Last week, New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote an Op-Ed piece called The Limits of Empathy. He argues that empathy doesn’t really affect how people act. It’s an interesting article. Here’s an excerpt:
“Empathy makes you more aware of other people’s suffering, but it’s not clear it actually motivates you to take moral action or prevents you from taking immoral action… Empathy is a sideshow. If you want to make the world a better place, help people debate, understand, reform, revere and enact their codes...”
My take: Let’s assume that Brooks’ observations are correct. They still do not discount the importance of empathy with customers and within an organization. Even if empathy is not a significant motivator for a person’s actions, it still has an impact on the people who experience someone else’s empathy.
A strong implication of his thesis, which I totally endorse, is that companies can’t rely on empathy from employees to drive their actions. I often say that heroes don’t scale; you can’t rely on employees to do things just out of the goodness of their hearts.
One of my 6 Laws Of Customer Experience is that employees do what is measured, incented, and celebrated. If company’s don’t create an environment that is conducive to providing good customer experience, then even the most empathetic employees will stop delivering great customer experience, or they will just leave the company. People tend to conform to their surroundings.
The bottom line: Empathy alone is not sufficient