Even in Business, Empathy Goes a Long Way

To quote Wilhelm Röpke in “A Humane Economy: The Social Framework of the Free Market” (1960), “Self-discipline, a sense of justice, honesty, fairness, chivalry, moderation, public spirit, respect for human dignity, firm ethical norms — all of these things which people must possess before they go to market and compete with each other. These are the indispensable supports which preserve both market and competition from degeneration.”

Core business values are no different than everyday virtues that we expect of our fellow humans, to be quite honest. Do the right thing, don’t be a you-know-what, that kind of stuff.

I’ve had the fortune of working both in adult novelty manufacturing and distribution, and no matter where I’ve found myself, the following habits have remained invaluable.


Take a moment to reflect on some of your most rewarding interactions with a customer. What made those experiences remarkable?

Was it the thrill of the sale, or a larger sense of fulfillment, knowing that by intuitively understanding the needs of the other person, you were able to navigate a problem and deliver an outstanding resolution?

The ability to “put yourself in someone else’s shoes” is a gift both inside and outside of the workplace, and arguably the only business skill that one might need to be successful. Empathy, defined as “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another,” is treating everyone with respect and dignity regardless of background or current circumstance — and it can make or break any business relationship.

The impact of being empathetic in the workplace starts at the top and trickles all the way down to the end-user. When we allow ourselves to be vulnerable and empathic towards employees, co-workers, our customers — and their customers — difficult situations become easier to swallow, which allows us to think critically and achieve optimal solutions. This is why empathy in the workplace is so transformative, and also why empathy should be a top quality of any existing or potential employee.


This one can take a minute to learn and it’s not always an easy pill to swallow, especially when everything goes to hell. Transparency is about being straight up and honest with your customer when hitting rock bottom in a dire situation. Being transparent has the potential to turn an irate customer into a brand evangelist; this is your time to shine! This can include an isolated situation, or a recurring issue on behalf of your company that you’ve tried to rectify with no luck. Both of those situations may be out of your control completely, or not. Some examples include:

  • An order didn’t ship when it was supposed to
  • They received the incorrect quantity/color of an item
  • Item ran out of stock
  • Repeated defectives for the same product
  • The company you work for may have wronged them in the past, etc.

I’ve found that the quickest way to alleviate tension with an angry or disappointed customer is to simply agree with them. Be on their side. (Back to empathy!) Defending your company because it seems like the right thing to do, or keeping a wall up with an “us vs. them” mentality is not the recipe for a harmonious, trusting relationship with your customers. We are all human, just trying to do our best. When all else fails, that statement, word for word, removes the company/corporation from the scenario and reminds the customer that we are all people, working our jobs, and in this together. Your company likely wouldn’t still be in business if it wasn’t capable of helping its customers. Mistakes are always going to happen, and the quickest way to get through a crisis is to acknowledge it immediately and always, always keep it real.

All customers are created equal

For manufacturers, it is understandable that your primary focus is to support relationships with your distributors. That is what they exist for, and that is what their reps do well — handling hundreds and thousands of retail accounts around the globe so that you can do what you do best: create the pleasure products! But the truth is, some retailers do slip through the cracks — perhaps they don’t order through your distributor(s), or they would rather deal with you directly. It is okay to make an exception for a little fish from time to time.

This also goes for distributor sales reps who are managing (what feels like) a million and one accounts. Yes — that can be beyond overwhelming, and sometimes it feels like the smallest customers on the food chain are the most demanding. That’s okay.

There was likely a point in time when you would have really appreciated a leg up from a particular person. Be that person for the little guy. If someone is trying to get ahold of your products and you go out of your way to make it happen, that is one more potential customer of yours in the world…at the very least.

You never know whose business is about to explode — and on the flipside, you never know whose business is on the verge of imploding. Sure, brick-and-mortars are reliable customers, but so are subscription box owners — and they aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.

No business is too small. If someone is asking for your help to ultimately buy and/or sell your products, help them. As a customer, it always feels really good when a big company or corporation goes out of their way to take care of you, no matter how big or small the sale. There is no greater value to your business than making your customer feel valued.

Whether we are taking advice from Wilhelm Röpke in 1960 or “Bill and Ted” in 1989, it really all boils down to the same thing — be excellent to each other.

Even in Business, Empathy Goes a Long Way by Casey Murphy originally appeared in XBIZ

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