The ROI of Empathy

When dealing with a market as competitive as the current one, the bottom line can sometimes trump the demands of your followers. However, as I learned in a webinar from Social Today, you can get excellent ROI by focusing on your customers.

Webinar Summary

The two main speakers were Executive Consultant for Marketing and Internet Services for Kaiser Permanente Tim Kieschnick and Senior Vice President of Customer Experience for Fidelity Personal and Workplace Investing Parrish Arturi. Both work within industries, finance and health insurance respectively, that are increasingly toeing the line between customer satisfaction and driving profits. What’s worse is due to the recent housing market and financial crisis, their industries are main targets for dissenters who have caught a raw end of the deal. To put it simply: empathy is essential to keeping a company in the black.

The main thing I took away from hearing these industry leaders speak was that empathy has three main components: listening, understanding and caring.

A company can listen to the complaints a customer has but it doesn’t make any difference if they aren’t willing to understand and care about those complaints. They can listen and understand, but you’re not getting anywhere if you don’t care. These are simple concepts, but the idea of empathy for your consumer or customer needs to be ingrained into your brand’s strategy from the beginning, or you’re not going to be successful. As Kieschnick puts it, “You can be successful in the short term without empathy, if you’re lucky, but in the long term you can’t be, even if you are lucky.”

Mr. Arturi agreed, adding that the idea is to have the capacity to recognize emotions, and brands that are successful are those that can recognize and act on their customers’ emotions.

Real Life Examples of Wrong and Right

I agree, it seems like common sense that in order for a brand to succeed they need to listen and adapt based on customer feedback.

Doing it Wrong

Some brands may have missed the memo. Case in point: Ryanair.

Ryanair is a discount airline based out of Dublin, Ireland that flies to destinations throughout Europe. There had been mumblings and grumblings about the company’s poor customer service, from fees on printing boarding passes to poor interaction with airline attendants. The already volatile situation came to a head in August 2012.

A customer, Suzy McLeod, complained on the brand’s Facebook page about having to spend more than 200 Euros to print her families boarding passes. The post itself reached over 350,000 likes and 18,000 comments. This, it would seem, would be a major problem but also a time where the company could engage their fans with empathy and help change their image. Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary took the matter in his own hands when he responded by saying, “We think Ms. McLeod should have to pay 60 euros for being so stupid.”


This is an example of what not to do. O’Leary wasn’t listening to his customers’ problems, certainly didn’t understand their anger and frustration, and definitely didn’t care. Given this quick look at their Facebook page it would seem that the issues haven’t been addressed and the problems with the brand continue to mount. In this age of feedback being broadcast across social networks in the blink of an eye, Ryanair’s strategy needs to be addressed quickly and injected with a boatload of empathy.

Doing it Right

Luckily, there are plenty of companies out there that understand the need for empathy when it comes to great customer service. And, just as consumers are quick to call a brand out on poor behavior, they can also be generous about sharing great customer service experiences online.

We recently came across an example of how one company is doing customer service right when a Reddit user shared a screenshot of a conversation he had with a Netflix representative. The conversation itself is too long to share in this post, but here’s a sample:

Netflix Customer Service

You can read the entire conversation if you like. To give you the highlights of the interaction, when the customer contacted Netflix with questions about their new SuperHD and 3D offerings, he received a response that was not only helpful, but also friendly and empathetic. The Netflix customer service representatives that helped him answered his questions and then went above and beyond expectations by taking the time to chat about their mutual interest in anime. They essentially gabbed like teenage girls.

The customer was satisfied with Netflix’s friendly, detailed response to his specific question. But, what made this exchange stand out to the point that he wanted to share it on Reddit was the extra effort the Netflix rep made to recommend anime titles he knew the customer would like. I’m sure the Netflix rep was not expecting that private conversation to turn into an excellent public relations move, but companies should know that, in the world of social, the lines between privacy and sharing are very easy to cross.

Have you had a great, or not-so-great, social experience with a brand? Tell us about it in the comments below.

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