, but even beyond the B2C space, consumer empathy has been experimented with more recently in product development. 

In the last 20 years, brands adopted methodologies to include “Voice of the Customer” in product and services development. The tools to develop this were crude, but the intent was to ensure that brands were developing products that consumers actually wanted to use, and ultimately to instill brand loyalty, because consumers felt good about the brand.

Whether it was analyzing call center logs or conducting focus groups, in the early days of “Voice of the Customer,” the unstructured qualitative data of customer engagement was messy and difficult to share across the enterprise. The left hand didn’t know what the right hand was doing, and today this still results in key insights not being easily shared across the organization. Decisions based on a sincere appreciation of how the consumer really felt could not be made quickly on a global basis.

Along came “big data” and the promise of an incontrovertible, single source of truth in helping to understand consumer behavior. An increasing focus on the complete “customer experience” moved to the forefront of brand goals.  In an ideal world, big data could be parsed and analyzed, modeled and mined for its predictive power to drive brand growth. Brands could get a proper feel for what consumers were doing, and everybody in the enterprise could use the insights to make decisions.

But in all practicality, the qualitative “Voice of the Consumer” and the empathetic understanding of why consumers feel the way that they do — and how and why they act on those emotions was still opaque to most stakeholders.

Many brands have been pondering this dilemma for a while in order to drive business growth. They are seeking to augment their big data initiatives by launching consumer empathy programs that draw on an age-old truth: the best way to achieve empathy is through one-to-one conversations.

On the surface, enabling empathy-fueled conversations might sound like a subjective “nice to have,” right? On the contrary, it is mission-critical for brands who need to rise to category challenges, create global marketing campaigns that resonate, and increase sales beyond growth norms. Previously, the obstacles to enable real-time conversations with consumers were insurmountable. This is especially true when brands need to act quickly on a global scale, across many decision points in the customer journey.

Empathetic conversations need to be conducted firsthand by all stakeholders, actively and personally engaging with consumers about all aspects of their lives. In the siloed environment of most companies, some stakeholders still have little to no access to consumers in order to engage in this most fundamental act of engagement.

If brands wish to harness empathy for the consumer as a tool for decision support across the enterprise, they need to include nontraditional stakeholders in the conversation. And to achieve optimal consumer-centricity, brands need to empower all stakeholders with the tools to make “empathy” actionable, global, at scale and in real time. Newer, live video-based platforms are providing exciting ways for brands to realize this vision.

Working with our clients, we are helping to facilitate conversations that are iterative, flexible, scalable and not limited by geography. We enable stakeholders across all business disciplines to connect with consumers face-to-face online, in order to achieve a rapid and deep-seated understanding of their perspectives and behaviors. This “agile empathy” enables brands to make better real-time decisions, leading to reduced time-to-market, more effective marketing and successful products.

Employing empathy through conversations with consumers will be the single best way to optimize consumer-centricity to tackle the business challenges faced within your organization. Start a conversation with us to learn more about how Discuss can help you to address those challenges.

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