Book Club: Dr. Natalie Petouhoff on Driving Behavior Change to Enable Empathy

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Olivia Fuller: Hi and welcome to Book Club, a Sales Enablement PRO podcast. I’m Olivia Fuller. Sales enablement is a constantly evolving space and we’re here to help professionals stay up to date on the latest trends and best practices so they can be more effective in their jobs.

For many business leaders today, there’s often a huge disconnect between the experiences that they think they’re providing employees and customers and those employees and customers’ actual experiences. To bridge these gaps and deliver experiences that are truly employee and customer-centric, especially at scale, leaders need to make empathy a top priority. The book, “Empathy In Action” walks through how to do just that and I’m so excited to have one of the authors, Dr. Natalie Petouhoff, here to tell us a little bit more about the book. With that, Natalie, I’d love to hear a little bit more about you and tell us a little bit also about your book.

Dr. Natalie Petouhoff: Thank you. It’s great to be here and this particular topic is really near and dear to my heart for a number of reasons. I think it’s one of the key business constructs that if adopted, and that’s shifting a lot of paradigms to say that, but if adopted, it could really radically change corporate America and sales as we know it.

OF: Absolutely. One of the things that you mentioned in your book is this concept of how the book really came about because you noticed that while companies often say that the employee and customer experiences are important to them, there really hasn’t been that much actual improvement in the experiences that companies provide. I’d love to hear from you, why do you think that disconnect exists?

NP: Back in the day I was a Forrester analyst and they did a study and they asked customers, what do you think about the customer experience, and 80% of the customers said it’s horrible, but when you talk to the companies they all felt that they were providing great experiences. Now flash forward 15 years, Bain & Company repeated the same study and they got the exact same results. That’s interesting because it’s the same question, and so what I noticed was how can two groups of people, and this was across lots of companies so it wasn’t company-specific and it wasn’t industry-specific, it was just across the board, what I noticed was when you asked the question from a different person’s point of view, you get a different answer.

When you ask companies and executives how they think they’re doing, they think they’re doing great, but when you actually ask the people who are receiving the experience, either employees or customers, they have a completely different point of view. Really the concept in the book is if you’re an executive sit down and listen or shadow the people that you work with or do mystery shopping as a customer and understand that experience from that other person’s point of view and when you do that, what we’re finding when executives are willing to take that chance and to do it, they’re like, wow, this is horrible. Why do we do it like this? This makes absolutely no sense at all and especially if you’re a customer and you experience these things you’re thinking, what is the company thinking, I’m never going to buy from them, then you go to a cocktail party and you tell all your friends about the horrible experience. That spreads that bad word of mouth.

I think since the pandemic, we’ve all had a moment, kind of a cause for pause, everybody kind of shifted their life priorities and so I think we’re in an interesting tipping point from both the employee and the customer point of view where people are just fed up and they’re really not going to take it anymore and so at some point, what we’re seeing is especially from the employee point of view, we have seen the great resignation which was followed by quiet quitting, so you may not have the employees you had or may not have the loyalty of those employees and their productivity or willingness to go the extra mile. For customers, it’s very easy for them to switch channels or go somewhere else, especially with the increase in online, so it does really impact the bottom line. This is not just a nice topic, this is a bottom line whether your company is going to make it or not, especially through this recession.

OF: Absolutely, and actually, I’d love to dig in on that last point, a little bit more. Thinking about the year ahead and especially the economic times that we’re in right now, what are some of the potential consequences of that gap between the experience that companies think they’re providing and then the experience that customers and employees are actually having?

NP: Think about it as yourself, you go online, you have a question, you want to return something, you want to buy something, you start interacting with a chatbot and the chatbot gives you canned answers. They’re clearly not understanding because they’re not really listening, they’re not seeing what you’ve done, they don’t have any context, they give you canned answers and you can’t get what you need. Then you contact them on another channel and this time you’re mad and frustrated because they wasted your time. Likely this could be calling a call center or customer experience center and then you’re frustrated with the agent. Now, the agent has no context of why you’re upset and has no idea what you’ve done if you’re using traditional means to set this all up. Now that a customer has to explain everything they’ve just done, making them even madder to think about the experience they just had and on the other end, that poor employee having to not only listen to how the company does things wrong but also oftentimes the customer’s anger is misplaced and ends up being placed on them.

Think about it, if you’re a company and you’re providing bad experiences, how many times is that customer going to come back and buy from you? A lot of times companies have implemented self-service, like using chatbots, as a way to resolve issues, but if that issue cannot be resolved and then it has to go to another channel, you’re actually spending more money for the same issue. It’s costing you more money and it’s reducing the likelihood of a customer being a lifetime customer and buying from you again. The metrics that we want to measure don’t actually change, like average handle time or first contact resolution, but what happens is we’re now measuring them not from a cost-cutting point of view from the business, like we’ll just shove some sort of self-service technology at them and it may or may not work because they haven’t actually sat down and used it themselves, so they don’t know from that perspective, it doesn’t really accomplish what they wanted it to. Now you have a situation where if you started to measure the same metrics from the customer’s point of view, did I get what I needed, was it done quickly and easily, did it get resolved in one contact? This is about average handle time, the first time you get your resolution, so the resolution and the metrics haven’t changed, but what’s changed is whose perspective you are measuring it from. When you measure from the employee’s perspective, or you’re measuring from the customer’s perspective, and you actually do it really well, that requires new kinds of technology. Technology has only been out relatively shortly here in the 5th Industrial Revolution. That’s when you really start to change your business, but these are all new concepts. We’re on the cutting edge here, so a lot of people are going to say, but I’m doing that and I challenge them to look a little closer.

OF: Definitely. On that point about thinking that you’re doing the right things, what does empathy then actually look like in practice for business leaders today?

NP: If you’re being empathetic to the customer, you’re actually walking through that customer journey. Whether it’s contacting the company by SMS, chat, or email, what is that experience like? Is that experience something that you really get what you need quickly and easily without a lot of friction or is that experience really difficult? When you look at it from the employee’s point of view, how easy is it for the employees to do their job, can they really help customers or are there a lot of rules and policies and a lack of information?

There are four principles in the Empathy In Action book. The first one is listening, which is looking at customer event data. The second one is taking what that customer is trying to do, augmenting it with AI so that it becomes intelligent, and then that gives either the bot or the agent enough information to be able to quickly and easily handle that interaction and then learning by using computational analysis to look at all the interactions in a day or a week or a month that a company is delivering and then saying, what did we do well from the customer and the employee’s point of view, and where can we make improvements and then actually taking that data that is very measurable and making those changes.

OF: Absolutely.

NP: Doesn’t that seem like common sense?

OF: It does, and it’s something that you talk about in your book is the difference between empathy and sympathy and I feel like that’s where a lot of business leaders might be getting tripped up thinking, oh just sympathizing with my customers or my employees is thinking about their experiences, but it’s really walking through actually how they are experiencing and interacting with your firm. I’d love to hear about that a little bit more from your perspective, what the difference is between sympathy and empathy in particular with how it’s being implemented in businesses today.

NP: Sympathy, in our definition, is really coming from the perspective of how you see something, not how the other person sees it. Oftentimes it might be expressed as a feeling of compassion, maybe pity, you might hear someone say gee I’m really sorry that’s happening to you, and that’s really kind but it doesn’t really change anything. It’s only when you sit in the seat of someone else. This applies to all personal relationships, marriages, people that you’re dating, your boss, is pretty much any human interaction. When you sit in the seat of the other person and you see the world from their eyes and you start to really interact with them from their point of view, then you can start to really change what your behavior is. So sympathy is making a polite statement, while empathy is really seeing the world through their eyes and then changing what you’re doing to take into consideration what’s really happening to them.

You’re right, I think a lot of people see the title and they’re like, oh yeah well we’re going to train all our people to be really kind, and I’m not saying don’t do that, that’s a good thing, but this is the next step. The reason it says ‘empathy in action is because now it’s about behavior changes now, it’s about policy changes, process changes, and changes in how technology can deliver an experience, and that’s really the difference.

OF: I love that. I think we talked about this a little bit already around the next year and where businesses are right now, particularly with economic uncertainty, but also with a lot of the technological innovation that we’ve been experiencing, as you talk about in the book, the Fifth Industrial Revolution is what we’re all in the midst of. I’d love to hear a little bit more from you about really how businesses should be thinking about planning ahead, not just in this next year, but thinking about the evolution that will need to happen with being in this Fifth Industrial Revolution. How can businesses plan ahead and make sure that they are implementing empathy in action as they are evolving in the next year and beyond?

NP: If we look at the short term, we see that we are heading into a recession, so it’s really important to be able to retain your employees. It’s really important, especially if you’re in the world of sales, to really have your salespeople sit in the seat of the customer and understand when you’re selling to someone, what are they going through. What are their priorities? Not what you have to sell them, but what they need and want right now in the long term. It’s really that transition.

What’s happening in the Fifth Industrial Revolution, which just started in 2021, is the first time that we’ve had a meeting of humanity and technology and the ability to look at and change human behavior. The previous industrial revolutions were about efficiency and effectiveness from a corporate point of view and cutting costs, a lot of automation, so robotics and the internet gave us a lot of capabilities that we didn’t have before. Now, it’s really the first time, and that’s why this is such a new concept, is it’s the first time that people have really put this all together to really look at how we are using technology to change behaviors and how we enable our employees to be able to deliver the best experiences, especially as salespeople? How much information do they have on the customer, and what do they really need to know to be able to serve those people instead of just approaching it from just selling?

It’s less about the product and more about the outcome for that business and really looking at how you’re going to improve that company’s business, reduce their costs, increase their revenue, secure their place in the marketplace. I think when you really come from the place of understanding your customer and you sell from that place of being in service to them, it completely changes the dynamic. I would love to hear from people when they do sit in the seat of their customers and they are selling and they change that dynamic from me, me, me and I think you ought to buy this and you know, we’re going to give you a great deal and our products better than the other guy’s product, you know, all those things that we can tend to kind of default on. When we really slow down and really sit in the seat of that person, it takes more time, takes more research, it takes more effort to have the conversation. It’s different. It’s not so much in the numbers, it’s in the understanding and changing behaviors, that’s where success comes from.

OF: I love that. Yes, enabling behavior change, and I think that’s where our audience of sales enablement practitioners can add so much value to the business and really help leaders understand how they can implement this empathy and action. Natalie, thank you so much for joining the podcast today, it was such a pleasure to hear from you and learn more about your book and I can’t wait for our listeners to hear this and also pick up a copy of your book as well.

NP: Thank you. I really appreciate it.

OF: To our audience, thanks for listening. For more insights, tips, and expertise from sales enablement leaders visit salesenablement.pro and if there’s something you’d like to share or a topic that you’d like to learn more about, please let us know. We’d love to hear from you.

To purchase a copy of “Empathy in Action”, visit Amazon here.

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