Empathy Is the Most Critical Soft Skill and Has Been for at Least a Century

In the Bible of Self-Help Books, “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” by Dale Carnegie, the author spends at least two out of every three chapters discussing an aspect of empathy. Two out of every three. The rest he spends on communication tactics you can employ to make it easier for people to follow your advice.

But two out of three boils down to empathy: how to listen, how to consider someone else’s point of view, how to validate their point of view.

Consider, if you would, that this book was originally published in 1936, has sold over 15 million copies, and was in the top 20 of Time Magazine’s most influential books. If the majority of the content of this most fundamental work focuses on empathy, you can be sure this topic is extremely important.

Today, Empathy Is the Bottom Line for Customer Loyalty

In today’s business environment, basic empathy skills are even more important than they were in Mr. Carnegie’s heyday. Customers are placing increasing value on their experience, not the products or the price, but their experience with the company selling their products and services. This experience can be utterly destroyed when employees cannot empathize with their customers.

According to a recent report by Walker, “86% of buyers will pay more for a better customer experience, and by 2020, customer experience will overtake price and product as the key brand differentiator.” (Customers 2020: A Progress Report).

These findings are anything but new. Academic studies have corroborated the value of empathy, as well.

When service employees display empathic behavior toward customers, they increase commitment, perceived quality of service and satisfaction (Jones & Shandiz, 2015).

Within Sales and Marketing, empathy is foundational in understanding customer purchase behavior (Daniels, Glover, & Mellor, 2014). Talk to any sales representative or account executive to corroborate this POV.

Empathy Might Be Even More Important for Employee Engagement and Retention

But as important as customers are, customer experience is only one half of the empathy equation. Internally, employees require empathy to collaborate effectively. You probably don’t need to imagine working under a manager who seems to have been lobotomized; if you have worked in a large enterprise for a few years, you are all too familiar with this grim scenario.

We can quantify empathy from this side, as well. “Six out of 10 employees (60 percent) would be willing to take slightly less pay if their employer showed empathy, and 78 percent of employees would leave an employer for equal pay if the other company was empathetic.” (Businesssolver, 2018).

In terms of talent and retention, in terms of mid-level managers and directors, empathy provokes enormous returns for businesses, as well.

Empathy is not just doing whatever the other person wants; it’s about communicating your desire to help that person accomplish their goals in a way that also values yourself, given your resources and ability. This is one of the most basic needs for a positive working relationship.

At every level of the business, from the C-Suite, to customer-facing employees, to the last IT support staff who dwells in the depths of the behemoth of enterprise, everyone has an empathetic role to play, and when they do play this role successfully, they bring incredible value to the business.

Talent Developers are THE Foundation for Organizational Empathy

It should be clear by this point that empathy is the most critical soft skill for businesses to cultivate. The only question now is: how can an organization increase its capacity to empathize?

It is absolutely true that executives are integral to CX, and it is important to put a CX strategy and process into place. There needs to be working mechanisms for feedback and change embedded deeply into the enterprise, which cannot happen without leadership.

However, the majority of the work will be performed, as usual, by employees. Everyone needs to practice and reinforce this characteristic in order to sustain it permanently. Talent Developers can easily integrate empathy training into their programming.

Talent Developers can forward the dissemination of this vital characteristic more than any other professional. They are therefore one of the most crucial roles — not only in HR, but also within Sales, Marketing and Service.

It is time for CX leaders and Talent Managers to go out to lunch, because both have something to offer the other, in a big way.

Mohamed Latib

Mohamed Latib

Mohamed Latib, Ph.D. is the founder and CEO of CX University. Mohamed has been involved in CX work for over 30 years. In his previous company that he co-founded he implemented customer feedback solutions for such brands as Kohl’s Department Stores, Fossil, TransUnion, The World Bank, Project Management Institute, Citi Bank and many others. He provided executive briefings going past key metric dashboards to identify strategic insights. Mohamed has also designed and delivered numerous CX workshops and training modules for Delaware North, Konica Minolta, Crowe Horwath, Singapore Post, Malaysia Telekom, and Reliant Energy among many others. He has led numerous culture transformation initiatives and has done senior executive development work for Air Products, Pennsylvania Power & Light, Siemens, Smithfield Meats, Dominion Textiles, Unisys, and others. The author of many articles and professional papers, Dr. Latib, holds an MS in Psychology, MBA and a Ph.D. in Business Administration (Organizational Behavior, Human Resources, and Strategy) from the Fox School of Business and Management, Temple University.

Leave a Reply