Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Boost engagement with empathy: sensitivity to customers can improve your outcomes

by Ben Young, Development Director, Go Inspire

Thanks in no small part to the ongoing cost-of-living crisis, consumer habits towards spending, maintenance bills and interactions with companies have changed – possibly for good. And as a result, those of us working in customer experience – or indeed anyone with a vested interest in the customer retention rates of their organisation – need to change the way we speak to our users.

To create an effective campaign in 2023, we need to take a step back and reflect on our structures, go-to-market strategies and propositions, and to shake things up that weren’t working. Brands that recognise that the vast majority of people in the UK will be affected to some degree by the new way of living can deliver 1:1 communications with empathy.

Take, for example, the debt collection letter. By switching up the way we engage with recipients, there’s a significant opportunity to create balance between regulation and empathy. We can use data and insight to identify and support vulnerable customers, all while ultimately improving the collections outcome and
creating better results for the organisation.

The de facto set up of these letters often causes anxiety and distress for customers. The call to action is often not prominent enough and doesn’t emphasise help or solutions. The language is formal and ineffective, and key information past the first page runs the risk of not being read. In fact, research
shows that vulnerable customers frequently don’t open these sorts of letters at all, as they tend to cause distress – particularly during difficult periods.

But even when brands have to deliver difficult communications they can make a difference by doing so with empathy. By fully personalising the inside and the outside of the direct mail using good quality first-party data, the communication can be made to feel warm and engaging, rather than formal and intimidating.

And personalisation of a call to action helps to show empathy. The company sees the customers as an individual, not just a number, and recognises the need for help or assistance. Aside from data-driven personalisation, even more generic edits can be made with the customer in mind:

• using simplified, friendly language free of jargon or legalese;
• including clear design to display logical information on next steps;
• changing emphasis to an offer of help, recognising the situation of the

These are all key elements of a humanised debt collection outreach letter. Brands might even choose to go the extra mile: personalised QR codes which drive users to specific content or tailored images can create a 1:1 dialogue between service provider and user.

In the era of savvy consumers, financial uncertainty, and the need for hyper-transparency because we’re all constantly online, brands that fail to connect with their customers run the risk of failing full stop.

To perfect your customer experience, you need to demonstrate you understand your customers and whatever difficulties they might be going through. This might be as simple as a simple language change in your communications, or as in-depth as a total overhaul of the way you handle data.

But one thing is certain: displaying empathy for your customers will ensure better relationships, better reviews and, ultimately, better results.