When organizations act with empathy, customers notice

When organizations act with empathy, customers notice
By Andrea LeGrand
Andrea LeGrand
Account Director, Loyalty and Customer Engagement
Jul 23, 2019

How you treat your customers will determine whether they keep coming back.

As consumers, we’ve all been on both sides of the table when it comes to companies being empathetic to our situations (or not). I’m sure we can all agree that one leaves a much better taste in our mouths and is more likely to bring us back for future business.

For brands, acting with empathy doesn’t have to be a complex, costly initiative. In fact, it’s often the simple gestures that go the farthest, and can be the difference between a loyalty customer for life or one that swears off the brand forever. And it all starts by thinking about customers as humans with feelings.

Infusing empathy in email

Bloom and Wild, a UK flower company, understands that Mother’s Day isn’t always a celebratory holiday for everyone. Whether you have recently lost a mother or are having a hard time becoming one, it can be a sensitive time. In March 2019, Bloom and Wild sent out an email expressing this sentiment, and allowed subscribers to opt out of Mother’s Day communications that may have sparked negative feelings.

As a result of this action, customers praised them for their sensitivity, conscientiousness and thoughtfulness. And Bloom and Wild plans to offer the same option for other potentially emotionally-charged holidays such as Father’s Day and Valentine’s Day. It’s a simple, heartfelt way for the brand to show they are thinking of the customer first, (and a way to save you from an ‘unsubscribe’).

Hangry while stuck in traffic? You can now get a burger delivered to your car.

Besides people driving too slow in the left lane, being stuck in traffic ranks up there with the things we (or at least I) hate about driving. To best serve “hangry” motorists, Burger King is trying to make traffic more bearable with its Internet of Things-powered campaign. The project, “Traffic Jam Whopper,” offers up burgers for those in bumper to bumper traffic. Piloting now in Mexico City, it uses a blend of real-time data and technology via digital billboards, Google Maps, WAZE, and the BK App to bring motorists their Whoppers in highly congested areas via motorcycle deliveries. Next, they will be looking to expand the program into Los Angeles, Sao Paulo and Shanghai.

This project not only demonstrates empathy toward hungry drivers (and old-school opportunism!), but it’s also good for business. According to the case study, in one week, the campaign increased Burger King’s daily delivery orders in Mexico by 63 percent, and increased daily BK app downloads by 44 times, which made it the No. 1 fast food app in Mexico.

Keeping customers happy during frustrating or challenging experiences

Burger King’s actions are similar to Delta Airlines’ approach to keeping customers happy. In 2016 a computer outage caused hundreds of flights to be delayed while passengers had already boarded. The airline brought free pizza to passengers on the grounded flights who were not allowed to deplane. This action cost them very little, and in fact, may have gained them more loyalty among passengers. Commentary among passengers was extremely positive: they felt the airline understood their frustrations and demonstrated that they cared. And though free pizza can’t turn back the clock, gestures like this can create a memorable experience and positive perception with passengers that can influence their decision on who they’ll fly with next.

While there are certainly opportunities for airlines to practice empathy in their everyday interactions, some have begun initiatives that benefit their most loyal members in times of change or transition.

More than a dozen airlines have rolled out programs to protect passengers’ elite status when major life events occur. Most focus on maternity, paternity or adoption leave, but some also include job changes and medical issues. Through these programs members can put their status on hold, get it reinstated, or have it extended for a certain timeframe so that they can focus on themselves or their families.

Empathy happens in the public sector, too.

One of my favorite examples of empathy comes from Donate Life California. They teamed up with three California police departments in April 2019 to launch the “Second Chances” campaign. This campaign gives drivers who are registered organ donors a “second chance” if they commit minor traffic violations as a way to thank them for giving fellow citizens a second chance at life. Instead of ticketing these drivers, police can give a warnings, so long as their license shows they are registered organ donors.

This not only creates a sense of empathy between the driver and the police, it also drives awareness to the importance of being a donor since 114,000+ Americans await transplants.

Return on empathy: understanding its value to your organization

Recent research found that 79 percent of customers only consider brands that show they understand and care about “me,” and 56 percent are loyal to brands that deeply understand their priorities and preferences.

So, the next time you’re digging into big data, segmenting your audiences and developing personalized messaging and offers, take a moment to remember that your customers are people, too, not just a name in your database. Sure, we all have companies to run and profits to make. But as a fellow human, doesn’t it feel better doing business with someone who can show a bit of empathy, and simple humanity?

To learn more about how you can make your customers feel valued on a personal level, download our Humanizing Loyalty Report.

ICF’s global marketing services agency focuses on helping your organization find opportunity in disruption.
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Meet the author
  1. Andrea LeGrand, Account Director, Loyalty and Customer Engagement

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