Customer empathy

A few weeks ago, I went shopping at a large, reputable supermarket in Nairobi. I had a cart full of things. One of the items in my cart was a pack of baby wipes. When the cashier tried to scan the barcode on the wipes, her machine did not recognize the barcode. She looked at the barcode then turned to me to tell me that I had picked up the wrong wipes and should go back and get different wipes.

That irked me! How on earth am I expected to know whether the wipes are the “correct” ones or the “wrong” ones. The supermarket places items on aisles, customers pick up what they want then go to the cashier to pay. That’s the supermarket concept. Customers do not concern themselves which whether the barcode on the items that they pick will scan at the cashier’s machine or not. I told the cashier as much. Told her if the wipes were “wrong” (whatever that means) then they shouldn’t have placed them where I could get them. She apologized and figured out how to get the “correct” ones. That cashier lacked customer empathy.

As a customer, I don’t know the supermarket’s processes. All I know is that I should pick the items I want then go pay for them. She lacked customer empathy and focused on the supermarket processes. She did not look at things from my perspective. Sadly, many businesses have not trained their employees on having customer empathy.

Imagine walking into a doctor’s office for a minor aliment. The doctor examines you briefly, asks you some questions about your ailment then asks you for some statistics about your blood. As in, not telling you to go to the lab to have your blood drawn – he asks you expectantly to supply him with the information about your blood that he needs to determine how to treat you. Imagine how shocked you would be that the doctor would have expected you to come with your data about your blood.

Many times when dealing with customer facing employees, I as a customer, feel that same shock. I’m left wondering, “How do you expect me to know that or provide that!” It’s the same way I felt with that cashier.

Organizations need processes, policies and procedures in order to function effectively and efficiently. They are important. However, if you expect the customer to participate in procedures, it is very important that you provide a friction-less way for them to participate and make sure that they understand how to participate. In the example of the doctor needing a blood data in order to complete his diagnosis, most clinics and hospitals give the patients clear instructions on how to provide a blood sample. They tell you where to go and have provided lab technicians to draw blood and test it. The patient needs to participate in the hospital procedures but it is clear how they are to participate.

We are in the age of the customer. Customers’ expectations have been raised by various innovations that have come about in the last few years. Customer is king. If you don’t make their experience with you friction-less, they will move right along. They have options.