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Turning Empathy into Action

Written by Alida

Published May 10, 2022

In conversation with Alida’s CEO, Ross Wainwright, Kerry Bodine reveals empathy is the key to further developing CX and EX, but has yet to be embraced by senior leaderships across the board.


In his opening remarks to kickoff the 2022 edition of Activate, the CEO of Alida, Ross Wainwright, has identified empathy as the key element to move employee and customer experiences forward.

In the midst of a challenging moment in history, a period characterized by chaos and uncertainty, customers have responded by making unexpected choices. Same goes for employees: frustration over the pandemic and mental health challenges has led to The Great Resignation, a phenomenon that has led 4.3 million of Americans to quit their jobs. Perhaps unsurprisingly, there are over 11 million open positions in corporate America right now. Employee burnout has increased by almost 100%.

The question for organizations everywhere is how can we address this? According to Ross, the answer is empathy: “it’s about walking in (customers and employees) shoes and understanding what’s in their hearts and minds. You can build empathy by doing three things: you have to care, be prepared to listen, and take action. At Alida we’re very passionate about the voice of the employees because, at the end of the day, they don’t work for me. I work for them.”

Alongside the coauthor of the report “Empathy in Action”, the CX thought leader Kerry Bodine, the Alida CEO dissects the role of empathy in relation to customers and employees and its importance in the creation of effortless, enjoyable experiences.



According to Kerry Bodine, many executives fail to realize there’s a connection between experiences, behaviors, and the outcomes they’re chasing: “Empathy is smack dab in the beginning of this chain of events.”

Based on his years of experience as a CEO, Ross believes there’s a correlation between empathy and vulnerability and, at least among C-suite types, showing vulnerability is considered equivalent to demonstrating weakness.

For this reason, embracing empathy seems counterintuitive to building a strong and successful business profile, yet it’s the smart move: “The world has changed, and the most successful executives are comfortable with their vulnerability. At the end of the day, vulnerability means just that you’re human and it helps your employees build trust, be their better selves, and do their best work.”

Alida’s four-day work week pilot program scheduled for this summer fits the empathy narrative. According to Ross, it’s not about reducing the hours: “It’s about driving empowerment. That empowerment comes from a position of trust and empathy: If we’re empathetic (to the needs of your employees), they feel empowered to get the work done on their schedule.”

But, what’s preventing companies from making empathy a priority? Kerry Bodine believes it has to do with failing to understand what empathy can do for a company, at any level of the organization: “It all comes down to senior leadership: how are they setting goals, values, and whether they’re leading by example. If those at the top are not empathetic towards customers or employees, that trickles down.”



Kerry Bodine and the Alida team coauthored the report “Empathy in Action” with the intention of tackling “the unofficial north star of customer experience”, as she puts it. “We wanted to find out how CX practitioners viewed the business value of empathy. Turns out that despite our collective focus on developing it for employees, customers, and partners, empathy has a real image problem.”

Here are some notable findings from the report:

  • The number of in-house respondents who agree that customer empathy is necessary to define and implement CX is predictably high (86%), but when asked about their employers’ beliefs, only 36% of the respondents think their organizations viewed empathy as necessary for CX improvement.

  • The percentage disparity is similar among the respondents who believe empathy can create business value through CX (72%) and those who think their organization shares the same belief (30%). According to Kerry, “this reveals a huge disconnect between how practitioners view the role of empathy in their day-to-day work and as a broader tool in their organization to drive action and deliver business outcomes.”

  • Less than 20% of staff-level employees, middle managers, and senior leaders strongly agree that their organizations are effective at helping develop customer empathy. “Before this research project, I thought of empathy as the horse that comes before the cart, feelings that spur you to take action. What we found is that a lack of understanding of how to apply empathy in practical ways impedes the building of empathy in the first place,” explains Bodine.

  • For empathy to take hold as a boardroom-accepted concept, CX specialists must learn to balance the feelings they’re trying to evoque through customer insights with the actions that can be taken to improve the customer experience and drive the business forward. This requires subtle modifications to the way customer research is conducted, results are shared, and insights are brought to the organization. Enter the Empathy-in-Action pivot.


  • Conducting research

    • 1:1 interviews: Ask business stakeholders about the outcomes they feel are most tied to the interview topic. Then add interview questions that explicitly address the drivers of these outcomes.

    • Listening to customer calls: Categorize calls by the reason each customer is calling in and by the business outcome those issues ultimately impact.


  • Sharing insights

    • Telling customer stories: While many customer stories are interesting, funny, or provocative on various levels, select only those anecdotes that directly address issues that are impeding progress towards your organizations’ top business priorities.
    • Sharing video clips: Add short text intros to your videos that explicitly call out the business problem the subsequent customer clips address. Also, add outros with a compelling question or two that encourages employees to think about how they might take action.

In short, if you wish to give empathy the importance it deserves within your organization, think about the ways you can help the senior leadership, middle management, and individual contributors take action over the qualitative information you’ve collected and shared, every step of the way.


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