“Empathy in Action” Is the Essential Guidebook for Creating the Workplace of the Future

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“What would a better, more empathetic reality look like? How would our industries improve if people truly felt they were being treated with compassion and empathy throughout their customer service interactions?” These questions are at the heart of an important new book by Tony Bates and Dr. Natalie Petouhoff called Empathy in Action: How to Deliver Great Customer Experiences at Scale.

The book couldn’t have come at a better time. The pandemic has made it abundantly clear that empathy is essential to our ability to thrive as humans. Empathy is a building block of our being. And as the authors show, empathy is also the primary building block for businesses that want to win the future. Empathy in Action is a roadmap for companies to create a culture of empathy both for employees and in their relationships with customers, which can become a “force multiplier.” I particularly love how deeply aligned the book is with Thrive Global’s mission. It’s one of those books you end up highlighting so much you just give up because you realize you’re underlining every page.

Bates and Petouhoff come from very different backgrounds, and together, they’re perfectly positioned to make the case. Bates has spent decades in technology, working on early parts of what became the web and then at companies like MCI and Cisco. He’s currently the Chairman and CEO of Genesys and is remaking the business into a leader in cloud-based customer experience. Petouhoff is a senior customer experience strategist at Genesys. She also happens to be a former rocket scientist with a PhD in high-energy particle physics — fitting for someone now writing about empathy, another powerful and high-energy force.

As much as business leaders increasingly talk about the importance of empathy, very few of them know how to put it into practice. And that’s because so many are still operating under a business-centric model, which focuses on metrics like cost cutting and efficiency. What’s needed, the authors write, is to switch to a customer/employee-centric model, with empathy at the core. And as researchers have found, companies that make this switch see a 92% increase in customer loyalty and a 84% rise in revenue.

So what is empathy? As the authors note, the word has many definitions. But it shouldn’t be confused with sympathy. Nor is it about being nice. For the purpose of the book, the authors define empathy in a business sense as “the act of a company putting themselves in the shoes of their customers and employees to reorient the way they make decisions and conduct business, resulting in amazing customer/employee-centric experiences.”

This transformation, fueled by new technology, is what the authors call the Fifth Industrial Revolution, which will be “a deep multi-level collaboration between people, machines and awareness.” And as they note, creating a more human customer culture has to start with creating a more human, empathy-based workplace. “Leaders need to create collaborative cultures where employees feel the psychological safety needed to embark on this new journey together to the extent they will go the extra mile to ensure each other’s success,” they write. “The culture cannot be one where feedback is seen as rejection. Instead, there is an openness to view things differently and help others see situations from different viewpoints.”

At Thrive, this deeply echoes our own core cultural value of Compassionate Directness, which is about empowering employees to speak up, give feedback, disagree and surface problems, immediately and in real time — and always with empathy. It’s one of our ways of putting empathy into action. And to be able to build and nurture that foundation of empathy, we have to nurture our well-being. As the science shows, when we’re stressed, burned out and depleted, human qualities like empathy are the first to disappear.

Much of the book is also devoted to ways in which new technologies can be leveraged to power this culture shift. Right now, many companies are still using technology — like chatbots — as a substitute for human connection. The new model, the authors write, is about using A.I. to “uniquely match” employees and customers. The result will be  “the consumerization of technology — a metamorphosis of product, service, and experience designs focusing on the end user as a person, in contrast to focusing on the company.”

The pandemic has been a time of countless tragedies. But it’s also been a crucible and a powerful catalyst for change. The disruptions of the past two years have forced us to consider what we really value, and we have a once-in-generation opportunity to rethink the way we work and live. Empathy In Action is an essential guidebook for leaders looking to create workplaces that will truly thrive. “The age of empathy is here,” Bates and Petouhoff write, “and it is opening doors we never knew existed. The only question that remains is this: Are you and your business ready to embrace and lead the changes to come?”


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