Relevance Starts with Empathy

Walking in your customers' shoes as a competitive advantage

The perfect outfit for the perfect event

Having clothing custom made has been a rare experience for me. With one notable exception.

The photo above was taken at my wedding in the Outer Banks here in North Carolina. I wore my dress blues, made custom to me, as I was still in the Army then.

(note: my wife’s dress was also custom made, by her mother from scratch; and yes, I married up)

If you’ve ever had a piece of clothing made or tailored for you, you know how precise the measurements are. The whole process takes place in front of a full-length mirror. There’s an assessment before and after of how the clothes look.

But a good tailor or seamstress also focuses on how the clothes make you feel. Shows like “Say Yes to the Dress” demonstrate how much emotion and feelings can affect consumer experience. (I swear I only watched walking through the room). Even discounting for reality TV, how someone feels can still be more important than anything else.

Understanding how something is received* is the key to winning in the market on experience or service.

In Walter Icaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs, he cites a memo Job’s mentor Mike Markkula wrote him that drove Job’s approach to customers and products.

“Markkula wrote his principles in a one-page paper titled “The Apple Marketing Philosophy” that stressed three points. The first was empathy, an intimate connection with the feelings of the customer: “We will truly understand their needs better than any other company.” The second was focus: “In order to do a good job of those things that we decide to do, we must eliminate all of the unimportant opportunities.” The third and equally important principle, awkwardly named, was impute. It emphasized that people form an opinion about a company or product based on the signals that it conveys. “People DO judge a book by its cover,” he wrote. “We may have the best product, the highest quality, the most useful software etc.; if we present them in a slipshod manner, they will be perceived as slipshod; if we present them in a creative, professional manner, we will impute the desired qualities.”

Empathy, focus, and “imputing”.

In banking and financial services, this is best seen in the ability to personalize. When you allow your customers to feel like your offer is built for them.

A perfect fit tailored to their needs.

Doing this well requires empathy. It demands seeing every interaction from their perspective. Also, the focus and thought to use it wherever they touch your brand. Branch, ATM, mobile, web, partner. To use the fancy term - omnichannel.

To excel at this you must use all of the information and context you know about a customer to make that next interaction relevant, meaningful, and effortless.

Easy said. Hard to do.

People feel seen in situations where empathy is in play. A customer frantically searches your site for how to report fraud, and when they call, the first thing they hear is “to report fraud, press 1”. They know they are in good hands.

Using customer data to empathize and create interactions like that is a competitive advantage. And the tech isn’t the hard part. You already have the data.

Putting the customer’s feelings ahead of everything else is.

More importantly, it’s the most valuable part and what can set you apart.

*this can also be defined as design thinking

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