The effects of empathy on your clients

How do you use empathy to improve your customer experience?

Empathy is a term that is often used in the training we provide. Not just from the side, but also from clients and participants. What is empathy really? What kinds of empathy exist? What are the effects on clients, and how can you employ empathy to improve your customer experience?

Let’s start at the beginning. What is the definition of empathy? According to the definition provided by a quick Google search it constitutes “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.” There is always a second person involved, and empathy is shown in relationship to another person.

No doubt that the definition above is something you had in mind. Basically, it means that you can relate to the person you are talking to. So far, so good. It might be stating the obvious, but you can see why empathy is important when you’re speaking with customers and clients.

Cognitive Empathy versus Affective Empathy

However, empathy runs deeper than this. The regular definition of empathy, as stated above, is a composition of two different kinds of empathy. And this matters if you are to employ this with your clients and customers. On the one hand, we have cognitive empathy, which is the natural ability to see the world from the perspective of another. On the other hand, we have affective empathy, which means that you feel the emotions that the other person is feeling. Which is an important difference, especially in the execution.

Imagine the following situation: You are talking to a client. And you’ve not really established your relationship with this client since you’ve only just started collaborating. However, you should be able to have a clear image of his perspective. By asking open ended questions and actively listening to the answers, you can shape that image. After all, you’re asking about his current situation, where the partnership should lead to, and the goals that are to be realized. Additionally, you’ll learn about possible challenges that can become obstacles to a successful partnership.

Can you shape that image, and summarize it back to the client? That’s cognitive empathy. Well done.

How exceptional is that?

Asking the question above is really answering it, in this case. It isn’t exceptional at all. Many professionals are able to seem empathic. That’s their job, remember? So it makes sense to employ cognitive empathy, because the advantage is that you’ll be taken seriously by your customers. You are a professional after all.

Affective empathy is the key

The difference between a successful account manager and a super successful account manager is in the affective empathy. Even though some people feel you’ve got this kind of empathy ‘naturally’, I see that differently. I know that you can learn this kind of empathy if you know why you do it and if you’re not afraid to work on it.

Believe it or not, but there is a short cut. A hack – so to speak. And this hack can be taught, via a brilliant method. And intertwining that method with the right conversational strategies is what makes unique.

The benefit of affective empathy is that this is the essential link that helps form personal bonds between people. If you are able to combine affective empathy with cognitive empathy, your customers and clients will experience you as different! You’ll be an impressive professional, in his perception.

Obviously, this is tied to the non-conscious beliefs, strategies, and drivers of people. Are you able to zoom in and positively impact these? Then you’ll be able to trigger affective empathy and to connect on a personal level with your customers. What effects does this have on their customer experience, do you think? All positive.

Empathy & Customer Experience

Empathy & Customer Experience

In short: How capable you are in empathizing with your clients, and sharing their perceptions, will directly influence their customer experience with you and your organization. Can you utilize both forms of empathy in a positive way? Then you’ll find yourself to be a decent professional (cognitive empathy) whilst also building the personal connection with the client through affective empathy.

These forms of empathy are, obviously, not the only factors that impact the customer experience. However, this is a great first step to start differentiating yourself from everybody else.

Want to learn about employing empathy effectively? Get in touch with, and we’ll continue the conversation.

Writing by Stephan Annema, partner at mar

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Written by Stephan Annema, partner at

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