You are hearing, but are you listening?

I have a confession to make: I rarely miss an episode of The Apprentice. I know, I know… this is only a pseudo-business programme where pseudo-business men and women get rewarded for short-term success and their ability to shift blame. But occasionally – very occasionally – there are some good, simple lessons to be learned.

Last week, a very plain but often ignored lesson came from none other than Stuart Baggs, ‘The Brand’. It was a lesson on the value of empathy. In Braggs’s case, it was about making an effort to speak the local language, showing an interest in the local food, and slowing down when talking with foreigners.

Empathy is all about understanding what the person in front of you (or at the other end of the phone, or behind a tweet or a blog post) thinks or feels. It is not whether the price is x, or the waiting time is y, or the process is z; but what any of these aspects of the interaction represent to the customer – in other words, to speak their language. Empathy is key to the development of good relationships with customers. For instance, rapport is positively related to customer satisfaction with service delivery; whereas the likelihood of successful service failure recovery increases when customers feel that the employee really listened to them and took their complaints seriously. Conversely, financial compensation may not be enough to offset poor employee-customer interaction during the complaining process.

First Direct invests about two-thirds of induction time on developing new employees’ empathy and other aspects of emotional intelligence – this is also the company that leads the customer satisfaction rankings in the UK banking sector!

Does your organisation invest in developing the emotional intelligence of its members?

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