The views expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the FIA. The article below was supplied by Global Choices.
Some insurance brokers may think of empathy as a soft skill, often mistaking it for sympathy, kindness or pity. However, empathy is a hard business skill and critical for companies looking to differentiate themselves from the pack.
In business, being nice can be an important virtue, but genuine empathy is something different. Something deeper. It is the ability to step into the shoes of your customer and understand their feelings and perspectives, and then to use those understandings to guide your brokerage’s strategy, decisions and actions.
Genuine empathy underscores the way in which we understand human nature. The old view that companies are essentially self-interested entities is being nudged firmly to one side by evidence that they must be wired for empathy, social cooperation and mutual aid.
Curiosity expands empathy
Genuinely empathetic insurance brokers have an insatiable curiosity about their customers. They ask questions and challenge themselves to connect and to have regular conversations. The resultant insights that they gain assists these companies to cultivate an appreciation for individuality. Their preconceptions and prejudices are challenged as they search for what they have in common with customers, rather what divides them.
Sense your customers’ frustrations before they do
“Walk a mile in another man’s moccasins before you criticize him” American proverb
Empathy is essentially about being aware of other people’s feelings and using that awareness to strengthen your connection with them. Progressive companies, without exception, are experts at intuiting customers’ discomforts and taking immediate action to alleviate them – sometimes before the customer even notices them!
Play the long game
Real empathy holds the unique power to build understanding and a connection with customers. Don’t slap a quick fix onto a problem simply to mask it. Genuine empathy requires going beyond the quick fix and investing in an actual solution. True innovation and rewards can be extracted out of this process to get right to the core of the matter and develop a long-term solution.
When empathy is the dominant goal of your brokerage, you’ll be well placed to change the industry and add an extra-human touch to your products or services. Companies who master the art of empathy have a habit of disrupting the world they live in. When you step into your customers’ shoes (whether or not they are moccasins) and truly see the world from their perspective, it can leapfrog you miles ahead of the competition.
Empathy starts and ends with the person who consumes your product. It is the foundation on which to build your business and will stand you in good stead when the market inevitably turns. Most companies focus on what generates revenue, without asking if consumer attitudes are silently shifting. Examples aren’t hard to find. Consider once-great companies like Kodak, Blockbusters, Blackberry and Nokia.
These days we can easily collect data and make sense of it. This gives insight into trends that were less evident not too long ago. Perhaps if the brands mentioned above had had access to the data and the tools we have today, their stories would have been completely different.
So, leverage your analytical tools and find out what customers want. Business analytics can help you to learn almost anything and, importantly, raise a red flag when there’s trouble ahead. For instance, you can identify a specific phase in your processes that’s causing customers to move their business away. Perhaps your take-on process is too onerous, or your claims handling is slow or confusing. Careful analysis of data can help you to figure this out in advance. You just need to be proactive and have a solution in place before the problem snowballs.
So, get into your customers’ heads and figure out what their next move will be before they make it. With the state-of-the-art technology that’s available these days, the empathetic approach has become a business imperative.