Making your business better with empathy
Lorraine Jeckells, managing partner at Free, presented to an audience of 250 agency leaders at the Agencyonomics Best In Class conference, discussing the power of empathy in making business better. Her words give an insight into what’s at the centre of how we do business.
At Free, empathy is a thread that runs through the way we work with our clients and with each other daily. It is in the essence of how we sell our services, how we build brands that resonate, how we create campaigns that deliver results.
I believe that if I want our business to matter to our clients and team, then I really really need to understand what matters to them.
What this means is that I have to try to walk in other people’s shoes most of the time.
That’s what empathy is – it’s not always easy. But it is by walking in the shoes of another, we’re able to gain insight into their world.
Delivering real-world results
Empathy is a soft skill, but it delivers tangible real-world results. I recently read an Accenture report about ‘whole-brain leadership’. The report looks at how increasingly complex business problems need a new kind of problem solver.
As businesses of all sizes are discovering, they need to marry advanced analytics capability with more human-centred approaches if they want to tap into the full potential of their employees and consumers.
The whole-brain approach blends “left-brain” skills that draw on data analysis and critical reasoning with “right-brain” skills like intuition and empathy. The report says that of the respondents currently using a whole-brain approach, 22% reported an uplift in growth and profitability.
Living the client experience
We all want to know why – so, here’s my take on it.
Getting good work over the line is hard – it takes a lot of time and effort because, as everyone in any agency knows, producing really good work takes a lot of time and a lot of effort!
Throughout the agency process, there are points when it can get much harder if not managed with empathy. Friction pops up everywhere, slowing things down, impacting performance, positivity and ultimately profitability. A mismatch of expectations, unclear objectives, misunderstandings both internally and externally, can create project overruns, scope creep and all lead to frustrated clients and a frustrated team.
There’s nothing worse than coming back to the studio after a client meeting and having to say to the Creative Director…’ they’d just like to see a couple more options…’? This frustration became a catalyst for us to stop and think about how we could do things better.
Naturally, we took ourselves off to Marrakech.
We spent an intensive 4 days of brand strategising and soul searching. We wanted to put ourselves through the same process we offer clients – defining who we are, what we offer, and how we work. We wanted to really understand how our process could be more effective both for our clients and for us.
Not only did we define our brand and values, we were able to truly live the client experience.
Stop ‘taking’ briefs
One of the critical things we’ve done since we returned is, we’ve stopped ‘taking’ briefs; instead, we seek to understand what’s going on. What the client needs, what are the desired outcomes for the business and the individuals connected with the project.
For clients, we seek to get a deeper understanding of the culture of the company as well as clearly outlining their current challenges and personal risks.
For campaigns, we ask the same questions about the audience – what’s it like for them right now, what are they up against, why does it matter that they succeed? What are their pains and priorities?
Broad questions that open up the conversation and help us gain insight.
We’ve found this approach has made every stage of our process more efficient. We provide estimates that cover what’s needed, avoid scope creep, and because they hit the mark, approvals are usually swift.
By truly understanding what the client needs, internal briefings become more transparent, leading to faster output, and most importantly, more accurate creative. As a team, we can give and receive feedback more objectively – no more tears and tissue meetings!
Through embedding empathy in the core of our work, we’re better able to frame our solutions, gain quicker approvals from our clients, and reduce our rounds of amends.
Happy team, happy clients, great work, delivered on time and within budget…well, that’s the goal.
Getting things right the first time means the team feel like they’re winning, which in turn boosts confidence and morale, keeping productivity high and staff churn low. All of which has reshaped our bottom line. We’ve found it’s had a positive impact on our top-line growth as well.
Building trust through understanding
An empathetic approach builds trust. Clients know that we get them, and we’re on their side. It gives them confidence and a level of loyalty, which, for us, has significantly increased client retention and referrals. By really getting inside your client’s world, and understanding what matters to them and their bosses, and their bosses’ bosses, you can be proactive with ideas.
We have the opportunity to create alignment on vision, rather than at just a practical or functional level. It enables sales, without being salesy because it’s about helping the client solve bigger, more strategic problems and helping them get where they want to go.
I firmly believe that it is this change of approach that has enabled us to double in size over the last 2 years.
There’s another thing that empathy does that you can’t put a price on. Feeling understood – really gotten – is a liberating thing. The moment you are understood, you have the space to be yourself. You can drop your defences. You can be vulnerable. You can take chances. You can be innovative. You can get connected.
That’s the culture we’re working to build in our studio. We’re a truly unique bunch, but we share the same values and take the time to try to walk in each other’s shoes… although no-one’s allowed in my Manolo’s!