Lady Gaga was performing a concert and staying at a hotel in that city. As usually happens, her hardcore fans figured out which hotel she was in, and lined up outside hoping she would come and meet with them, which she did. One of the people standing in line was a homeless man that had a ring he wanted to give Gaga, an ‘engagement’ ring.
Gaga met with the fans in line, and when she reached the homeless man, she graciously accepted his ring, then she leaned toward him to take a picture. The homeless man immediately leaned away from her and whispered “But I smell…” Without missing a beat, Gaga whispered back “Don’t worry, I smell too…” and leaned back toward him to take the picture.
Loosely put, empathy is your ability to see the world through someone else’s eyes. I would also argue that as a marketer, it is one of the most important skills you can hone and develop.
The problem is, there are many things that tug on us and make it more difficult to practice empathy:
- Preoccupation with our own problems. Why should I care that this guy can’t make his car payment this month, hell I am behind on my mortgage!
- Having too much on our own plate. That sounds terrible, I would like to help, but right now I need to finish this project. I’ll come back to this when I have time.
- Past history. This guy? Last year I asked him for help with my job search, he never returned my call.
- Not caring. Ugh…everyone needs help! I need help too, who is going to help me?
A big component of empathy is recognizing that someone needs help. There’s also a big distinction between someone that wants help, and someone that needs help. Too often, a person that needs help, won’t ask for it. This is a terrible flaw I have, I never ask for help when I need it. I don’t want to be a burden to the very friends that would be happy to help me, if they could. But still…
And many people feel this same way, which makes it even more important to be perceptive and to notice when someone needs help that might not be willing to ask for it.
Let’s be clear: I’m not talking about someone that wants help. People are usually more likely to ask for help they want, vs help they need. Or perhaps they need help, but don’t realize they do. As a marketer, it is incredibly important to realize when a customer needs help. Not only so you can actually help them, but also so you can realize that the need for help can be affecting how they act toward you. Needing help with say a product failure can lead to anger, fear, desperation, depending on what the product is and what it means to the owner. It’s one thing if a customer can’t figure out how to put the toner in a printer and quite another if their truck has just broken down on the interstate at 10:30 PM.
Empathy allows you to put yourself in the shoes of your customer and see their point of view. It allows you to understand why the guy on the interstate is yelling at you on the phone, it’s because he’s stranded on the interstate at night and he’s scared. But if you show empathy to your customers when they need your help the most, that’s one of the most powerful ways to build lifetime advocates for your brand. It starts by making an effort to listen, be perceptive, and actually caring enough to do these things.
How do you get people to give a damn about you? By first giving a damn about them.