Use Empathy to Win Your Customers’ Brains

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Dr. Nikolaos Dimitriadis, Development Director, Executive Development Institute, The University of Sheffield International Faculty, City College

Q&A: Three Questions for Dr. Nikolaos Dimitriadis

1. What does the expression “to step in client’s shoes” mean from an empathetic, cognitive and business point of view?
This is a key aspect of empathy: the ability to step out of your own reality and think how other people perceive reality as well. Seeing reality through other people’s eyes means asking questions such as: What are their thoughts and feelings? What are their individual needs and wants? And how all these differ from yours? This is actually what is called Cognitive Empathy because it requires a conscious effort to abandon any ego-centric view of the world and to acknowledge that other people might think and feel different. In business this is absolutely crucial because it is through cognitive empathy that we engage in meaningful research and analytics to discover how our clients, partners and employees experience our company, its products and services, and its culture. Those distinct groups might perceive our actions and offerings in a unique way that might not correspond with ours. The first step for every business person into cognitive empathy is the simple realization of this fact: you need to take the other person’s perspective in order to make better decisions. This is easier said than done though!

2. Does this mean interlock and if yes – in what way?
Interlock is a related concept to empathy but it has more to do with emotions than thoughts. Empathy actually refers to three brain processes: thinking about what others might be thinking and feeling (cognitive empathy), feeling automatically what others are felling (emotional empathy) and acting intuitively to help others in need (compassionate empathy).  From those three types of empathy, interlock is closer to our brain’s ability to share emotions with other people and feel what they feel without consciously thinking about it. Actually, interlock happens when those shared emotions are very intense and a person is depended on another to feel those emotions. Sharing of emotions is crucial in the process of bonding. In companies, building a customer community and creating loyalty is more related to our ability to demonstrate that we share emotions with our clients than on “tricks” such as loyalty cards. Companies need to share deeply their clients’ emotions and prove they do so! That is the only way for clients to connect with them!

3. Are SEE leaders more ready to step in their clients shoes compared to the others and how can cognitive insights and cognitive technologies help SEE leaders to be better at stepping in their clients’ shoes? 
Research shows that still many business people worldwide fail to admit that their own opinions are just a subjective take on the world and not an objective one. Actually, the stronger and better we feel about ourselves compared to others the less we can empathize with them and the less we can step into their shoes. This creates a paradox: the “stronger” the leader the lower the ability to empathize. We have to urgently re-consider the ways we approach our clients by practicing all three types of empathy. Appropriate cognitive processes need to be established in order to ensure we do not make assumptions and jump into conclusions by using our own knowledge, experience and intentions as guides. Lowering our ego is the key here. We need less bravado in business and more genuine care for others. Apart from a new empathetic mindset, technology can also help. Cognitive systems, like the ones developed by IBM, will provide a great ally to our brains for thinking, feeling and acting with empathy. Welcome to the Empathy Economy!

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Development Director, Executive Development Institute, The University of Sheffield International Faculty, City College

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