Decision Making with Customer Empathy

Alex Allwood CULTURE, Customer Experience, EMPATHY, leadership

“The biggest deficit that we have in our society and in the world right now is an empathy deficit. We are in great need of people being able to stand in somebody else’s shoes and see the world through their eyes.”

— Barack Obama

Over the years, I have been exposed to the very best and worst decision-making behaviours. Even leaders who have the fortitude for cultural change and possess compelling insights into the root cause of their customers’ trials and tribulations, can derail innovation efforts with a lack of empathetic decision-making.

Being empathetic means feeling what it’s like to be in someone else’s shoes; feeling what your customers are experiencing, evaluating the emotional impact of the experience and making positive change as a result.

Empathy is an important part of leadership and culture. A customer-centric leader has the ability to drive customer-led change and the ability to imbue this skill in others.

In the blog Making Compassionate Decisions: The Role of Empathy in Decision Making (see link below) the author reviews Paul Bloom’s book, Against Empathy: The Case for Rational Compassion.

The article sums up Bloom’s case, “Emotional empathy could be simply described as ‘feeling what others feel,’ cognitive empathy as ‘understanding what others feel,’ and compassion as ‘caring about how others feel.’

Bloom’s book makes a case against empathy as an inherent force for good and takes a closer look at what empathy is (and is not), and how empathy works in our brains. He makes this point, “We are emotional creatures, then, but we are also rational beings, with the capacity for rational decision-making.”

One of the best ways to develop customer empathy is to understand the customer’s experience from their viewpoint – ‘to walk a mile in their shoes’. The customer view can only really be understood (and utilised in business decision making), by undertaking conversations with them about their experiences.

An immersion exercise such as ‘walking a mile in your customer’s shoes’ gets people from across the business out from behind their desks and serving customers in store, riding delivery trucks, listening in on customer service calls or sitting in on sales presentations.

The focus is to deepen empathy for customers, and then to use this understanding to better inform business decision making so that customer experiences are improved. I’ve found that in the absence of customer empathy, organisational leaders fall back into purely rational decision making that’s biased by shareholder returns, productivity gains and personal agendas.

Failing to develop customer empathy and instil this in others can mean the difference between ‘business-as-usual’ and delivering greater value for customers that leads to greater business value.


Making Compassionate Decisions: The Role of Empathy in Decision Making (Farnam Street Blog Post)