The Empathy Business

Last week at London’s Calling I saw a fantastic speaker, Belinda Parmar OBE. Belinda is founder of Lady Geek and now has a new venture, the Empathy Business.belindaparmar

Parmar has stated that her personal mission is “to end the stereotyping and patronising of women within the technology” and the “pink it & shrink it” approach of selling to women. While her approach used to focus on women in technology, her new venture has a fresh new approach which was unlike anything I’ve seen.

As her Empathy Business website says “When we started in 2010, Lady Geek focused on female customers and employees in tech, hence our name. But we soon realised that it wasn’t gender that had the biggest impact on performance, it was empathy. We specialize in measuring empathy levels across your customers and your staff. We have created the world’s first empathy index for one of Europe’s biggest banks.”

The most empathetic companies in the world were published in Harvard Business Review. The HBR article by Parmar has an excellent summary of how they measure empathy and what actions can improve it.

“We break down empathy into categories: ethics, leadership, company culture, brand perception, and public messaging through social media. Our publicly available metrics including CEO approval ratings from staff, ratio of women on boards, and number of accounting infractions and scandals. This year we added a carbon metric.

How do you go about infusing your company culture with more empathy? Start by identifying the trouble spots — the activities and behaviors that communicate a lack of empathy — and addressing them. Ryanair did this with its “Always Getting Better” program in 2014, scrapping unallocated seating and many hidden charges and reducing carry-on luggage restrictions. CEO Michael O’Leary said, infamously, “If I’d only known being nice to customers was going to work so well, I’d have started many years ago.” The result was a rise of 13 places in this year’s index and a net profit increase from €867 million the previous year to €1.24 billion ($1.39 billion) in the year ending March 2016.

Taking the first step does not have to be dramatic or costly. One way to promote empathy in an organization is to deliver small ’empathy nudges’ systematically. The nudges may seem insignificant in isolation, but in aggregate they can have a big impact. One idea from a European bank is to create an “empathy fund,” a small pot of money that retail staff can use at their discretion to engage with customers, for example, by sending a sympathy card to a bereaved client. At an automotive company, micronudges have included allowing salesmen to go tie-less and displaying signs that detailed the benefits of vehicle features to drivers. These and other small gestures have been credited with goosing sales by 23% compared to dealerships that did not adopt the empathy program.”

Next week I will be sharing some of my thoughts about what Belinda had to say as well as her roundtable with Peter Coffee of Salesforce and Anne-Marie Imafidon of Stemettes.