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The Next Evolutionary Step in Customer Experience

Empathy is going to be a key differentiator as businesses compete for customers.

The growing number of Millennials in the workforce today (80 million and counting in North America alone) are rapidly redefining the rules of customer experience and company policy. Companies that have been innovators in the customer experience arena, such as Costco and Southwest Airlines, have reaped some of the most notable benefits so far in workplace satisfaction, favorable media exposure and revenue.Understanding Business Experience Management

So what is the secret component in this next evolutionary step in customer experience? According to researchers, it’s empathy.

Gartner Research found that 89% of businesses surveyed are currently competing primarily through the basis of customer experiences, and it has projected that 50% or more of product investments will be redirected toward customer experience innovations by 2017 (Gartner Predicts a Customer Experience Battlefield).

Why the heavy investments in customer experience? You can thank social media, for one. With the rise of platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, a company’s values are now on display 24/7. Larger businesses are expected to have dedicated branches of their public relations departments ready to engage publicly with customers at all times. Tweets and status updates about a company’s stance or policy have frequently made front-page news, and customers seem to care just as much about a company’s values as they do its products.


The Rise of Empathy

The act of patronizing a business that reflects one’s values is now an integral part of the customer experience. The rise of what companies claim to stand for explains in part why empathy has suddenly become such a valuable commodity.

From a public relations standpoint, how a company provides an empathetic environment and chooses to invest in its workforce is now synonymous with outward mission statements that were previously directed primarily at customers. A company’s proclamation to offer employees health care, education opportunities and competitive wages now serves as much as an advertisement for customers as it does to prospective employees. However, the benefits of empathetic leadership seem to extend beyond just brand image and public relations.

The New York Times article from February of this year “What Google Learned From Its Quest to Build the Perfect Team” highlights the two correlating behaviors found in successful teams: excellent communication skills and empathy. Additionally, the University of Southern California Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism surveyed a broad range of industries and Fortune 50 companies asking what the most important skill an executive must have. The trait of empathy ranked repeatedly among the five most sought-after traits, sitting alongside such traits as adaptability and intellectual curiosity.


The Cycle

What term or phrase can we use to summarize this developing interplay between empathetic management and customer experience innovations? We propose business experience management. BEM encompasses the relationship between both the employees’ and customers’ experience of a business. Companies with the foresight to implement strong BEM practices naturally produce more pride in their workers. Pride, in turn, leads to more genuine interactions with customers and creates a consistent flow of feedback. Frequent and relevant feedback helps create an environment that can better decipher a customer’s journey.

From initially mapping out the experience of a brick and mortar location to analyzing the experiences of web spaces, companies utilizing BEM can more accurately interpret and influence current and future customer experiences. With BEM, a savvy, empathetic and emotionally intelligent workforce enables companies to accurately predict and prepare for the customer journey—regardless of the medium.

Matt Davidson headshotJohn Hart headshotJohn Hart and Matthew Davidson are founding partners of Acumen Innovation, an Ontario, Canada-based consulting firm dedicated to providing long-term customer experience solutions to businesses of any size. They have more than 20 years of combined customer-experience management and analytic skills in hospitality and sales industries. They welcome questions, comments or suggestions on this column at