IT and Business Insights for SMB Solution Providers

Key Soft Skill for 2021: Empathy

Connecting emotionally with how others are feeling will not only build strong bonds among your team member, but will strengthen client relationships too.

Welcome to mid-February 2021! 

In the span of just over 40 days, we have seen a new administration take office, a vaccine rollout, civil unrest, and GameStop being a hot “stonk.”

For MSPs, COVID-19 and the resulting work-from-home needs, plus the continuing rise of cyberattacks, have created more work than ever before. Important to note, this also comes with a higher demand from our clients for quicker resolution time. How will we ever get through the rest of the year?

Allow me to answer that question in one word: empathy. Practice empathy and your business could absolutely soar!

The Difference Between Sympathy and Empathy

Many people, leaders especially, confuse sympathy for empathy. While each have a common starting point, “I’m sorry,” each has a very different end point. When we express sympathy, it’s typically to show we are acknowledging a sad or difficult situation in another person’s life. Once we’ve expressed those words, hopefully in a somber tone of voice, the recipient of sympathy acknowledges our intent.

In contrast, in the MSP industry, and in most service-based industries, we are required to “demonstrate” empathy. As Brene Brown, university professor and author of the recent book Dare to Lead has said, “Empathy is feeling with people.” Uttering words of “I’m sorry” is merely a starting point. Empathy is a choice. A choice to find a connection with others in an emotional, nonjudgmental way. This connection helps to guide our actions, verbally or nonverbally.

How can we as MSPs show empathy? It’s not just up to the owner to demonstrate empathic behaviors. Everyone on the team should learn how to show empathy. Consider, for instance, the service department dispatcher who answers a call from a frantic client and responds with, “I know how frustrated you feel right now not being able to locate that file. Let me put your ticket in right away and a tech will call you within the hour.” The dispatcher acknowledged and validated the client’s frustration and determined a course of action to mitigate the issue as soon as possible.

Empathy Can Be Taught

A few months ago, a client completed our survey, giving lower scores than usual for our “responsiveness” to resolving their ticket. After calling the client, speaking to our dispatcher, and listening to calls, I got to the root of the problem. First, we made an error during the scheduling process. Second (and the bigger problem), we didn’t show any remorse for our error nor did we try to create a sense of urgency in getting the client back on the schedule.

Our dispatcher is known for her friendly voice when speaking to clients and our team alike—a wonderful trait for relationship building! However, sometimes a friendly vocal tone needs to shift to a be bit somber to demonstrate and acknowledge a mistake. The wrong tone can make our clients feel frustrated and not heard. We need to show the client that we care about their issue and find time in our schedule to fix it, that day! 

Don’t assume everyone knows how to react in such a situation, but empathy can be taught. Once I worked with my dispatcher and explained the power of showing empathy and setting clearer expectations, survey scores rose once again, and I now have an even more valuable employee.

Empathy is a choice. We can choose how we want to react to various situations using Emotional Intelligence (more about this in my next blog!). One caution, especially for managers or owners of an MSP: Every member of our team is observing us. Our brains are wired to process verbal and nonverbal behavior and “mirror” those actions, positive or negative. So if our words say one thing but our actions another, our employees will mirror our actions.

I used to think that tech skills and closing tickets were the name of the game to growing my MSP. The reality is, when I actually focused on the “soft skills” side of my MSP, especially teaching my entire team to find ways to connect emotionally with how others are feeling, that is what truly built strong bonds among our entire team. In turn, this bond directly resonates with client relationships too.

Our business community and world need authentic and inspiring individuals to lead by empathic example. Let’s give others the opportunity to mirror our actions.

Please comment on ways you show empathy in your business.

About the Author

Lisa Shorr's picture

LISA SHORR is an image consultant and owner of Shorr Success and co-owner of Secure Future Tech Solutions, an MSP in Warwick, R.I. With more than two decades of experience in the sales and marketing arena, she conducts workshops and coaches MSPs on professional development and corporate branding.

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