Communicating Compassion to Customers in Tough Times Six Connections Suggestions for Showing Empathy

by Kate Zabriskie

Hi. This is Trish with Copytech and we’re running a special on ink I thought you might be interested in.

  • Really, Trish? Our business is down so much that we’re barely making copies right now. Thanks for being tone-deaf. No, I don’t want to hear about your specials.

In February you had expressed interest in our trust platform for reviews. Now is the perfect time to pick up the conversation.

  • It is? Now is actually the perfect time for me to focus on keeping our doors open. It’s not the time for your product. Of course, you would know that if you’d asked how business was before pushing your agenda. I’m going to think long and hard before using your service. I don’t trust you.

I’m calling because you’ve sponsored us for the last ten years. We haven’t heard anything from you and are relying on your donation.

  • Did it dawn on you that I might not be in a position to give? I appreciate that you need my money. Please appreciate that I do, too. I guess you would know that if you had picked up the phone and checked in at some point.

There’s no mistake about it: COVID-19 has devastated certain business sectors, and many would-be buyers, customers and donors are hurting. To add insult to injury, there are a lot of tone-deaf people sending emails and making calls. Although most likely not deliberately obtuse, they’re insensitive and ineffective just the same.

In times like these, a little empathy can go a long way and have lasting effects. After all, we will come out of this eventually, and when we do, people will remember who was kind and who was cruel. With a little bit of effort, businesses can up their empathy game and ability to connect with others.

Connection Suggestion One: Recognize that today is not yesterday. While some people haven’t experienced much change during the pandemic, others have had their entire worlds turned upside down. To put it another way, we’re in the same storm but not in the same boat. Some of us have situations that are akin to being in a yacht and others are struggling in an overcrowded kayak with a leak. Don’t assume people have the situations they did in February or one similar to someone else’s.

Connection Suggest Two: Call to check in, not to sell. “Hi, this is Brad with Speedy Oil Change. Prior to COVID, we were seeing you in here about every three months. It’s been a while, and I want to check in. A lot of people have had some pretty significant changes to their driving patterns, and I want to let you know we’re here when you need us. If you need your fluids and tire pressure checked before your oil is due, just stop in. We’d love to see you.” Thanks, Brad! Everyone else who has called me is a bill collector or trying to sell me. You sound like you might actually like to see me. I’ve always liked Speedy Oil Change. They’re quality people.

Connection Suggestion Three: If a business’s customer base has become price sensitive, it should, if possible, give people options that allow them to remain a customer. Some customers will come right out and say they can’t afford something. Others may feel too proud or believe their finances are none of anyone else’s business. “Maggie, I can give the boys slightly shorter cuts. They ought to last an extra two weeks. What do you think?” Before business owners think a move like that won’t serve them in the long run, they should imagine Maggie decides she simply can’t afford professional cuts. She might invest in some scissors and attempt to navigate a trim herself. A cut every six weeks is better than no cut at all.

Connection Suggestion Four: Businesses need to realize they may not be seeing customers at their best. Kids doing distance learning, the entire family working around the kitchen table, the dog barking during meetings – you name it, someone you know is probably dealing with it. Month after month, it’s just not that much fun. In fact, it can be downright depressing. Work to give people the benefit of the doubt. They may not be running on all cylinders. A little generosity on your part may turn around an otherwise potentially stressful situation.

Connection Suggestion Five: Avoid the templates used last year; they’re probably wrong. Instead, think about what’s bothering or concerning the business’s customers. If the business’s template doesn’t answer those pains, scrap it and start over. “We know cooking night after night can get a little old. We’re here to give you a break. We’ve got curbside delivery and four family-friendly specials to choose from. Instead of worrying what’s for dinner, let us handle the oven tonight.” That’s speaking the right language: I am sick of cooking.

Connection Suggestion Six: Offer choices and highlight how those choices are helping people. “Since March, a lot more of our customers have been taking advantage of our financing plan for braces. I think some people really like how the plan is low interest and spreads payments out over a few years. Would you have any interest in seeing some details?”

With a little practice, anyone can build their connection skills and strengthen their relationship with customers during these tough times. When it finally ends, they’ll remember how they were treated.

Kate Zabriskie is the president of Business Training Works, Inc., a Maryland-based talent development firm. She and her team help businesses establish customer service strategies and train their people to live up to what’s promised.

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