Sales Essentials Blog

Sales Trend 3: Human Centred Selling – designing Empathetic Customer Centric Cultures

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Sales Trend 3 from the Barrett 12 Sales Trends Report for 2018 is about Human Centred Selling.

Bestselling author and business icon Stephen Covey once said: “When you show deep empathy toward others … That’s when you can get more creative in solving problems”.

In this hyper connected world it’s easy to gain access to information and make simple online purchases that are transactional in nature; items that we know how to use ourselves. However, today there is so much information and so many choices available that many customers are finding making buying decisions overwhelming, especially when things move beyond the simple transaction to something more complex.

This is when customers need access to real people. Real people who can understand the customer’s situation, help them solve problems, look at new ideas or gain access to alternative options they hadn’t thought of before and then provide something of real value.

In this state of flux world there is a flight to safety, to being reassured, and when a buyer cannot make a decision they need someone who understands them and their needs. This sales trend focuses on the rise and increasing value of the vital human life skill – empathy.

Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another; it is the ability to first understand where the other person is coming from before you can even consider trying to get them to do something, move somewhere or think something else.

Stephen Covey used to say: “First seek to understand before you seek to be understood.”

That’s a key element of empathy. And is at the heart of truly effective selling and service.

However, the prevailing dominant sales methods we have endured for the past 60 years have been based on self-interest, isolation and calculation. The 21st century is calling for something more human – human-centred selling. Replacing the 20th century archaic drivers with empathy, collaboration and cooperation means we can meaningfully and consistently connect and engage with each other, we can ignite real opportunities and viable business.

So how do we embed empathy into a business and make it a way of life across our cultures, especially when the prevailing 20th century views have been ones of self-interest and greed?

Monique Rappell, Head of Service Design for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), wrote a paper called “Social Justice: Employees clearly want greater meaning and responsible, purposeful behaviour from their workplaces. How can people workers and employers address these complex challenges?”

Monique found that empathy is needed when designing customer service systems to ensure that everyone understands the full user experience. However, she found that normative changes are hard to enact in heritage businesses, because they often don’t want the change. They’re stuck in the ‘that’s what we’ve always done, and it’s worked until now’ space, and they sometimes lack the empathy needed to better understand their customers and build a really high quality customer experience.

Often businesses use assumptions when making decisions, which hastens the process but can lead to biases. When service fails customers get annoyed and take it out on employees, who get annoyed and angry because everything seems to be their fault (by both customers and managers), rather than managers taking a step back and realising that the fault lies in poor sales and service systems, processes and designs and not their employees.

This is how poor customer service occurs and/ or is maintained: Poor assumptions are self-serving – for example, if you think that your customers are too ‘dumb’ to understand your business you won’t bother making information easy to comprehend, customers then ring with queries – thereby proving that they’re too ‘stupid’ to grasp the business.

Also, efficiency trumps efficacy – e.g. there is often a focus on customer touch points, rather than customer journeys. These issues could be fixed by increased empathy for customers: through genuinely listening to them, understanding their frustrations and service challenges and considering ideas they may suggest; learning to deal with ambiguity, framing problems better – not just focusing on finding solutions, being more transparent, being accountable and being persuasive.

Empathy Never Sleeps

Empathy isn’t merely a foundation pillar to build a business on; it’s also an important way to adapt when the market inevitably turns. Without empathy, it’s far too easy to just keep doing what you’re doing – doubling up on what’s bringing in revenue at the time, without asking whether customer attitudes are changing and shifting.

Empathy as a powerful societal force.

Philosopher and author Roman Krznaric coined the term, ‘Outrospection’[i] and explains how we can help drive social change by stepping outside ourselves.

Capabilities such as empathy, compassion and benevolence are emerging as critical qualities of highly successful people, teams, organisations and communities. Even in the highly competitive world of business and selling, it has been found that those salespeople and leaders who are able to incorporate these qualities into their daily work and personal lives are finding greater levels of success. This is coming in the form of better sales results and healthier, more prosperous client relationships as well as better personal health, resilience, and overall job and personal satisfaction.

Ironically, while the digital world and technology have given us a hyper-connectivity we have never seen before, the technology can often disconnect us from real people, real feelings and real experiences.

Now is the time to get back to being human, to reconcile and place equal importance on developing the empathetic parts of our brain and to make genuine human connections – how smart companies are giving themselves new sales and business edge.

Being genuinely curious and attentive, listening for the hidden meanings between words and taking the opportunity to lift others up is where genuine customer centric cultures emerge.

Pretty much all of us want to work with people who have our best interests at heart. In return, we’ll be rewarded with greater loyalty and deeper connections in business and in life

Having a business that is truly human-centric takes more than lip service, or an assumption that ‘the customer is always right’. It means that every aspect of the business, whether customers interact with it directly or not, needs to be human centred, taking into consideration all end users (whether they be internal or external to our business) and making things clear, transparent and easy to understand and do.

The customer journey through the business should be positive, easy and seamless so that the customer feels like everyone they talk to is ‘the company’, and that the whole company is ‘friendly’, not just that ‘one good person works there, and if I don’t talk to them it’s just terrible’.

Empathy and human centred selling is really about kindness.

And Kindness is contagious.

Remember everybody lives by selling something.

Author: Sue Barrett, 



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