by Tammy Hart

As we head into 2006, we are moving towards what some are calling the “Empathy Economy,” and “Design Thinking” is all the rage. Consumers are demanding empathy from corporations, and companies are doing everything they can to deliver (and then some.) The focus is shifting from just making a product to creating an entire experience, which might include things that the customer never considered.

This new concept of “Design Thinking” is focused on each customer’s deep personal needs, and addresses complex problems by creating and discovering new solutions beyond what people expect. Design Thinking requires a diverse team of skilled people with great passion for finding resolutions to problems. In today’s economy we need to focus on the entire customer experience, break away from habitual ways of working, and strive for continuous design and innovation.

Successful customer service associates understand the importance of building relationships with clients to retain their business. In Dale Carnegie’s book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, he suggests that you can make more friends in two-month’s time by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you. That makes sense to me. What becomes challenging for some is being genuine about their interest.

In his book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People , Stephen R. Covey talks in depth about trying to understand someone else before focusing on being understood. Most of us, Covey notes, listen to others with the intent to reply, composing our responses rather than really listening. It seems natural to share your related experience with the speaker as they are telling the story, but according to Covey, it’s best to hold back from projecting your own experiences into the conversation too quickly. I would have to say the majority of us are guilty of doing this, but at least by being aware of it, we can try to improve our communication skills.

Synergy is also another word that is getting a lot of attention these days. Experts suggest that if you can win someone’s trust through empathetic listening, the natural effect is positive synergy. Learning to appreciate diversity and understanding the value of differences in others’ ideas, perceptions and interpretations is very important in creating positive synergy.

Oftentimes people who are insecure have a tendency to feel threatened about sharing knowledge or giving duly earned recognition. There is a difference between a person with respect who is willing to cooperate and has a moderate level of trust and a truly synergistic person who is interested in gathering as much information as they can through diversity, and the ones who sincerely appreciate others are the ones who will excel.