The Art of Empathy


Photo by Ryan McGuire

If you’re a creative person, empathy can be your most powerful weapon. Why? Because practicing the art of empathy can enable you to solve real problems for your customers.

Yes, empathy is an art. And, like any other of the arts, empathy needs to be practiced regularly in order to excel at it.

So, how do you practice empathy? Start by sharpening your senses.

Listen: Practice really listening to your customer. Listen when he/she makes a big, bold statement. Often, that big, bold statement is a clue to what he’s most concerned about, i.e., what he may consider his biggest challenge. Listen for words or phrases he uses over and over. They could provide clues to what’s most important to him. Listen, also, for silence. Depending on your customer’s communication style, he may suddenly become silent when quizzed about a particularly problematic area of his business. This could be a signal that he feels he has an “unsolvable” problem.

Ask: Ask your customer, “Why?” and “How?” about everything. Ask even the obvious questions. Don’t assume you know the answers. You might be surprised at some of his answers. Asking those questions several times again in different ways will help you get to the real answers. Asking can also help you uncover your customer’s unarticulated needs.

Look: Watch your customer when he/she speaks to you. Body language can be telling. A sudden animated gesture may point to what he currently considers his most pressing problem. If he shrugs his shoulders in resignation, it may indicate that he has all but given up on finding an answer to a particular problem.

Feel: Consciously think about how you feel when using your customer’s product or service. Give yourself this feel test and be sure to take notes: Document how you feel just before using the product or service. Next, document how you feel as you’re using the product/service. Then, describe and document your feelings after using the product or service. Be specific. Don’t leave anything out. Small things can turn out to be important things.

Touch/Taste: Put yourself in the shoes of your customer’s customer. Walk the aisles of his store. Touch his products. Put together that toy or shelf with your own two hands. Dine in his restaurant. Taste his food. Drink his coffee. Experience the buying process from start to finish.

Observe: Take time to observe your customer’s customers as they interact with his products or services. Not everyone will interact with them the same way you do.

Combine: Combine your senses to become a better observer. Watch and listen for inconsistencies in what your customer says and does. If he says one thing and does something else, this may alert you to a problem in need of solving.

Practice: Practice these empathy exercises to learn more about your customers and their customers. Take notes. Organize your thoughts. Share your ideas with others on your team. Draw conclusions together.

Empathy is an art…and there’s no such thing as too much art.

by Rebecca Cochran

7 Best Practices I Learned at Starbucks

CafeI enjoy my morning coffee ritual for so many reasons. The obvious benefit is that wonderful jolt of caffeine that helps to jump-start my day.

Yesterday morning, as I was sitting at my usual Starbucks enjoying my tall dark roast for here, I thought about one of the other benefits to starting my day there: observing and learning from the constant flow of customers. Yesterday, however, I concentrated on observing the staff. At this particular Starbucks, the staff is phenomenal. They (and the coffee) keep me coming back.

Practices I observed include:

They listen. No matter how busy the store became, the listening never stopped. One customer seemed to be sharing a particularly long, drawn-out story with the cashier, even whipping out her phone to share a photo. The cashier seemed to hang on her every word, certainly making that customer’s day. Meanwhile, the baristas, busily concocting tall “this” and grande “that’s,” listened and chatted happily with customers waiting for their orders.

They speak the language of their customers. I observed that same cashier interacting with various customers. Her demeanor and vocabulary seemed to change, depending on which of her regular customers was in front of her at the moment. This savvy professional obviously knows the value of speaking the language of her customers.

They smile. All staff members smile – at their customers and at each other. A smile can go such a long way, especially first thing in the morning.

They work as a team. This particular crew is impressive, working seamlessly together as a tight-knit team in small quarters.

They never stand still. They work and move quickly and efficiently. Even when there was a momentary lull in the customer flow, I noted that no staff member stopped moving. Each person made good use of the short downtime by refreshing stock, replenishing ingredients, bagging up trash, etc.

They go the extra mile. At one point, yesterday, a customer inadvertently left her credit card behind. The cashier could have easily placed it behind the counter until the customer realized it was missing and returned to retrieve it. The cashier went the extra mile, however. When he realized what had happened, he raced out of the store into the parking lot, found the customer as she was about to speed away and, no doubt, made her day by returning her card immediately.

They know the power of “Thank You.” Along with a smile, those two powerful words were uttered every few seconds by cashiers, baristas and managers alike.

It amazes me what can be learned at Starbucks. These best practices should be universal, no matter what work we’re doing.

by Rebecca Cochran