Empathy is the ability to understand another person’s experience, perspective, and feelings. Empathetic leadership in the past may have been seen as an oxymoron. Leaders were strong, resolute, unflinching. But the truth is, you cannot effectively lead someone if you don’t understand them.
Leaders like Jacinda Arden, the Prime Minister of New Zealand, are proving that empathetic leadership works. Her recent re-election (a record-breaking landslide) is a testament to this, with citizens feeling like, through the many crises of 2020, she has stood with them. Her consistent approach to protecting lives and livelihoods is a good example of empathy in-action. She has created a high level of trust and confidence - exactly the style of leadership needed in a crisis.
Empathy in businessBusiness leaders too are recognizing the importance of empathetic leadership, not only with their employees but with their customers. Organizations are building this same trust and confidence in their customers by reorienting their customer experience around empathy and care. Moving beyond empty slogans and mission statements, and beginning to cultivate lasting relationships with their customers - which brings returns in the long run.
The business case for empathetic leadership is clear. 63% of customers prefer to buy from brands with values that reflect their own and will avoid brands that don’t. The most empathetic companies (as ranked by the Harvard Business Review in 2016) increased their financial values more than twice as much as the bottom 100.
Online communities and empathetic leadershipTo demonstrate empathy with customers, partners, and beyond, organizations crucially need to connect with customers and wider network. As social media becomes saturated and we learn more about how the companies that run them are operating, it is clear that trusted brands must now own their online communities, and stop borrowing space from social giants.
And this in itself is empathetic leadership - it will take leading brands to take this step, and to bring together their customers and prospects together in an owned space. A single place where people know that they can come, connect with a brand, and join in the conversation.
The pandemic has accelerated digital transformation forward several years, and we are open to new technologies, and craving a way to connect - free of ads, algorithms, and ‘surveillance capitalism’. Now is an opportune time, therefore, to build a trustworthy digital space that lays the foundations for your empathetic leadership efforts.
Therefore, with all this in mind, here are 8 ways to lead with empathy online.
8 ways to create empathy with your customers
McDonald’s, for example, recently switched to paper straws in all of its UK stores in response to rising customer concerns about the climate crisis. A customer-led campaign attracted over half a million signatures, causing McDonald’s’ leadership to take notice and commit to ditching 1.8 million plastic straws a day.
Present the human side of a business
Engage in meaningful interactions
What does resonate? Today’s consumers have value drivers that extend beyond price, quality, or convenience. They also look at the social impact of brands, how it helps their health and wellbeing, and the safety and experience of interacting with a brand.
Demonstrate your expertise
Communicate your decisions
Returning to the Jacinda Ardern example, this is exactly the approach she took when New Zealand was entering lockdown. She hosted several Facebook Live chats that were informal and informative.
Again, this tactic will pay off with greater customer spend and loyalty. Two-thirds of consumers will pay more to buy from a transparent company and 94% rank this as the greatest factor in their brand loyalty.
Demonstrate your care through company values
U.S fast-food chain Portillo’s Hot Dogs stuck to its values during the global lockdown (taking a 20% drop in revenue initially as a result). As CEO Michael Osanloo explained, "Our core values are family, greatness, energy, and fun, and those concepts have guided everything that we've done as an organization.”
When stores in some markets weren’t required to close for dine-in, the company chose to close them anyway as it was the "the right thing to do" based on their values. Leaning on the company core values is a key success factor for Osanloo - "If you're an organization that lacks a 'true north' in values, you don't know exactly what your goals are, and that's going to hurt you."
What Portillo’s lost in short-term profit, it’s gained back in customer loyalty, trust, and brand reputation - the company’s stance has been positively covered across the media.