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HomeLockedWhy empathy and trust underpin all successful business relationships

Why empathy and trust underpin all successful business relationships

Listen to this story
Voiced by Amazon Polly

Gaining trust requires consistency, integrity and time: losing trust can take seconds and last forever.

It is a vital component of the customer satisfaction process and is particularly important in the new world created by COVID-19. The pandemic has changed many things, but one constant element in the consumer’s decision-making process remains trust.

It is particularly important as more and more business interactions are undertaken without face to face engagement.  In fact, it is predicted that global online transactions will increase over the next four years by up to $US115 billion.

This change in payment and buying habits began before COVID-19. Banks and payment facilitation organisations have moved away from cash and face-to-face transactions to remote payment for the past decade.

The enablement of fast and secure payment processes such as Afterpay, QR codes, PayPal and others give the consumer incredible freedom, choice and flexibility. 

Even as the pandemic appears to be easing with many consumers venturing out again, the habits formed over the past 12 months around online business and consumer interaction are now ingrained.

Consumers want to know that the business they interact with is empathetic to their needs in their initial and then ongoing engagement.

The new journey for both consumers and organisations is the development of trust through value-added information, the personalisation of the sale experience and the application of empathy to meet the customer’s unique expectations. 

We know that empathy is vital, and we don’t have to look far to see how the lack of this emotion impacts consumers. It is no wonder that our Government is providing its Ministers and senior staff with empathy training.

However, there is a word of caution; empathy cannot be contrived, it must be sincere, and consumers want to know their unique needs are being catered for in the product or service. 

It is sincere empathy which is the first stage in creating the trust relationship. A survey by Salesforce of 8,000 consumers and business buyers found that 66 per cent of customers expect and demand that organisations they deal with understand their particular needs. However, the survey indicated that only 38 per cent of companies treat customers as unique individuals.

Don’t trust the person who has broken faith once.” – William Shakespeare

Customers want to engage with a salesperson who is not solely intent on a sale and will say and do anything to get it. Customers want someone who will explain how a product or service works, how to get the best from that product or service and allow the customer to make up their mind as to whether it works for them. 

Read more: Relationships: As valuable as the bottom line.

How to build trust and empathy

The companies who do this well understand that above any particular technique or approach to asking questions, your team members need to be engaged and inspired, have the skills, and be committed to taking action. If you don’t have the ‘care factor’, nothing else will work. As a side note for executives reading this article, YOU need to have a reliable and real-time way to measure this. Real-time means close to immediately after the customer has experienced the interaction. You and your managers need to be able to coach and know what worked and what didn’t the moment.

Managing customer ‘moments of truth’ in real-time is critical and absolutely nowadays.

But by focussing on the how-to’s, the action starts at the first meeting.

If you are in a service role, you should already understand the importance of a “friendly welcome.” Customers are experts in sensing if this is done in a genuine and warm way. 

However, if you aim to sell a complete solution and be successful in cross-selling, the first how-to, is how well you engage customers. Your teams must take the time to build genuine rapport, then show interest and understand your needs and wants, and find the best solution for you. 

Traditional training might teach team members how to use open-ended questions (who, what, when, tell me…), but the real skill here is not manipulating a conversation. It is about building trust, lowering pressure and directing the conversation based on the needs. This should be led by your customer, not a random set of up-sell directives given by the company. You want to get to the truth about what they need as the starting point. It sounds simple but think about how often you are the customer, and the person assisting you misses the mark.

You can measure how well your team are doing this with several questions for example:

  • “Did they explain clearly the value of going with XYZ?”
  • “Did you feel our team member took the time to build genuine rapport with you?”
  • “Did they show interest in finding the best solution for you… make useful suggestions that met your needs… I’m interested to know; did you purchase any of the suggested items?”

Finally, the ultimate way to understand if your team is building trust and empathy is to simply ask the customer about your team member’s helpfulness, advice and knowledge and if the customer would be happy to be served by that team member again. Clearly, if they are, then it’s also likely your team member solved their problem, and their advice DID influence on their final purchasing decision. 

If not – the customer may have found them ‘friendly’. But still, it may have been a very transactional experience and really, they knew what they wanted and didn’t receive any added value when they interacted with your team member.

Many retailers and online sales brands continue to use outdated sales approaches, which does not have the customer needs are a priority.

Understanding a customer’s unique needs through an empathetic engagement is the first stage in building trust and ensuring long term engagement. In addition, it will open the door to repeat buying and goodwill referrals, something all business in a competitive market desperately want.


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Phil Prosser
Phil Prosser is Founder & CEO of FeedbackASAP, which provides 20 plus years global category experience, across 250 programs with more than 300 clients in retail, call centre, online, service centre for the path to purchase. Feedback ASAP is the culmination of Phil’s very driven career path.