Building a Culture of Empathy
I was recently asked to present on the topic of building a great company culture to a group of business owners, many of whom own highly successful companies. Initially humbled by the request, I thought, “Why me? What can I share about company culture that these individuals don’t already know?” After further reflection, I came to realize that Environmental Pest Management does have a unique culture, especially when it comes to superior customer service. And while adopting an empathetic, people-centered posture comes naturally to me as a leader, that may not be the case for other leaders or organizations.
So, what makes EPM’s culture special? I’d like to share with you what I shared with those business owners.
People are the heart of our business. It may sound trite, but without our customers and without our employees, we simply would not be here. Although our customers need us, we also need them. We never take that reality for granted. Instead, we strive to build a rich partnership with our customers and our team, knowing that we exist for them and because of them.
Building Empathy into Company Culture
When we receive a call from a customer, it is typically because they are in distress. Pest problems are stressful! Their home is at risk. Their health is at risk. It’s likely this is the first time they’re dealing with such an issue and they aren’t sure where to turn. So what do we do? We immediately put ourselves in the shoes of our customer, offering empathy and compassion right from the start.
First, we answer the phone. I know that seems pretty obvious, but you might be surprised how many of our competitors simply don’t do this. As a general rule, we don’t allow a call to go to voicemail. We understand that if someone is calling us, it’s because they have an urgent problem – and they want someone to listen and to take action to help. So, we do everything possible to be there for them.
Second, we ensure that whoever answers the phone is an empathetic problem solver. Rather than simply scheduling an appointment or providing a quote, our people talk through every detail, listen to concerns, ask informed questions, and ultimately provide assurance that we’re going to get their pest problem resolved.
While this empathetic approach comes naturally to me, putting oneself in others’ shoes may be difficult for some. The good news is that empathy can be learned. I coach our customer experience professionals to ask themselves these key questions: “How must that person feel right now?”; “What can I say that will make them feel understood?”; “What can I do and say to make them feel relieved?” By making it a regular practice to ask ourselves such questions, we all can become more empathetic within our companies, while leading others to be more empathetic as well.
Care for Employees, Care for Customers
Early in my career with EPM, I learned an important lesson: how we care for our employees is how they will care for our customers. Caring for someone is about more than simply treating them well or behaving positively towards them. Caring for someone means that you have a deep desire to make their life better. You invest in them and the relationship, ensuring that the goals of each person are prioritized and met. By valuing employees in this way, they, in turn, value our customers, and they rarely fail to deliver that exceptional experience that EPM is known for.
One way that I put care into practice is through quarterly touchbase meetings with each of our employees. Although our family business has grown over the years—now to over 55 individuals—I continue to prioritize these one-hour meetings each quarter, knowing that it brings significant value to me and our employees.
While they are time-consuming, regular touchbase meetings allow our employees to have my undivided attention. I can look them in the eyes and learn about who they are, their passions, their families, and how I can better their lives. I take time to ask what I can do for them, and I take their answers to heart. If requests are business-related, I can immediately make changes to our operations. If a personal goal is shared, I find ways to support them in their endeavor. Knowing these details about our employees’ lives also allows us to celebrate them as they reach personal and professional milestones.
In busy periods, it’s tempting to put these meetings on the back burner. But I choose to never allow that to happen. Our company culture—one characterized by the way we care for our customers—is too important. These one-on-one meetings establish the foundation of our culture and have become the epicenter of who we are as people and as a company.
Empathy as a Differentiator
Especially within our industry, EPM’s culture is unique. Although we do provide exceptional service, it’s how we perform those services that makes the real difference. From the first phone call to the completion of the service, our intention is that our customers feel like they’ve had a friend and teammate throughout the process. What started as simply caring for people has become a competitive advantage in the marketplace.
Because we are known for exceptional customer service, maintaining this caring, empathetic company culture is of utmost importance. It’s what keeps our customers coming back, and it’s what helps to attract and retain our employees. Not only do we get to help our customers manage stressful situations, but we also get to encourage and support dozens of employees who call EPM home. And that’s pretty special.
It’s my mission in business—and in life—to help people solve problems. If I can be of help to you in any way, please reach out.