3 ways to foster empathy among teams: CX Mini Masterclass – E86

By May 28, 2020 June 4th, 2020 No Comments
This CX Mini Masterclass explains the importance of establishing empathy for the customer among all employees and 3 practical ways CX professionals can help teams do this. Show host and customer experience expert, Julia Ahlfeldt, covers 3 tried-and-true empathy building activities that you can use with nearly any team from service reps to the c-suite. If you’re looking for ideas and inspiration on how to help team members at all levels foster empathy and get in touch with the needs of the customer, then this episode is for you.

Establish a culture of empathy

There is a lot of focus on building empathy with customer-facing teams. This makes sense, but we can’t forget that customer-centric culture is about rallying an entire organization around the customer, not just a few select teams. It’s great if employees on the front lines can connect with others, remain in touch with the context of customers’ lives and demonstrate this through their actions. But to maximize the impact of customer-centric culture, those team members who are defining experiences, building platforms or making strategic decisions also need to be able to relate to the customer. CX professionals need to have a multi-pronged approach to foster empathy.

The following 3 activities have been curated with a wide ranging audience in mind. Empathy is a difficult thing to “teach”, so these activities are designed to gently guide people to the “ah-ha” moment where they see this for themselves. Once team members connect with what it means to feel empathy towards another, the next step is to help them apply this to the context of customers and then flex and train this muscle so they know how to use it.

Activity #1: time traveler

This activity involves explaining a modern object, like a TV, car or cell phone to someone who lived 200 years ago (or 500 years ago or who comes from a different planet). The group should be divided into teams of two. One team member role plays the modern day person describing the object, while the other person asks clarifying questions based on the perspective of someone who lived 200 years ago. After a few minutes, ask them to swap roles and repeat the conversation about a different object.

To wrap up, facilitate a brief group discussion, asking the participants how it felt to put themselves in the shoes of someone who lived so long ago, as well as what it was like trying to explain a normal everyday object to a person who has a completely different context for the world. The idea is to get participants thinking about context of others and what it means to relate to someone with a different perspective on life. During your debrief discussion, connect the activity back to your customer base by asking participants what disconnects might exist between their frame of reference and that of your typical customer.

This activity is quick and easy. It’s a fun icebreaker and can sow the seeds that foster empathy or reinforce the right empathetic mindset.

Activity #2: persona scenarios

This activity requires a little bit of preparation, but it’s totally worth it. It’s another great activity for a broad group of participants, and works well for a team offsite or another setting where facilitators have the luxury of time. To prepare, establish several customer personas (if you’re unsure about what customer personas are, be sure to check out episode 40). Next, identify a typical job to be done or customer journey for each persona and a possible hurdle the customer might face.

To facilitate the activity, assemble your group of participants and divide them into teams of 4-5 people. Provide each team with an example persona and scenario. Ask one person within each team to assume the role of the persona. This team member should introduce themselves as the persona and explain their customer journey, as well as the scenario information that you’ve provided. Their team has the opportunity to ask questions and get to know the fictitious example customer before working on a course of action to address the issue they are facing along the customer journey. Depending on the group, I’d suggest giving them anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes to get to know their team persona and discuss an intervention.

To conclude the activity, each team can present their persona and suggested next steps to the large group. During the debrief, be sure to probe with questions about how the team understood and related to the customer’s wants, needs, feelings and expectations, as well as how this influenced their course of action. This activity should not only foster empathy, but also get people thinking about how they can translate an empathetic understanding of the customer to improvements in the customer journey.

When preparing for this, remember that the facilitator should have as many personas and corresponding journey challenges as there are teams. Pro tip: marketing departments sometimes have personas on hand so that facilitators don’t need to build these from scratch.

Activity #3: everyone has a backstory

This activity is truly the Goldie Locks of empathy building exercises. It works with nearly any audience, can be facilitated as a quick ice breaker or a longer activity with the inclusion of an in-depth discussion.

When all participants are present, as them to write down the most ridiculous or outlandish customer request they’ve ever heard. It could be something they’ve heard from one of their customers or something they’ve observed in their own personal experience as a consumer. After they’ve written down their outlandish customer request on a piece of paper, they should pass this to the person on their right, who now needs to come up with a backstory that justifies the seemingly strange request.

The reasoning and backstory can be as outlandish as the customer request itself. It doesn’t matter. The point is to get people thinking about what might have motivated an otherwise bizarre-sounding customer request and then relating to the customer’s situation. The act of understanding another can foster empathy and trigger a totally different emotional response to a situation.

To close out this activity ask participants to turn to the person who gave them the customer request scenario and explain the backstory they came up with. If you have time, select a few participants to share their examples and discuss as a group.

Fostering empathy takes long term commitment

Creating a culture of empathy won’t happen overnight. These activities won’t magically flip the switch on team culture and mindset, but if they become part of a CX professional’s arsenal of employee engagement efforts, they will start to make an impact over time. The key is to be consistent and to help create those “ah-ha” moments, along with subtle reinforcement.

Want to keep learning about CX?

If you’d like to checkout more of these CX Mini Masterclasses or listen to my longer format CX expert interviews, check out the full listing of episodes for this CX podcast.

Decoding the Customer is a series of customer experience podcasts created and produced by Julia Ahlfeldt, CCXP. Julia is a customer experience strategist, speaker and business advisor. She is a Certified Customer Experience Professional and one of the top experts in customer experience management. To find out more about how Julia can help your business achieve its CX goals, check out her customer experience advisory consulting services (including CX strategy, voice of customer and culture change) or get in touch via email

Julia Ahlfeldt

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