Some people may think that empathy in business is extraneous. That it’s irrelevant in a cutthroat world where only the most cold-hearted tycoons thrive. Many even mistakenly believe that empathy means being “soft” or unable to make hard business decisions.
Yet, in reality, empathy is a business skill that is absolutely critical to IACC venue operator's success. Empathy enables the best venue sales person to understand, or even anticipate, another event organiser’s needs – to be able to identify the factors that will motivate a person to select a venue and connect in a way that instils trust. And it creates leaders in hospitality who inspire teams to better performance.
Empathy is also a skill facing a deficit, given today’s increasing dependence on digital communication and shrinking opportunities to develop interpersonal skills. But Belinda Parmar, CEO of the Empathy Business and pioneer of the world's first empathy index, wants to change that.
Belinda will be the keynote speaker for IACC’s Europe Knowledge Festival taking place in London, UK in September, where she will discuss why empathy is important for success in today’s meetings industry and how venue businesses can foster empathy.
Empathy is about understanding
In an article Belinda wrote for the Guardian newspaper, she recounts a story of a former boss who told her, “Take my advice, Belinda: you'll never get to the top in this business if you spend all your time worrying about feelings. You've just got to sell, sell, sell."
She’s proven him wrong there. Belinda has helped many global businesses make real changes, drawing on tangible ‘nudges’ to improve their empathy levels and drive profit. Her efforts have helped companies stem a backlash against big business and create a positive impact on performance.
At the intersection of technology, business and empathy, Belinda leads a team of what she calls “empathy geeks” who measure and embed empathy into businesses to make them more profitable. In 2014 she was chosen by the World Economic Forum to be a Young Global Leader, and received an OBE for bringing more women into technology.
“Technology is fuelling the empathy deficit despite its promises of democratisation. Our biases are becoming embedded in our algorithms and empathy is becoming scarcer,” she argues. But the good news, she says, is that empathy is like a muscle: it can be honed and strengthened.
Not just about being nice
One reason many people overlook the value of empathy in business is that they have a basic misconception about what empathy means. “Empathy isn’t about people-pleasing,” Belinda says, “It's not about being a pushover. Instead, empathy –the ability to understand the impact your actions have on others – is essential to being a player in the corporate game.”
But to be effective in driving business profitability, empathy needs to be valued by the entire company. “It needs to be embedded from the boardroom right through to the customer facing staff,” says Belinda.
She presents many examples of how emotional intelligence and empathy deliver better profits. For example, among the L’Oreal sales force, those with the best ability to use empathy sold nearly $100,000 more per year than their colleagues. As another example, waiters who are better at showing empathy, earn nearly 20 percent more in tips. Even debt collectors with empathy skills recovered twice as much debt, she adds.
Creating a company that values empathy and rewards the ability to identify what customers want and need, rather than just relying on stamina or luck to make a sale or a win a client, will help achieve long-term growth.
Anticipating customer’s needs
For any business, a key process in developing a marketing strategy is to try and understand the customer. To identify the customer’s “pain” points. To build a picture of the customer as a human being and articulate the problems that your company’s product or services can help solve. This is a core exercise in using empathy.
Empathy is also a valuable skill in helping companies anticipate their customers’ future needs. Amazon sells more products because they developed technology that builds empathy into their sales process: it predicts what their customers might want to buy next.
Steve Jobs once said: “A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” That may be the highest expression of empathy there is: addressing customer needs before they’re even aware of them.
Empathy also helps companies adapt when the market changes, as it invariably does. Without empathy, companies may just continue doing what they’ve always done. They may not hear the customer’s complaints, nor realise when there is an opportunity to solve a problem in a new way.
In his book A Whole New Mind: Moving from the Information Age to the Conceptual Age, Daniel Pink predicts that in the near future, success will reside with those who have strong right-brain qualities, and interpersonal skills like empathy. Why? Because these skills are more difficult to automate and create intangibles that make a difference in an increasingly automated, technology-driven world.
Empathy is also increasingly important for leaders in world of growing globalisation with cross-cultural teams and customer bases, where miscommunication can lead to misunderstandings. In a Harvard Business Review article "What Makes a Leader?", Dr. Daniel Goleman said: "Leaders with empathy do more than sympathise with people around them: they use their knowledge to improve their companies in subtle, but important ways."
That doesn't mean good leaders agree with everything others say or pander to them. Instead, it means they consider their employees’ feelings, along with other factors, in the process of making decisions.
How can your business build empathy?
Like teaching leadership skills or efficient time management, empathy is a skill that can be taught. It’s possible to create tangible measurements of empathy within a company. Belinda uses what she calls the empathy index to do just that. By quantifying empathy around key factors, companies can measure their progress, and understand when they need to improve.
Want to know more?
Don’t miss Belinda’s keynote speech at etc venues London County Hall in September. Also be sure to check back here later. We’ll post a summary of Belinda’s tips after the event.
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