The concept of using empathy to nurture the customer’s emotional journey was introduced in 1994 by Lou Carbone who wrote, “Engineering Customer Experience.” Then in 2011, Forrester Research announced the “age of the customer.” While the customer experience––and moreover, the customer’s emotional journey––is not a new concept, the practice of using empathy to improve that experience has historically been left to the B2C sector.
Until recently, B2B brands have put more stock in business values, crediting objective decision making for brand loyalty. But numbers show that emotional decision making has intensified in businesses.
Why? Because business decision makers are human, and humans are emotional. Because buying decisions often involve several stakeholders, multiplying the human factor. And because when those B2B stakeholders make purchases, they risk more than everyday consumers do: large investments, productivity, professional reputation and job security.
Empathy in the customer’s emotional journey became a brand differentiator after a 2013 study showed that 7 of 9 businesses had emotional connections with more than 50% of their business customers.
Empathy is now table stakes
As is often the case, what was once a brand differentiator has become the new normal.
The COVID pandemic has stimulated the empathy movement in the B2B market, disrupting how B2B buyers and sellers interact, intensifying the need for humanity and establishing empathy as the new normal.
In 2021, B2B businesses must embrace empathy to guide their customer’s emotional journey or fall behind.
What is empathy?
Empathy is the ability to view a situation from someone else’s perspective. Psychologists Daniel Goleman and Paul Ekman identified three components of empathy: cognitive, emotional and compassionate.
- Cognitive empathy is acquiring complete knowledge of a person’s thoughts and feelings to accurately understand their emotions.
- Emotional empathy is the physiological response to another person’s emotions, feeling their emotions as your own.
- Compassionate empathy is what moves us to act.
How B2B brands gain empathy
Let’s discuss how a B2B company gains empathy for their business customers.
Gain an understanding of your customer’s emotional journey by picking up the phone and talking to customers and/or listening to recorded calls. Educator Edgar Dale theorizes that we remember 20% of what we hear. That means that we aren’t actively listening to 80% of what we’re told.
Here’s how brands can improve listening skills:
- Give your customer your full attention
- Visualize the situation from your customer’s position
- Keep an open mind – don’t judge or assume
- Don’t interrupt—wait for a pause and ask clarifying questions
- Provide feedback and validation
Look at key performance indicators (KPIs) on social media, email, website click through rate (CTR) to understand how customers respond, and to what content. Pay attention to market research and customer feedback on social media, reviews and customer satisfaction surveys.
Develop a customer persona
Know who your customer is and develop a customer persona. Brands can put together a customer persona by gathering results from surveys and interviews, discussions with sales and customer services teams, analytics from websites and social media and information from market research.
The data gathered should answer the following questions:
- What are your customer’s values? Values include professional goals, time concerns, budgets, beliefs and social relationships that determine what you communicate and how you do it.
- Where and how will they interact with you? Knowing where customers are located and what devices they use to interact with you determines what format your communication will take and what accommodations you need to make.
- What are your customers’ pain points? Know what prevents a potential client from doing business with you and what problems current clients encounter with your product/service in order to troubleshoot and eliminate these pain points. What business challenges do your clients face that your products solve?
- What influencers affect your customer’s choices? Identify who your business clients trust and where they look for information and solutions.
- What is your customer’s purchasing process? Know how buying decisions are made, where your customer stands in the decision-making process and what might prevent a purchase.
Use your customer personas as reference points to ensure your ads, emails and content will interest and accommodate your audience. Personas are also the first step toward developing an empathy map.
Develop an empathy map
An empathy map is a visual tool that teams use to better understand customers’ emotional triggers at specific stages of the journey. It evaluates the customer’s tasks, influences, risks, goals and pain points and maps what the customer sees, hears, says and does during that stage in the journey.
Before mapping the customer’s journey, know who the customer is (the persona), the stage where he/she is in the journey and the desired outcome. The desired outcome can be what success looks like for the customer, or what the customer needs to change or decide. Use the data gathered from active listening, KPIs and marketing research to note what your customer sees, hears, says and does at each stage in the journey.
Once you’ve mapped the customer journey, explore what the customer thinks and feels. Unless the customer has specifically expressed certain feelings, you will infer thoughts and feelings from what the customer sees, hears, says and does.
Understanding the customer’s emotional drivers empowers brands to better understand the customer’s journey and the obstacles they encounter along the way. So armed, brands can incorporate empathy into the customer journey.
How brands incorporate empathy into the B2B customer’s emotional journey
Once B2B companies gain empathy, how do they work it into their sales and marketing processes?
Provide empathetic responses and feedback. Responding with empathy means using understanding, validation and compassion in your response.
Infuse empathy into your brand story. Develop a storytelling narrative that solves your customers’ pain points and humanizes your brand. Use authenticity and transparency to gain your customers’ trust.
Develop empathetic content. Decide which emotional triggers content should respond to, and write content that connects to your customer’s point of view, thoughts and feelings.
Empathy training. Train sales, marketing and customer service staff to listen to, understand and respond to your customers with empathetic problem solving.
The COVID pandemic has been a catalyst, making it necessary for brands to guide their customer’s emotional journey with empathy. Today, it’s the new normal.
In sales and marketing, empathy is more than just viewing a B2B situation from your customer’s perspective. It’s more than understanding what drives a decision maker to make a purchase. It’s listening, humanizing, building trust and providing a quick and effective solution. It’s complete transparency and authenticity.