Happy employees

Storyboarding, empathic mapping

... and 4 more ways to create happy customers and employees.

What does empathy for customers and employees really mean? What do you think of when you hear the words "empathy" and "involvement"? We know that the best companies develop emotional intelligence and empathy in their employees, both in relation to customers and within the team. Organizations that do not do this often fail to reach their full potential.

Think back to your most enjoyable customer experience. Have you ever felt that the company you were contacting fully heard, understood and accepted your point of view? Nice feeling. Was there a similar feeling of mutual understanding from the team within your company? Do your employees share the opinion of colleagues, show interest and involvement in them? Or do you see this unity only at corporate parties and much less often in solving complex project problems? A perpetual battle of interests within the company. And how wonderful it would be to have peers as well as peers. Google's internal research found that the most important new ideas for the company came from teams of people with a wide range of skills and strong emotional intelligence. , manifested in the form of empania, curiosity for other people's ideas, critical thinking, etc.

It's easy to talk about becoming more inclusive. Almost everyone of us understands that empathy is important, but why can't we apply it? The problem is that we misinterpret what empathy is in a business context and how to use it. It's not just listening skills, sympathy, or joint problem solving. When we talk about creating a “culture of empathy,” we mean that some should focus on understanding others' experiences.

An important part of empathy is action. It’s easy to feel empathy for your employees and customers, but if these are just feelings, then they do not do much good. Now let's look at seven ways to train the muscles of our empathy.

Empathic mapping

Empathy mapping is a concept included in design thinking. Empathy maps define what our client sees, hears, thinks, does, feels and speaks in a specific scenario.

Once the client's experience is literally “seen through his eyes,” it is easier to identify the pain and motives that he may be experiencing.

Empathy maps are very effective for specific CJM points and understanding customer avatars. For example, the development of an empathy map for children (a family audience that comes to a cafe) makes it possible to eliminate a lot of errors in the communication of the institution with this audience group. Knowing and fully satisfying the needs of the little guest, we get in his person (as well as his mother) a committed agent of influence, who next time will bring his family again, because we have taken into account all his characteristics. For example, have you ever thought about what ice cream display cases are made in such a way that children under 7 (until they grow up) do not see the goods. How do they choose ice cream? They stretch on tiptoe, worry somewhere down there, try to consider the assortment and helplessly ask adults. And adults can easily impose choices and decisions based on their own motives, for example, saving. But what if we provide a small pedestal near the refrigerator, which our sweet tooth can easily enter? Do you think they'll be limited to one scoop of vanilla ice cream? Or there will already be three balls, because the child will be confused by the choice and wants several tastes at once? And my mother will not be able to refuse him, because arguing with the child is more dear to her.

Consider another example with the same cafe. What, if any, does the children's menu look like in most establishments? This is a text that gives parents the right to dominate the child, offering him only what is beneficial to them from the standpoint of benefit and cost. What will mom choose? Chicken broth and fish cakes, of course. What would a child choose? Fries, emoticons, nuggets and a big crazy shake. All this would give him great pleasure, add points and money to your piggy bank. And what is needed for this? Just a game photo menu, which can be easily understood by anyone who does not know the letters, but who knows how a cake looks like.

Do you want a third example of how you can increase the average check in the same cafe and with the same child, just by showing empathy for him? What will the child do when he gets bored? First, he will start whining, crawling under the table, straining his parents. Then he will begin to demand that it all be over. If they do not leave immediately, they will start running around the cafe, risking knocking down the waiters with full trays of glass and other cutting and stabbing objects. This, of course, will already begin to put pressure not only on his parents, but also on other guests and even the staff. In general, parents will not have much choice about how to leave the institution, although they would still be happy to stay and drink and eat something else. What can we do by showing empathy? Occupy the child at least, and as a maximum, make his day extremely exciting, so much so that it was impossible to persuade him to leave. A child who is keen on playing with our animator, with cartoons in play and a lot of cool toys can sit out for four hours, or even all of them (in my personal experience of organizing such play areas in a cafe). And how much can his parents eat and drink in four hours? They will have time to have breakfast and dine with us. Firstly, this is an increase in the average check, and secondly, an agent of influence that is completely loyal to us, who, as we know for sure, will be with you with the whole family again next Saturday. And he will bring his friends.

So, we need to know what our client sees, hears, thinks, does, feels and speaks in order to offer him the best solutions that satisfy his needs.


A technique that is often overlooked is the visualization of someone else's experience as another means of helping to better understand it. This is storyboarding or storyboarding - the use of pictures and words to tell a story in a confined space.

Our brains work differently when we draw. Many people will argue that they are not good enough artists, but that is not important. What matters is how drawing transforms the way the brain works, moving it beyond its standard thinking, allowing for more emotional response and creativity.

At master trainings, I often ask the participants to draw the worst scenario for the development of events and then we correct it by making changes to the work scheme. Everything that before that could be an incomprehensible bunch of emotions expressed verbally becomes an extremely simple visualized scheme in which you can change one or two parameters in working with clients so that everything goes as it should.

Take this great exercise in developing empathy. The next time you come across a negative or even neutral attitude towards a client, try to draw what happened. This can help you see what actually happened and correct a similar situation in the future.

Speak and work through situations with employees

There are many ways to develop empathy. A detailed study of the existing situations and role-playing games with potentially possible scenarios are the most effective methods.

In order to hear a dissatisfied client (and a colleague as well), it is important for us to put aside our own annoyance, irritation, fear, fatigue and get rid of the manifestations of professional deformation. This is especially critical in areas that, in the client's opinion, are extremely important, for example, life and health.

At one of the trainings with call center operators of a multidisciplinary medical center, we took apart a case (audio recording), which was initially regarded by the staff as a "psycho patient", but for me it was obvious from the first seconds in all its horrors for the caller. It was a night call. At one o'clock in the morning, a young man called and immediately began to shout at the operator with insults, among which it was difficult to make out the essence that his pregnant wife was bleeding, they were now driving through the forest and that if by the time they reached the clinic, all medical personnel will not be ready to wait for his wife, he will personally shoot everyone.

What would be the right thing for the operator to do at that moment? The only right decision: to say that we are waiting for them, prepare and do everything promptly, that the clinic works around the clock and our doctors are great professionals. And then ask clarifying questions about the condition of the wife in order to give an introduction to the medical staff in advance. This is a manifestation of empathy, because somewhere out there, at night in the forest, a man rushes in a car with a bleeding pregnant wife. Fear, despair, loss of control and lingering hope that everything will end well. What did he want to hear? That he will definitely be helped and expected. What did he hear instead? The tired night voice of the operator, as I call it a zombie voice, which began with the educational process: how patients are supposed to talk with employees of one of the best clinics in Moscow, that obscene speech is unacceptable, that we are not hired to be yelled at, etc. Many, many, many words are not about that. In the end, it hurt both. And to the one who shouted, and to the one at whom they shouted.

An employee with undeveloped empathy has a difficult time going through such stories, accumulates colossal stress and burns out. He perceives all the pain and fear of the situation through the prism of "they are always yelling at me, it's time to quit." We are losing customers and employees at the same time. After we examined this situation in detail with involvement, we mentally left the cozy office of the call center, where you always have a cup of hot coffee with cookies, a comfortable chair and quite a working environment at your fingertips, mentally sat behind the wheel of the car that was racing through the night forest - everything became completely clear to everyone. Compassion for the patient makes it easy to find the only right words and at the same time protects against their own stress and burnout. The patient yelled at the situation, not at the operator. And it is impossible to understand this if you do not mentally be with him.

Such analyzes of situations produce a colossal effect every time. I always see the same disclosure situation. People literally change before our eyes, as if some kind of insight comes to them. After all, what torments us most in conflict situations is the lack of understanding why someone behaves in relation to us, as it seems to us, inadequately. We really do not like it when we are “humiliated”, “yelled at” at us, etc., egocentrically believing that all negative reactions are addressed to us. But in reality: we are separate, negative reactions are separate, the problem that needs to be solved is separate.

Empathy in action is the ability, as I say, to “take a person by the hand” and be with him in his story, providing all you can to help in solving his problem. How to teach this to each employee of the company? Only by constant analysis of situations. Being inside a problem, it is very difficult for a person without developed predicative empathy to see the situation from the outside.

The good news is we train this skill. I can say this responsibly, since I myself have observed the transformation of personnel after such analyzes many times. 

So, how to get the most out of your training process:

  • Use real cases,
  • Deal with the situation collectively,
  • Play a story "in the shoes of a client"
  • Do not judge participants for their earlier mistakes,
  • Encourage candor
  • Draw conclusions and consolidate them with new work standards if the problem is systemic and does not depend on the staff, but on the incomplete operational processes of the company.

Develop active listening with colleagues and clients

When I work with companies in a wide variety of industries, the first thing I do is develop active listening techniques in employees and the ability to give feedback. This always greatly simplifies the solution of all issues and increases mutual understanding. No matter how pompous it sounds, it is precisely the lack of sincerity and mutual interest that always complicates the solution of any problems. Conversely, even the most difficult conflict situations with clients and colleagues are resolved positively if you show involvement, listen carefully and show your interest using the language of feelings, like: “I understand why you feel so frustrated.” It is important to use a similar approach not only in relation to customers, but also within the company. This culture of active listening empowers employees to be understood by peers and management.

I once witnessed how one employee told the manager “you don't feel like they hear me”, when he turned his chair around, looked the employee in the eyes and said: “You are right. I'm sorry. Let's re-state your question again. ”And after that, an important project was immediately put into operation, which until that time had not been coordinated with the management for several years. It was a show of involvement and respect. Better yet, if such practices of collaborative, motivated problem solving and empathy are part of the overall corporate culture. Leaders, attention! I recommend that you listen to your colleagues more often and give them the opportunity to be frank with you - in their heads there is a lot of valuable information and decisions that are not always voiced.

I love to listen and hear the staff. Often, when I conduct marketing audits and interview line specialists, many valuable observations and correct decisions come to light, which they are silent about. When I ask why they do not share such correct recommendations with their management, which would greatly increase the competitiveness of their company, the answer is always the same: "who needs it, no one hears us." I urge you to hear! An engaged employee who is heard becomes more productive, motivated and delivers the results you expect. The loss of initiative among employees is often due to a culture of empathy that is not developed within the company. If we do not hear our colleagues, how can we require them to hear us and our clients?  

When I ask call-center operators, who receive a hundred or more different, including difficult calls from customers a day, how they "come to their senses" after a shift, I understand that I was the first to whom it matters. Nobody asks or listens to them. They dump their emotional fatigue on their relatives, who do not listen to them either, but simply give a decision, they say, it’s hard, “quit”. And every morning, when they go to work to "work hard" with the thought of dismissal, they are not ready to hear their clients. And so, day after day, we lose employees and customers simply because no one is interesting to anyone.

Empathy is primarily an interest in another. It starts with the fact that your employees become interesting to you, and then they begin to broadcast this culture of empathy to their customers.

Another example. Do you think restaurant managers, even the most prestigious, know that their waiters are starving? An unexpected thought, isn't it? In fact, no matter how the process of feeding the staff is organized, it is the employee of the hall who all the time works with the trigger in the form of food, which irritates his receptors, will experience hunger. And how will a hungry tired waiter work? - Poorly and without involvement. There will be no interest in gases, no desire to make the guest a holiday, there will be no attentive courtship and anticipation of all the guest's desires. The guest will simply be brought and served what he orders. Superservice can only be provided by a person in adequate physical condition. I want to say that trainings will not help if the staff is experiencing burning hunger and looks at the guest at the plate, in which he is picking and picking. The guest will remain incomprehensible, because a hungry waiter would eat it all with enormous pleasure. 

How do you know if a problem exists? You need to talk with employees, ask a lot of questions, find unexpected answers and solutions. There will not be such a situation that the waiters themselves will come to the manager and say that they are hungry all the time, and this has a very bad effect on their customer orientation. Nor will they say that the kitchen for the staff cooks poorly, that the number of feedings is not enough, and that when they are in the "zapara" hall, they may be left without lunch at all. And don't confuse yourself sitting in offices with those who work with food. If we don’t smell food, we don’t see how others are eating it, we may not have a need, since there are no external stimuli that stimulate the production of appropriate neurotransmitters that trigger the digestion process. So, if we do not ask, we are not told. Empathy is primarily about action.

Wasting time talking

We don't like listening to each other. If you can immediately solve the problem on the fly - why listen? Why is this waste of time? Or maybe sometimes they just want to share with us so that we can listen?

Solving a problem outright does not express sympathy. Empathy is about listening and creating space for understanding. Rapidly presenting solutions does not reveal this space.

If you're not good at empathizing with problem solving, that's okay. Spending more time solving the problem than you think is necessary may seem counterintuitive and unnecessary to you. Listening skills take time to develop in some people. If this doesn't come naturally to you or those in the leadership of your organization, don't worry. Once you appreciate its effectiveness, you will no longer feel sorry for the time.

Remember that the people you listen to really open up and give you a lot of valuable information. You can spend years racking your brains over solving a problem with employees, hiring a bunch of trainers, firing, etc. It takes forty minutes to dive into their history and collect all the factors that hindered over the years, reducing staff efficiency and customer loyalty.

Don't criticize employees for mistakes

When things don't go the way we know, customers often share emotional and detailed feedback on how it affected them. Sometimes these stories reach managers or department heads. The impact of these emotionally charged stories is limited to those who read email or customer testimonials.

Sharing these negative stories can be scary. It is admission of guilt at worst, or neglect at best. Most employees try to hide this customer feedback from management. I urge you and the leaders of your organization to overcome this discomfort. Empathy is created through understanding. These customer stories create another path to understanding and often help eliminate systemic organizational errors within the company.

If each employee solves conflict issues with clients one-on-one, without seeing the whole picture (how his colleagues are doing in such matters), then the wrong idea may arise that the problem is not an individual, but a systemic one. It is important to share negative stories, reviews with colleagues and management, discussing them together not with the aim of appointing and punishing those responsible, but with a focus on eliminating such problems for the future. Any employee can get a negative experience of working with a client in the course of their work. Much more important than not making mistakes at all is the elimination of their systematic appearance both for the employee himself and his colleagues.

Joint analysis of negative situations and the search for solutions, the introduction of new standards of work and, possibly, changes in internal protocols, help to improve the system from the inside with the solution of each new problem. During internal audits, I carefully study all negative comments from clients and situations disclosed by employees with one single goal - to find solutions and become even better. The most important thing that helps me is a detailed study of customer comments in their literal interpretation. Their words contain important clues for us about what is really important for the client, what he is counting on and what is his disappointment. If we don’t show empathy and see the essence, we can go the wrong way. At the very least, we can lose one client if we do not respond to him with involvement and interest. As a maximum - to lose a lot in such situations, which are likely to be repeated more than once. It is important to remember that if the company has a developed system of punishments, employees will try to hide the negative experience of customers as much as possible and will definitely not voluntarily share this information with colleagues, especially with management. To stimulate the exchange of experience, it is important to change the attitude towards problems, not to look for the guilty ones, but to focus on eliminating system failures and creating an environment and conditions for effective, client-oriented team work.

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