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Got Empathy?

My best friend went on a family vacation and, upon his return home, retold his vacation horror story to me. He was so upset about his treatment by a major airline that he wrote a 4-page letter to them, detailing his displeasure about his experience. The bottom line is that he missed a connecting flight and the airline staff shunned any responsibility to help him.

More importantly, the gate agents lacked any demonstrable empathy towards him about him missing a connecting flight. My friend states in his letter, “The cherry on top was the complete indifference shown to us by both gate agents… Your gate agents in ATL cannot even fake empathy or offer an (ultimately useless) apology.”

He ends the letter this way. “I think you have me down for flying 75,000 Delta miles last year. I bet I have 250,000 miles sitting in my account. I’ll be canceling my Delta AmEx card and using those miles up over the next few years—after all, I earned them the hard way—flying Delta. But otherwise, I’m done.”

Empathy and the Customer Experience

EmpathyIn its basic form, empathy is defined as the ability to understand and share the feelings of others. Someone who is demonstrating empathy:

  1. takes the other person’s perspective
  2. does not judge the person
  3. recognizes emotion in the other person
  4. communicates that recognition to the person

In this animated video, Dr. Brené Brown clarifies the meaning of empathy by contrasting it with sympathy.

The gate agents showed no empathy toward my friend. The agents never sought to understand his perspective nor did they acknowledge the hardship he faced. The gate agent was indifferent to his suffering. What could an empathetic response from the gate agent have done?  Besides shortening his complaint to 2 pages, it could have prevented him from defecting.

According to Bruce Temkin, “empathy” is the customer experience (CX) word for 2014. He offers a great list of things companies can to encourage employees to show empathy toward their customers, including examining customer journeys, continually reviewing customer feedback (especially verbatim responses) and empowering random acts of kindness.

Here is a humorous account by comedian, John Mulaney, about how is girlfriend saved him from a poor experience with Delta Airlines’ gate agents.

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bob@businessoverbroadway.com | 206.372.5990

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