Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another person. In the travel industry in particular, the ability to be empathetic is a highly valuable interpersonal skill. When handling stressful situations such as overbooked hotels, flight cancellations, or stranded passengers in unfamiliar environments, empathetic employees are more likely to be successful in defusing these situations.
We’ll explore the key steps to help leaders create empathic environments and employees communicate better with customers.
Our brains typically respond to stress by shutting down areas related to long-term survival such as immunity, empathy, and even analytical thinking to concentrate on quick reactions. When under stress, we are programmed to be less compassionate and less creative. Adding front-line employees who are not authorized to stray from company policies creates a perfect storm for confrontations with customers.
This has led to increasingly public incidents where angry customers broadcast their complaints, which reflects negatively on brands and drives down revenue. Sending a memo reminding associates to treat guests with empathy is not enough. To teach empathy, you have to incorporate it into the learning and training process, measure the progress, and provide refresher courses. It’s not a one-and-done initiative.
As such, industry leaders are taking action to help employees better connect with customers and deliver superb experiences. To make it work, senior leaders must lead by example, and encourage all employees to balance operational needs with customer needs. The following steps can help companies cultivate an empathetic workforce.
1. Make empathy a part of company culture. Preaching empathy to employees is not enough. Make empathy an organizational value and put it into practice. Model empathy by being empathic with employees, so they can be empathic with clients. Encourage and reward examples of empathy and find tools that support it.
2. Find the empathy gaps. Examine the touchpoints of the customer journey and identify the empathy gaps. Social media chatter, recordings, survey responses, metrics like churn rate and CSAT, as well as employee and customer anecdotes, can point to situations where empathetic responses are missing, and help you to find out why. Build on what works, abandon what doesn’t, and share results with the entire organization to build momentum.
3. Reverse-engineer the problem. Review past situations where empathy was needed and recast the scenario. Ask questions such as, what would have been a more appropriate response? How might the outcome have been different if the customer had received this response from the employee? What prevented the employee from providing such a response, and how can it be resolved?
4. Provide customer-centric training. Employees need policies, procedures, and regulations. By the same token, it must be recognized that rules don’t cover all scenarios. Associates can benefit from leaders and managers who give them leeway to make decisions.
For more tips on how to create an empathetic environment that drives customer satisfaction and loyalty, check out our white paper, 7 Ways to Improve Travel Experiences Through Empathy.