Empathy and Customer Loyalty


To Connect With Customers, You Can’t Fake It ‘Til You Make It

Showing empathy for someone else starts by making a connection with them. A genuine connection promotes a feeling of belonging and acceptance. When we lack these feelings, we experience “social pain.” The pain caused by a snub or a cold shoulder can be as real as physical pain.

Some are skeptical and assume that people only connect with others in order to gain something or profit from them. But this assumption is lacking. Connection with other people is its own reward. It doesn’t take much to make a warm human connection, and it costs nothing. We all crave it. We even need it. But we get it so rarely.

Counterfeit Connection

As we study the practices that build empathy, we should also consider the “counterfeits” of these practices. A counterfeit practice is like counterfeit money. At a quick glance, it might look real, but closer inspection reveals that it is only an imitation. The counterfeit to a genuine human connection might be feigned interest, intrusion without empathy, or following a script with disinterest. Counterfeit behaviors sneak into organizations as leaders create systems and processes aimed at increasing customer satisfaction, without acknowledging the need for genuine connections with customers.

Why Aren’t We Connecting?

Think about your most manic days at work. We’re talking the car rental counter at a busy airport, the lunchtime rush at your favorite restaurant, closing the books at year-end in the finance department, the emergency room at a large hospital, the DMV on the last day of the month—phones ringing, impatient customers, and overworked teammates. How can we possibly make a warm, genuine human connection in situations like these? The number of demands and requests on our time can quickly become the reason why we avoid connecting with others. We’re just too busy. And yet, a connection can be made in a glance or in a word. Being too busy is often a poor excuse. Our ability to connect even on a busy day is driven by an understanding that connecting with our customers is an important part of our job.

Another hurdle is technology. We check ourselves in for a flight, check ourselves out at the grocery store, and do more of our banking and shopping online. We get stuff done by clicking. While many of us appreciate the convenience and cost-savings, the expanding use of technology can present challenges in connecting personally with our customers.

Ultimately, making a genuine connection begins with our mindset. We all need and appreciate connection. If we adopt the mindset that connection matters and that it’s a priority, we see people in front of us, instead of problems. We see human beings, not hassles. We connect with our eyes, our words, and our hearts. This connection can happen in an instant. When we have busy days, we still acknowledge those waiting with an apologetic glance or a sincere “I’m so sorry you’re having to wait.” We soften our voice, make eye contact, and feel the connection ourselves. No matter how busy we are, we let individuals know that we know they are there—and that they matter to us.

Having the wrong mindset is an obstacle to connecting. “I’m not a warm person,” you might say. “I’d rather just focus on getting my job done.” When we shift our mindset to value human connection and remember the benefit it has on ourselves and others, we prioritize our work differently. Not only do we now make time to connect with everyone, but we also make it our most important task of the day. It becomes our job. The choice to connect with others is just that—a choice.

While we are talking about the benefits of connection to loyalty, we can’t emphasize enough the benefit that connection has on ourselves. A reflected smile or the reciprocation of kind words can brighten our days, as well.

How Do We Make a Genuine Human Connection With Everybody?

Make genuine human connections by practicing five behaviors:

  1. Smile and greet others with a warm welcome.
  2. Observe, then serve.
  3. Connect “warmly” with our eyes.
  4. Acknowledge others.
  5. Make ourselves available, but don’t hover.

Smile and Greet Others With a Warm Welcome

“Approach customers with a personalized, warm welcome.” Notice that there isn’t a script that you need to follow. Everyone who enters a store gets that warm welcome at the door.

Observe, Then Serve

The idea is to observe, then serve. What unexpressed emotions do you sense? What is the customer’s demeanor? Sad? Rushed? Eager? Hesitant? Curious? Overwhelmed? What about their tone of voice? Angry? Excited? Pleading? Worried? Ho-hum? Look carefully for these nuances of behavior and allow your empathy and connection to kick in.

Connect “Warmly” With Our Eyes

Eye contact is essential to making a human connection, and while it’s common sense, it’s not always common practice. Think about those situations where we tend to lose eye contact. If we keep a customer waiting too long, we’re losing eye contact. If we spend too much time fumbling around with products or paperwork, we’re losing eye contact.

What if we’re connecting with customers online—on email, chat, messaging, or the telephone? What does “eye contact” mean then? Online, the equivalent of “eye contact” is a warm, calm, respectful tone of voice and doing what we promise.

Acknowledge Others

Associates who ignore customers, rush past people without even a nod or a smile, or keep them on hold too long are chipping away at loyalty.

How attentive is our team to the customers who pay us to help them out? Sometimes all it takes is a smile and a sincere “I’ll be right with you.” We can’t show empathy or connect with customers if we don’t acknowledge that they’re standing right in front of us!

Be Available, But Don’t Hover

Judging how much help to give customers versus how much space they need can be tricky at times. The best practice is to make yourself available. Make warm eye contact, smile, and greet customers. Then let them know that you’re available by saying, “I’ll be right over here if you need anything.” Periodically check in to see if they have any questions, but generally be aware of physical proximity and avoid making them uncomfortable by being in their personal space. 

Engage your team to win the heart of every customer with Leading Customer Loyalty. Register for a complimentary webcast today and learn how companies get their frontline teams to act in a way that builds customer loyalty and drives faster growth.

About the Author

Leena Rinne

Leena Rinne is FranklinCovey's Vice President of Consulting. She is responsible for the management and development of the consultant team and the ongoing world class delivery of FranklinCovey programs and solutions. Leena is co-author of the Wall Street Journal bestselling book, The 5 Choices: The Path to Extraordinary Productivity, and also co-authored the forthcoming book, Leading Customer Loyalty: Cracking the Code to Customer Devotion. Currently in her 14th year with FranklinCovey, Leena’s passion lies in supporting client to develop great leaders and create winning cultures.

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