Client Empathy Training is Broken, Let’s Fix It

Many professional services firms struggle with how to inject deeper empathy into the Client Experience. We’re here to tell you, there is a better way to inject deeper empathy into your Client Experience (CX) Management (CXM or CEM) program. Client empathy training is a foundational component to your organization’s CX journey and service design. In fact, it is the most important component. If, as a result, you want to have a client centered organization based on meaningful and authentic human connections across the entire firm.

At least in my humble, middle-aged generation X opinion. The reason is simple, when done properly, empathy training is rooted in the human desire to connect to other people in a meaningful way. 

What is the Goal of Empathy Training?

The goal of client empathy training is to design shared experiences. Optimally, you want co-workers to learn how to make amazing client communication first nature. You want to make sure they deepen their connection to literally everyone else in the organization through the work at hand. And let’s face it, some people need a little bit of help in the area of communicating and connecting on a personal level with other people. 

Not everyone is a natural at relationship building. We are not serving our constituency well if we assume everyone is on their own and that everyone understands this kind of thing. This is especially true in AEC firms.

Our Original Intention With Empathy Training

At CX Pilots, our intention was always to model service design innovation by teaching people the science behind any kind of potential client interaction and how to improve it.  We would start by spending time teaching people, with what we call “The Checklist,” which is the anatomy of an interaction.  It is literally a graphical representation of a client interaction that can be filled out while connecting with the client, no matter the medium. Understanding the anatomy of a personalized client interaction and having the tools and training to cement that methodology into your daily work with clients is the foundation of what creates more consistently intimate and rich client experiences.  Originally, we thought that if people used this checklist to navigate their interactions, an improved version – that is consistent throughout the organization, would become first nature.  And it did, it actually works like that. 

Why Use a Client Interaction Checklist For Empathy?

Here’s why. People communicate verbally, non-verbally, and telepathically with other humans. It is born uniquely out of their very specific and individualized worldview.  No two people on the planet have the same worldview or the same way of connecting with others.  What people understand to be polite, impolite, rude, sugary sweet, effective or a waste of time is an individual experience.  People develop their communication styles from birth. They are formed in their own little bubbles – completely constructed from millions of interactions processed through a unique brain.  Much in the way that tying one’s own shoes becomes a completely unconscious activity about two weeks. After learning, communication patterns are even more unconscious – because we practice all day, every day. 

Change Has to Be Taught and Nurtured

Changing or enhancing the way we ask employees to communicate with clients needs to be organizationally consistent. It needs to be accepted and cemented on the conscious plane until it becomes first nature. Then it will become an unconscious or automatic upgrade in that person’s ability to create a more intimate experience. We take something as individual and permanently reinforced as natural connection building through communication; bring it up from the unconscious to the conscious level; examine it and re-teach or reinforce new and better methods; practice it until it sticks and becomes another unconscious process.  Voila.  The good news is that people will automatically do this. The better news is that when they become conscious of it, it becomes magical. Consequently, in the context of their co-workers shared experience, it becomes almost telepathic.

Here is How it Works

First, we introduce the client interaction checklist tool. This is a proprietary client interaction checklist that helps employees understand the anatomy of client interactions. Second, we practice it a few times and then give people a unique assignment. We ask everyone, from the CEO to the admins to recall their most difficult and memorable client experience. We look for experiences that leave us with an enduring impact. These are typically, easier for people to recall and more importantly, relate. 

The brain has a unique way of storing these slightly more indelible memories in places where verbal acuity has the strongest pathway.  Maybe it is a function of why verbal histories passed down since the beginning of time are often tied to survival. When we access important memories that aid us in our “survival” we automatically pull up or recreate the emotional awareness attached to the experience.  When we take the time to relate to others and impart our wisdom verbally, we cannot help but connect with them on a deeper, more authentic level.  It creates intimacy and builds successful tribes.

The Role of Empathy Workshops

Empathy workshops that are conducted after people have a deeper understanding behind the science of interaction and the art of telling their own story have much deeper roots when we elevate the intention to one that includes a hybrid purpose.  We design the workshops to fit the organizational structure, the unique culture that exists, and with an eye for orchestrating the richest combinations of people. 

There is a method to this madness, and what comes from it is truly a hybrid of deeper client empathy through the development of tribal activity, with a simultaneous objective of quantum team building and human bonding.  The result is that it is impossible for people not to better understand their connections with their clients and learn how their experiences, combined with their own world-views might differ significantly from their co-workers.  It’s more than empathy, it is what happens after empathy.

Traditional client empathy training programs and workshops specifically address the cognitive empathy that is needed to understand and even relate to a client’s experience and maybe even the resulting employee experiences connected to that interaction.  It’s a worthy pursuit to conduct these trainings, because it helps people communicate better and glean a deeper understanding of what is actually going on in those interactions that they didn’t experience first-hand.  This is empathy 101. 

How We’ve Designed Effective Empathy

Our workshops take a deeper dive, because we create real interactions through role playing that deepen our sense of emotional empathy, fortify our tribal knowledge and build actual emotional connections with our internal cohorts and clients.  This is often referred to as affective empathy because it fundamentally changes the way that we see ourselves in relation to other people in the context of broader experience via the worldviews of others. This level is where we learn to share the feelings that other people have – both coworkers and clients, relative to real life scenarios. 

That’s awesome, it’s a deep fortification in service design innovation.  But we don’t stop there. We take it to the highest level of empathy, what we call compassionate empathy or empathetic concern.  It’s what comes after we truly empathize with others, whether they are clients or people collaboratively serving those clients toward a better, more intimate experience.  This type of empathy actually engages us in the process of doing something about what we’ve just discovered through empathy.  It’s the manufacture of employee experience and client experience (as a hybrid intention) into a work product.  When we are moved by empathy and emotional connection to take action, it becomes a product of our work that has the deepest effect on our relationships with other people.  Whether that work product is in direct service to a client interaction or it is in the creation of a collaborative experience for the client, it works. It works with exponential power.  It is the highest manifestation of working together as a team, toward a clear and present goal.

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