The E-word

Michael Gerber wrote the best-selling book, The E-Myth, way back in the 90s. It’s a book that most entrepreneurs and business owners should read.


But Entrepreneur isn’t the E-word that I want to talk about today.


No, mine is a different ‘E-word’ altogether. But first I want to tell you a story.


On Wednesday I spoke at a business show in Newcastle. My topic was ‘How to build fiercely loyal customers’ (thanks to Julie Christie for that one!). It’s a talk I’ve done a few times now and I always start off by asking the audience to share some of their experiences as customers with me.


When it comes to bad experiences, there’s one brand that comes up time and time again – BT. As soon as someone says ‘BT’ in response to my question, people across the room start nodding in unison. I ask the person to tell me about their experience, and when it comes to BT that inevitably means they’ve had to call numerous times, they’ve been passed from pillar to post, and no-one on the other end of the phone seems to care.


Mike McGrail actually blogged about his experience with BT recently. That’s how angry and frustrated a bad experience can make us feel. Ironically, when you visit their website, and search for their core values, you’ll find them talking about ‘Everything for Customers’. I’m afraid that’s not how people are experiencing your service BT.


So what’s gone so badly wrong at BT? It could be any number of things, but I’ve now heard the same story so many times, that I believe at the core is a lack of the ‘E-word’. It’s the same problem I see with many organisations these days. So what is this magic word?




What is Empathy?


“Empathy is the capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within the other being’s frame of reference, i.e., the capacity to place oneself in another’s position. Empathy is seeing with the eyes of another, listening with the ears of another and feelings with the heart of another.”

-Wikipedia definition


There’s a distinct lack of empathy in our society today. You’ll notice it in all walks of life – the behaviour of the man on the till in the supermarket; the ticket officer at the railway station; the health centre receptionist. People who seem as though they’re just going through the motions and don’t give a damn about you. It makes me so sad when I encounter someone who acts like that. What have our organisations done to make someone feel like that?


My good friend Rod Mountain talked about this lack of empathy, and the need to bring it back, in his talk at TEDxDundee.


You might get lucky, and come across someone who cares and just ‘gets’ it. In Newcastle, someone in the audience told the story of an experience they had with Barclays, where eventually they spoke to someone who went out of their way to help her. That person cares. But the key word in that sentence is ‘eventually’. Not everyone she encountered behaved that way.


Empathy starts with the people in your organisation. If you don’t treat them well, how can you expect them to treat your customers well? However, so many organisations don’t do this – it’s why this lack of empathy is becoming an epidemic.


If you want to stand out as an organisation, you need to embrace empathy. Make this the core skill in your team. Practice it like mad. Eventually it will become second nature.


Which organisations have you come across recently that behave in this way? Tell me in the comments below.

1 Comment

Join the discussion and tell us your opinion.

November 18, 2016 at 8:05 pm

Great article Ali