A common gripe I hear about is the infiltration of technology into our daily, increasingly digital lives, and its impersonality when it comes to the interactions we have with businesses. And while it may be true that when approached the wrong way, the human element is often eliminated through technology, it just doesn’t have to be this way.
The problem is, more and more businesses are falling into a negative holding pattern when it comes to communicating digitally with their customers—cold calls followed by spammy email, followed by impersonal text messages that find their way straight into the consumer’s hand.
This last one hits home the hardest. Text messaging, as the most fully embraced channel for brand-to-customer communication (72 per cent of customers globally currently interact with brands through it), has the highest potential to be effective, efficient, and best of all—empathetic. It’s a direct route from the brand to their customer, in real time, with little to no margin for error. Did you know that 90 per cent of text messages are read within three minutes of receiving them? The odds of connecting don’t get much better than that. So why are so many brands not only wasting, but tarnishing, a good thing?
The answer is a lack of empathy. Empathy is a seemingly simple word that carries a lot of meaning behind it, and in communication, it makes all the difference. The dictionary definition for empathy reads something like this: the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. What so many brands today forget is that this term doesn’t solely refer to personal relationships, it’s essential to every relationship. From the hospitality clerk who confirms a customer’s reservation, to the accountant who relays an account balance, to the retailer who updates a customer on the status of her online order, these daily touch points shouldn’t feel cold and anonymous or worse…annoying. The fact is that they so often hit on an epidemic that spreads across industries—the Empathy Gap.
Here’s what businesses need to know about empathy in business-to-consumer communications.
The truth is in the numbers
In today’s world, understanding our emotional impact on others and adjusting accordingly is more important to successful business practices than ever before. But don’t take my word for, let the numbers do the talking. The top 10 businesses in the Global Empathy Index boosted their value more than double that of those in the bottom 10, and earned 50 per cent more revenue. According to Belinda Palmar, founder of The Empathy Business, research shows a direct correlation, as high as 80 per cent to be exact, between departments with high empathy and those with high- performing employees.
Empathy is easy
Expressing empathy towards your customers doesn’t have to be “touch-feely”, no roses or chocolate covered hearts are in the playbook (but then again, who doesn’t love chocolate, especially dark chocolate?). It’s actually quite simple—be nice to your customers. This can mean cutting out hidden fees, loosening excessive restrictions, and having a swift and effective notification and resolution to customer account changes or problems.
On the other side of the coin, it does help to remember that being unempathetic is easy too, and today’s consumer has little to no patience for it. Bad experiences such as slow and inflexible communications, missed deliveries, and long hold times, all result in a loss of brand loyalty. Something no company can afford. Less than a decade ago, 41 per cent of customers were willing to forgive a brand despite a negative experience. Now that number is as low as 14 per cent. In the blink of an eye, there will be zero margin for error especially on consumers’ mobile phones.
Short comings of legacy communication channels
Businesses communicate with their customers in a plethora of ways. Despite the variety of options, old habits tend to die hard—in business-to-client communication, this means many companies are still relying heavily on legacy channels such as email and voice calls. The hard wake-up call (pardon the pun) is that those systems are broken and need to be fixed. Once again, I’ll let the numbers do the talking. Email open rates are 20 per cent and click-through is a meagre 2 per cent. As for call centres–they’re not only impersonal, but they’re a notorious time suck. And mobile apps? They’re already getting less popular—25 per cent of installed apps never see any interaction, and 26 per cent are forgotten after one use.
None of these traditional channels scream empathy, and to continue using them despite the revealing fact that customers are steering further and further away from them, once again highlights the empathy gap between brands and their customers.
RCS: The bridge to the empathy gap
The good news is, there’s a solution that lies in three little letters—RCS. Short for Rich Communication Services, RCS is a relatively new term in the mobile space, and even more so to brands. It’s sometimes referred to as text messaging 2.0; however, people who’ve seen it say it’s like having a mobile app experience in their messaging inbox without having to download yet another app. RCS offers an intuitive interactive communication channel to reach customers by cutting through the noise that other mobile channels don’t. It plays a big role in ushering in the age of empathy. Here is a great example of an RCS use case with Virgin Trains.
RCS is an advanced form of text messaging set to disrupt how businesses communicate with their customers. It features the instantaneousness of traditional text messages – but with much richer content and interactive opportunities. RCS gives a mobile app-like experience inside a consumer’s messaging inbox through high-resolution images, photos and video sharing, and interactive buttons. All free of download. It also creates better customer analytics for brands including “read receipts” that allow companies to optimise their customer experience based on user feedback.
While text messaging bridges the mobile communication gap between businesses and their customers left by more expensive and often less effective communication channels like voice and emails, RCS allows for even richer visual ways that result in deeper empathetic interactions. A recent study by OpenMarket on global consumer preferences confirms this. Eighty-two per cent of those surveyed said they would prefer to have RCS messaging capabilities over traditional SMS interactions with businesses, and 79 per cent revealed they’d feel safer interacting with a business that had verified company branding on its texts.
RCS opens the door to many business-to-consumer communication opportunities. It’s up to brands to harness the means, and bridge the empathy gap. It’s simple, richer, and proven by the numbers.
Tim Fujita-Yuhas, Director of Product Management and New Product Strategy, OpenMarket
Image source: Shutterstock/everything possible