Empathy Could Save Your Business

empathy in business stress

If customers ever make you feel like this, read on…

You will have heard the saying ‘The Customer is Always Right’.  To be honest, I’m not sure I really agree with that.  My years of experience as the owner of a retail bridal store  taught me that, actually, frequently customers aren’t right.  They can be armed with many myths (thank you, Internet) and ideas that are as wrong as can be.  But that doesn’t mean they should be treated badly.

I guess that the concept of ‘The Customer Is Always Right’ is really just a way of saying that The Customer Should Always Be Treated With Respect.  And that, I wholeheartedly agree with.

A friend recently relayed to me a story of wedding dress shopping.  Friends are often keen to share these with me (not surprisingly, considering what I used to do for a living, before I started in coaching), especially when there is something a little scandalous about the story, of course.  There isn’t really much that surprises me in this field.  I’ve heard stories from brides, from mothers-of-the-bride, from bridesmaids, and from bridal stores themselves.  So I’ve heard it from all sides.

And I also can see the stories from both sides.

The moniker of ‘bridezilla’ caught on for a reason – not all brides are all that easy!  Stress runs high during the process of wedding planning, and often spills over into unreasonable or unrealistic expectations.  But perhaps we need a new term, for stressed-out bridal shops owners who’ve had enough of answering the same questions over and over, and fielding the unusual requests, and juggling the ever decreasing dress budgets with ever increasing wholesale prices.  Maybe we should call them ‘Boutiquosaurs’.

This friend’s sister-in-law-to-be had gone shopping for a wedding dress, chosen the perfect gown, and reached the point of ordering.  (People imagine that choosing the dress is the hard part.  In fact, what comes just after that can be a much more difficult process, which from the point of view of the store owner or assistant can demand the patience of a saint, while you painstakingly explain the ins and outs of measurements, timescales, alterations etc. etc.)  So the bride and her mother had some questions to clarify how everything worked with measurements and sizes.  They were confused about the process.  So they had a lot of questions.  The problem was that they didn’t feel their questions were being answered sufficiently, so they were becoming very unsure about the process and asked yet more questions.  But they still had the full intention of ordering, from that store.

The long and the short is that the bridal store owner, rather than taking their order, ended up asking them to leave the premises.  She turned down their money, and threw them out of the shop.  I suspect a classic case of Boutiquosaur here.  Too much pressure, and she’d been asked these questions just once too often, and felt like she was being scrutinized too heavily.  Bridal retail is a tough business, and ever tougher each year.  It’s understandable for stress to play its part.  But allow it to get on top of you – throw someone out of your store – and you risk your reputation, as well as your bottom line.

Now, like I say, there are always two sides.  But I DO know bridal retail.  And I do know brides.  I know all the questions they (and their mothers) ask about measurements.  And they can be endless.  When you’ve answered them a gazillion times, to a gazillion brides, it can get monotonous, you can be left with a tremendous sense of déjà vu.

This isn’t a problem that’s limited to bridal retail, of course.  This same thing can play out in all sorts of businesses.  If you’ve ever found yourself thinking (even as a joke), ‘Business would be so easy if it weren’t for these pesky customers’, then you’ve probably been there.

And this is where empathy comes into play.  Empathy is what will save your reputation, bring in the orders, and ultimately save you from Boutiquosaur syndrome.  How?  Let me explain.

Fundamentally, you need to come at this remembering that every customer you see has probably not done this before.  They don’t have the knowledge that you have on this subject.  They don’t know how it works.  And just because you’ve explained it to one customer, doesn’t mean that the next customer will have any better idea.

More than that, many potential customers or clients will come pre-armed with some ideas or ‘facts’ which may or may not be accurate.  They don’t mean to be awkward, but they may, through the understandable process of trying to learn for themselves how something works, simply be misinformed.  Perhaps by someone who didn’t quite understand the process when they did it themselves, or perhaps by our friend, the Internet.

The trick, and the things to remind yourself, every time you find yourself answering the same old, same old questions, and spouting the same information you’ve spouted a million gazillion times, is this:

  • Every single customer is different from the last, and NEW.  Don’t tar them all with the same brush, and certainly don’t allow your feelings about one customer affect how you deal with the next.
  • The vast majority of people don’t do things deliberately to be difficult.  Yes, you might get the odd one, but they are in the minority.  Most people actually have the best of intentions, so give them the benefit of the doubt.
  • Listen to them.  Answer their questions respectfully.  Explain to them in a way that you’d like to have it explained to you.  Ask yourself if you’d be satisfied with your explanation.
  • Remember that people LIKE to do business with people they LIKE.  They’ll  like you if you treat them with respect.  Moreover, if they like you, they’ll tell other people about you and rave about your service.
  • Look at it from their point of view.  Empathize with them.  This will improve their experience and make it more likely that they’ll buy from you, AND then rave about your service.  It will also improve your own experience of dealing with customers – you will actually be happier as a result.

And lastly, if stress is getting on top of you and affecting how you deal with customers, it’s time to reassess.  Something is out of balance and needs to be put right.  Be brave, take a long hard look at your situation, and if you can’t sort it yourself, get help.  Your business and your life will thank you for it.


©Liz Wootton, 2014.  All Rights Reserved.


Check out our Creative Business E-Course, including a module on Stress Resilience, starting February 11th 2014.  Only £35 / $52


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