Brands should show empathy to their consumer base. This shouldn't be such a controversial topic in this day and age, and yet for many brands, they are still stumbling in the darkness with respect to this important topic.

"Truthfully, we'd all be in a better place if empathy was consistent with all brands' core values or were always on brand'." So says Amy Vernon, the award-winning journalist, who contributed empathy as her one Big Idea brands should embrace in 2017. If you'd like, you can grab the whole ebook here.

Vernon has been called one of the most influential women in tech on Twitter by Business Insider and named one of 5 female bloggers to follow by Craig Newmark of Craigslist, among many other commendations. So when she points out the empathy problem, we should all take note.

As a society, we're arguably even taking a step or two back with respect to empathy. With a US president who has been accused of mocking a reporter's disability and another journalist's menstrual periods, is it possible that it's becoming less chic to be empathetic as a manager? Or as a brand trait?

While Vernon's a big believer in the power of empathy, occasionally brands offer lip service and not deliverables on supporting their consumers. That's a big learning opportunity for brands. "I am not a believer in the customer is always right' because the customer is not always right," she says. Yet while there's no pleasing everyone, she believes showing a degree of kindness and understanding toward an upset customer will pay off 99% of the time. "Treating consumers like people and not just money machines reminds them that you're also a person."

Of course, brands that are better at showing empathy towards their own employees have a greater likelihood at empathizing with their customer base. Unfortunately, 60% of CEOs feel that their brands are empathic, while just 24% of their employees agree. Costco is one example Vernon likes to cite as empathetic to its employees, as the brands pays all its employees, from cashiers on up, a living wage. Moreover, benefits are good, everyone has a line into the CEO, and it's not uncommon for an employee to love working at the company so much that they work there for their entire career. How often do you see that in today's economy?

Shoppers directly benefit from the empathy that Costco shows its employees. "The people who work at Costco want to be there," Vernon explains. "They like their jobs and their employers, so they're happier when dealing with customers." In fact, it's not hard to observe that customers will wait on intimidating checkout lines at Costco and won't get cranky as they would in a similar store.

Since employees are treated with respect and shown empathy from the very top, everyone benefits. It's not hard to imagine that Costco's practices have helped it become the third-largest retailer in the nation, trailing only Wal-Mart and Amazon.

Of course, many other organizations are learning the lessons Costco already has. Despite having just built a $165 million medical tower, Texas' Midland Memorial Hospital had a patient satisfaction of just one percent. Yet the organization was able to refocus itself around the core idea of empathy, and with a far smaller capital expenditure, it was able to up its patient satisfaction to 90%.

If your brand isn't taking home any awards in the empathy category, think about whether or not it's worth it to reinvest in the category. Chances are you'll be happy you did.

Published on: Feb 26, 2017