It doesn’t hurt to be quick, responsive, friendly, efficient, or reliable. But for A. G. Lafley, former CEO of Procter & Gamble, the most important ingredient to making your customers happy is empathy. “I believe everything starts with a deep understanding of who the customer is, what he or she wants and needs and then trying to give it them,” says Lafley in his Big Think+ video. And cultivating a sense of empathy for your customers can have some pretty significant rewards.
Consider, for instance, word-of-mouth marketing, doubtless among the most effective methods of gaining new customers. According to a Nielson report, 92 percent of consumers say that they trust recommendations from friends and family above all other varieties of advertising. In fact, when a consumer makes a purchasing decision, word of mouth is the primary influencing factor — especially the first time they purchase a product.
But the only way to win this powerful form of advertising is by understanding customers’ wants and needs. Lafley explains that walking in their customers’ shoes was the secret to Procter & Gambles’ success.
We wanted you to have a good purchasing experience. We wanted you to have a good usage experience. We wanted you to have a good after-usage experience. And ultimately, we were looking for loyal consumers who promoted our brands to their family, their friends, you know, people in the neighborhood. Okay, that was our whole business model.
Why consumers are the bottom line
Cultivating empathy for your customer doesn’t just help you win free advertising — it can also give you better and more accurate insights into your customers. Neither Akio Morita of Sony nor Steve Jobs of Apple ever commissioned market research. Instead, they empathized with their customers and anticipated the kinds of things they would want to see in products.
Failing to empathize with one’s customers is also part of why large, successful companies fail. Consider the decline of department stores that failed to anticipate why customers might prefer the ease and convenience of buying their products online at Amazon, Kodak’s failure to shift to digital film, or Blockbuster’s inability to see that Netflix was a bigger threat than it appeared.
For Lafley, empathy for Procter & Gamble’s customers was a key element to their success. Though it may be tempting to rely solely on a more cool-headed analysis of the market, your customers are ultimately human, with human needs and concerns. Forgetting to tap into that could be a costly mistake. As Lafley put it: “If we won with consumers, and consumers loved our brand and product line, the financial results would come eventually. Always did.”