Forrester Wave Report
Leslie Stretch, Medallia CEO, and Borge Hald, Medallia Founder, Reflect on Being Named A Leader by Forrester in The Forrester Wave™ Customer Feedback Management Platforms, Q4 2018 Elena:...
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Growing up, my brother was autistic. Autism affects different people in different ways, but for him, what it meant was that he couldn’t communicate well — particularly his emotions. He could tell you factual things: “I went to the park. I ate lunch.” What he would have trouble telling you was “I feel unhappy because I was left out of a group activity at school”. Because he couldn’t express this, we would often continue to do things to upset him simply because we didn’t know — until, of course, it reached a breaking point.
This would often culminate in public tantrums. This was particularly tough for my parents; they had trouble understanding what he wanted. And so I often found myself taking on the role of trying to build that understanding. At first, I would try to just guess; often, I’d be wrong. Over time, my approach changed, and the guesses became more accurate. What I’d do: I’d go back in time to understand the set of experiences he had. I would walk a mile in his shoes: retrace his steps to get to where he is today. “You’ve spent three hours with family friends; it’s difficult for you to get along with them and you feel drained. So you’d like to spend some time alone to recharge?” By becoming better at understanding what had happened, I became more attuned to the emotions associated with those experiences and testing what to do next.
The reason I tell you this story is that I believe there’s a parallel here in the world of business. Traditionally, business has relied heavily on personal connections. Your bank may be terrible, but if your banker goes out of his way to make things work for you — you stay with the bank. Because there’s a human there, he’ll ask you how you’re feeling; he’ll see that things aren’t working and go about making it right. In effect, an organization’s frontline could effectively make up for the failures in the system.
But as the world transitions to digital, this is completely changing. Fifteen or twenty years ago, you ask people about a great experience and they’d tell you about individual interactions they had with staff — the airline host who helped a mother when her child was sick. Now, you ask that same question, and people talk about Amazon, because they don’t have to interact with anyone — it just works. In this world, your customers aren’t engaging with your frontline staff; instead, they’re engaging with you through your online channels. Nobody’s going to be there to see they’re upset, or that they can’t do what they want to do. And they won’t tell you they’re unhappy — there’s no frontline “valve” for them to express it to. They’ll just leave.
In effect, the world is becoming more autistic.
Given how critical empathy has been to the success of businesses in the physical world, finding a way of continuing to enable it to happen in the digital era is essential. It’s all about putting yourself in your customers’ shoes. There are three key components to ensuring you remain empathetic in the digital era:
It would be a serious mistake to think that as the world is moving to digital, empathy is becoming less important. If anything, it’s the opposite. It’s just the means of you getting to empathy are changing — and you need to make sure you’re not missing one of the most critical traits to competitive success in the digital era.
Photo Credit: Alex Guibord