Hopefully you’re lucky enough to have known someone (even better still know someone) who just had a knack for seeming to understand exactly where you were coming from. It was almost as if they could feel what you were feeling and, because of that, you felt connected to that person. But most of all, you felt you could trust that person.
What we’re talking about is empathy. Empathy is essentially an ability to both identify with as well as understand, without judging, another’s beliefs, feelings, trials, and tribulations. Daniel Goleman in his book “Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships” describes empathy as “knowing another’s feelings; feeling what that person feels; and responding compassionately to another’s distress.”
What’s interesting about empathy from a business perspective is that, although we are living in an increasingly “digital” and “virtual” world where customers and clients have access to zillions of facts about whatever products or services we may offer – when it comes to selling your specific product or service over that of your competitors, empathy can make all the difference. In other words, your prospect is likely to choose the product or service from the small business that displays an ability empathize with that client’s specific circumstances, beliefs, and feelings.
In other words, your customer wants you to connect with them. They want to know you “get” them before you can ever hope to get them as a customer. But you can’t put the cart before the horse. Empathy isn’t something you can “pretend” to be. Empathy is a behavior that you must demonstrate to a prospect in order to establish the rapport necessary for them to begin to trust you, your business, and what you have to offer them.
Establishing an Empathetic Connection With Your Customer
Establishing empathy takes time. Depending on the nature of your business “time” can mean anything from a five minute conversation to a five month (even five year) courtship.
There are a many ways to help establish empathy, but these three are at the core when it comes to building empathetic relationships with your customers.
Listen. Of all the interpersonal skills necessary to establish empathetic rapport, the ability to listen to your customer is the most important. When you take time to listen to your customer you communicate that you are sincerely interested in helping them.
Ask questions. When listening to your customers asking open ended questions lets them know that you want to hear more. Questions also indicate that you’re not there to “sell” them, your there to listen and understand them. When your customer answers questions such as “How did that make you feel?” or “What happened next?” or “What do you think you should do now?” they provide greater insight into your customer’s needs and problems and the customer is likely to be increasingly more transparent about what they need.
Share stories. When you share stories that resonate with the story your customer shares with you, that customer comes to understand that you do “get” what where they are coming from. That you truly identify with what they are feeling. A story of a similar situation tells the customer that you have shared experiences which increases their ability to trust and connect with you.
When you react and respond to customers with empathy you differentiate your business from that of your competitors. On the other hand, when you respond to a customer’s needs or problems by immediately identifying you can sell them a product or service that meets their needs or solves their problems that customer is likely to see your business as “just another” fill in the blank. In other words your business is a commodity rather than an entity they can trust to serve their best interests.
Again, empathy isn’t something that can be faked. Try faking it and watch your prospective customer retreat from you. Empathy, however, can be learned. And the best way to do that is to listen to your customers, ask questions, and share stories.