In his blog post on the rise of the connected customer, Brian Solis makes the good point that “empathy is the shared connection between you and your customers” and is even the factor that bridges customers to their peers. This isn’t the only good point he makes. He writes a detailed and beautifully-woven set of arguments for earning customers’ trust, learning their ways, and giving them what they want. Most importantly, he warns us not to assume customers need you more than you need them.
Much of what Brian has to say isn’t new. I’ve read an array of arguments for community building, good listening and customer-centered actions recently. Most of them have in common what Brian told us above—empathy is key.
Seems as though we should be trying to understand empathy and much as we are trying to understand our customers, audience, and users. But if empathy is truly the ability to understand and share the feelings of another (Oxford Dictionary), are we setting ourselves up for disappointment in assuming that all individuals and businesses looking to make a buck can practice it? I ask: should our ability to have empathy be taken for granted?
I’m not picking on Brian Solis or anyone else in particular. But I do wonder whether our language should change from “leveraging” our social connections, “helping others help us,” and how to “turn” customers into a tool for our success. Perhaps my stance is reminiscent of something Viviana Zelizer would classify as a typical and romanticized boundary between money and relationships. After all, even one of my all-time favorite home business gurus, Ashley Ambridge of The Middle Finger Project (not to mention the folks on CopyBlogger) proudly says there’s nothing wrong with trying to make a buck for a thing well done. Especially if it helps others.
Still, what does it mean when we continue to preface our attempts to make money with neatly-phrased disclaimers that we’re still good people for doing it? Is it just a social construct we should, indeed, work against, or is it a social reality that we are trying to subvert by using terms like “empathy” to describe business efforts?
Perhaps semantics are not the issue here. Perhaps we can have deep and productive empathy towards the audiences we need for our financial success. In that case, the question still stands: how do we develop this empathy? And what happens when we can’t understand or share the feelings of others?