6 min read

A Little Empathy Goes A Long Way

Mar 7, 2024 6:30:00 AM

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Empathy, or the lack of it, makes for unforgettable customer experiences. 

Last spring, my older son got his third concussion while scrambling for an errant, playground football. It was a long night in the ER, and we weren't discharged until nearly midnight. 
And when it rains, sometimes it pours. My all-day conference was winding down two days later when my husband texted:  "I think Moses is having appendicitis; I'm taking him to the ER." 
Moses is my other son, a steely-eyed 9-year-old whose pain tolerance is immense. If he was writhing with stomach pain, it must be bad. 
He also needs a complicated constellation of care as a cardiac patient; a few hours later, I sat by his bedside, hoping the ambulance transfer would arrive soon.   
My phone rang.  
It was one of those courtesy phone calls to confirm a concussion-related appointment for my older son the following morning.
I answered her questions with half attention, bracing myself for another round of dry heaves from Moses. 
After a few minutes, I interjected, "I'm actually at the ER with my son, who is about to get transferred to Riley for an emergency appendectomy, so I think I will make the appointment tomorrow morning, but I'm not sure." 
She paused for a moment, and then plowed ahead with the script, her voice short and tight: 
“Well, just make sure you call us because the doctor is booking out into June and a lot of people want that appointment." 
Her words were a scrape, tearing across the moment without a hint of empathy. 
Moments for empathy and connection can feel inconvenient. I imagine her on the other end of the line, slogging through her own long day, and ready to get off the phone. She was just doing her job, tidying up the last straggling bits of a to-do list. 
But the encounter felt sour. 
If she would have just paused, her acknowledgement would have been powerful. 
It could sound something like this: 
"Oh, it sounds like you are going through a lot with your little guy. I hope he is okay. If you can't make it tomorrow, please just try to give us a heads up, I know that a lot can change between now and then." 
Empathy, or the lack of it, makes for unforgettable customer experiences. And a little bit of care goes a long way. 


How many times have you been on a deadline, wanting to make the sale or get through the list, and you miss the moment to interact with the humanity of the person in front of you or on the other end of a call? 

I was a part of a sales cohort a few years ago. At the end of each training, we would troubleshoot stuck deals. Someone was sharing from the front about a deal that was floundering. The potential client was in the middle of a messy professional lawsuit—as well as a divorce—and was not returning calls. 

Wrong pricing? Another competitor sneaking in? I finally raised my hand; “It sounds like he is going through a lot in his life. Do you think that might be why he’s been hard to reach?” 

It felt revelatory to the room, that a disruptive life event might be at the core of the non-responsiveness. So, instead of pushing through a sale or a next conversation, the salesperson engaged his empathy and reached out with an email:  

“It sounds like you have a lot on your plate right now. Know that I am here, ready to continue this conversation, when it makes the most sense for you. Take care of yourself and focus on what matters most.” 

The prospect, who was dodging calls and missing meetings, responded within a day: “It has been hard; thank you for your note. Let’s talk again next month when things settle down.” 

Empathy and human-centric skills are powerful, both for clients and for your workplace culture. If you want to grow in your capacity, join me and the team at Gibson for the next Empathy@Work in-person training on April 18 at the Ritz Charles in Carmel, Indiana. 

The day of interactive learning will equip leaders, managers, and teams to create cultures of care at work. You can get your tickets here: https://buytickets.at/handlewithcareconsulting/1040131 

Want to know what the day will be like? You can hear more from past participants here (check out Gibson stars Courtney Montfort and Chad Side)! 


Topics: Leadership
Liesel Mindrebo Mertes

Written by Liesel Mindrebo Mertes

Liesel Mertes is a Workplace Empathy Consultant, host of the Handle with Care podcast, speaker, trainer, and the Founder of Handle with Care Consulting. You can find out more about her work at lieselmertes.com