One thing that’s not on your checklist, but should be…

If you’ve been in business for any length of time, chances are you have developed some systems and rhythms. Ways to be more efficient. Strategies for providing a high level of service while still getting the grunt work done. Whatever your occupation, when a new client or prospect walks through your doors (either physically or digitally), a process is set in motion.

For some of us (think real estate) this process may take months from start to finish. For others, it might only be an hour or two (think oil change or furniture buying). In either case, we know the steps we need to take to get our clients from Point A to Point B. And if we’re doing a really good job, hopefully we have integrated a “give back” or a pleasant surprise along the way (the place where I get my oil changed has donuts!).

But how many of us have integrated empathy into our client process? It’s not a box you can check, a card you can mail or a coupon you can provide. It’s not a physical thing you can order in bulk and keep in the store room. And yet, wouldn’t most of our clients appreciate an empathetic heart from us more than another branded koozie or calendar?

I’m thinking about this because yesterday I met with some clients in preparation for listing their home. Although we’ve had several conversations over the past few weeks, the moment it came time to sign the listing paperwork, one of them got misty eyed. Next month this family will celebrate 10 years in their home—a home I was honored to help them purchase. As in any family, a lot has happened in 10 years. Lots of memories made, lots of life change.

Since we had the time, I sat back and shared the story of when my family moved almost six years ago. At the time, we had been in our house (our first) for 12 years. All three of my children had come home from the hospital to that house. The house itself had shaped us and grown us. And while we loved it dearly, there were challenges that made it clear it was not the best place for our future.

We found a new home, made an offer, and on a bright Tuesday in October I got the call that our offer was accepted. I came home for lunch and told my wife, “guess what… we’re moving!” While this was great news that we would later celebrate, in that moment her response was tinged with sadness. It became real.

It would be another month before we closed on the new house, and another month and a half before we moved in. And then ANOTHER two months before our first house finally sold. Of course, our new home was awesome, and the melancholy we felt over leaving one home was replaced with gratitude for the new one. It’s an understandable, reasonable process. I’d go so far as to say it should be an expected one.

Did telling that story help my clients feel less sad? Probably not—but then, that wasn’t the intent. What it DID do was put me right back in that moment when I had those same feelings. When my family was going through the exact same thing. And while it wasn’t on my checklist, the moment called for some empathy.

I remember early on in my career, one of my brokers said during a training that it was a good idea for real estate agents to sell and/or buy a home every now and then. He said it would help us to feel the way our clients do when they go through that process. Naturally most agents aren’t going to buy or sell a house every couple months (or even years). But firsthand experience every now and then can be very useful.

What would that look like for you and your business? What would you need to do in order to have empathy with your clients and customers? I think it starts with putting yourself through the same process they are experiencing. If you are a lender, apply for a mortgage (or a refinance). If you run a service station, take your car somewhere else to get new brakes or a state inspection.

If you are a business owner, with layers of employees between you and the public, may I suggest you submit yourself to both the employee experience AND the customer process. Same goes if you run a nonprofit—your constituents have one experience and your volunteers have another. You need to know how both groups feel when they interact with your organization. You’ll be a better business owner/leader if you can draw on a personal experience and empathize with your clients and team members.

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