Understanding empathy

From the June 2021 print edition

With the supply chain market evolving, suppliers and their partners are finding new ways to adapt and improve customer relationships. They are doing this by having tough conversations upfront.

There is added focus on this now more than ever. No matter what stage of the supply chain game you or the people you interact with are at, having difficult supply conversations upfront is key for today’s business progression –
be proactive, not reactive.

Here are two mission-critical methods to reinforce no matter who you interact with or the type of business you provide: clear communication and transparency. If you take those business tactics and add the basic human element of empathy, you can turn those tough year-over-year conversations from mission critical to mission success.

Most in the supply chain field have heard something like: “I need your organization to focus on communication and transparency.”

This business communication strategy is not new but the direction on how it is presented – with clarity – is the golden ticket in growing a supply relationship. It allows your interactions to be candid while turning up the volume on the right information.

For example, would your team rather know about a product shortage before it happens, or once it arrives at your back door? Everyone can agree, before it arrives. This is the difference between run-of-the-mill customer service versus customer excellence. This will lead to the new customer relationship technique of openness through effective communication and transparency.

The importance of empathy
Establish the groundwork now, then you can add empathy. Empathy can be embedded into any conversation, but when we add it to the notion of customer excellence it can take your communication and transparency from mere persuasion to a new level.

What’s empathy? It’s the ability to understand and share another’s feelings. It allows you to read people. For example, this can be from how we dress and walk, as these actions provide non-verbal cues. This understanding will allow you to interpret and comprehend your perceptions of these verbal cues.

Joe Navarro, a former FBI agent and body language expert, states that one of the biggest misconceptions of body language is when people cross their arms, often read as a blocking behaviour. It’s easy to assume a person crossing their arms is raising their defences.

It’s a common assumption but untrue. Arm crossing during a meeting is a self-comforting or self-soothing behaviour. A person is trying to comfort themselves when they are put in an awkward position in public, such as a meeting.

It’s possible to prevent this reaction by practicing empathy through clear communication and transparency. This can help to avert a defensive reaction if the other party is caught off guard.

Empathy allows people to have a positive response. This will reflect in their body language and verbal responses, allowing the person to become more open and honest. Understanding empathy is pivotal to any business relationship because it puts you in another’s shoes. Once empathy is established, it can be used to further drive both sides’ business.

Over the years I have seen many insightful businesspeople try to establish personal morality and kindness through communication and transparency. Some people have it, some don’t. However, it can be taught. People who are good
at those skills have the drive to win and win big. Morality and kindness, through the above two skills while practicing empathy, will help to make customer interactions unforgettable. This can play in your favour.

Practice customer excellence
by showing that you care. Show that you are transparent but communicate effectively and people will be more receptive to you and your ideas. Empathy, through communication and transparency, is one of the best business tactics around and makes someone a great salesperson, team member, leader or helps them excel in a customer-facing role. However, it is under-utilized in favour of the more traditional soft approach in order not to disappoint, upset or anger potential customers. Empathy allows you to change that individual’s perception from where they want to be, to where they need to be. I have used these tactics over the years, and they’ve helped my customer relationships grow stronger. Both parties drive better and exceed target results year-over-year.

Practicing customer excellence though communication and transparency while using empathy can become a game changer. By understanding how your communication brings value to your interactions with customers, you set yourself
up for success on a higher level, benefiting both parties.

Through these tactics, you can form a unique business relationship that will last and get you to “mission accomplished.” Retention is now the focus. Obtain this by providing excellent customer interactions. Practice strong communication, be transparent through your interactions and be understanding by practicing empathy. It will turn customer service into customer excellence.

James Kenney is senior customer replenishment – Canada Lead, at Blue Buffalo Canada.