The Loyalty Empathy EffectBy Evan Snively, Senior Client Engagement Associate
Empathy is the ability to recognize and understand the feelings of another person. It is a catalyst for kindness, patience, and support. These and other attributes are core to prosocial behaviors which can optimize the strength and resilience of communities. For this reason, an environment filled with empathy would be a desirable outcome for most companies.
When companies think about empathy, they tend to focus solely on trying to figure out a way for their employees to authentically empathize with their customers. However, according to data from a new Chapman & Co. consumer survey, it may be just as important to focus on how customers feel empathy toward employees.
The survey found that a specific segment of consumer respondents was more likely to have actively increased their empathy toward a company’s employees during COVID-19. This group consisted of self-identified “brand loyalists,” leading us to term the related phenomenon of increased empathy as the “Loyalty Empathy Effect.”
The Loyalty Empathy Effect is an intensified emotional response that customers experience towards employees of the brands they are loyal to.
The survey found Loyalists were 54% more likely to increase their own patience when dealing with a company’s employees than Non-Loyalists.
Part of the driving factor may be that loyal customers often see themselves as part of the “in-group” of the brand. As such they perceive employees as part of their same tribe, creating an element of shared identity which allows for the empathy gap between the parties to be closed more readily.
Per the Loyalty Empathy Effect, brand Loyalists become more attuned to the situation of employees and are more likely to alter their own behavior in order to adjust to the employees’ circumstances. However, being more aware also means that they are more likely to notice flaws in the system which employees are operating, and even Loyalists can reach a breaking point. In fact, more than 1 in 3 Loyalists reported stopping doing business with a company in the past year because of how the company was treating their employees, almost 40% higher than the rate of Non-Loyalists.
To the extent a company wants to gain more loyal customers, taking care of its employees must be a priority, because loyal customers are paying attention.
As Brené Brown, a professor and best-selling author on courage, leadership, and empathy, states: “empathy fuels connection.” That connection is a two-way street. Just as much as employees can impact the customer experience, so too can customers impact the employee experience. And while conventional thinking may assume customers make an employee’s job harder, as the Loyalty Empathy Effect suggests, loyal customers have the ability to create an environment where employees are treated with a higher degree of respect and dignity. In turn, employees will be more intrinsically motivated to address the needs of the human on the other side of the interaction. This virtuous cycle will lead to a more stable and resilient business model for the companies who work towards it.