No, we’re not going to name and shame, but in recent years we've seen a rise in businesses touting their empathy and compassion towards their customers and societal issues. However, upon closer inspection, many of these companies are guilty of 'empathy washing'. This is the act of presenting oneself as empathetic and compassionate without actually delivering on those promises.
This practice has become ever more widespread during the recent pandemic and cost of living crises, as businesses have looked to align themselves more closely with customers’ needs during these challenging times.
Empathy washing is problematic for several reasons. First and foremost, it's not an authentic or sustainable approach. Customers can quickly see through insincere marketing tactics, and once they do, it's challenging to regain their trust. Authentic empathy requires companies to invest time and resources in understanding their customers' needs and concerns and then taking tangible steps to address them. This kind of effort cannot be achieved overnight or through superficial campaigns.
Secondly, empathy washing is not a customer-centric approach. When businesses engage in empathy washing, they're more interested in promoting their brand than truly serving their customers' needs. By failing to address the root causes of their customers' concerns, these companies are doing a disservice to their audience and missing an opportunity to create a meaningful connection with them.
Finally, empathy washing can actually be harmful. When companies claim to be empathetic, they create a false sense of security for their customers. This can lead to a sense of betrayal when the company fails to follow through on its promises, causing customers to feel more cynical and distrustful of the brand and, as such, are likely to vote with their feet and potentially take others with them.
So why do companies engage in empathy washing? In some cases, it may be a deliberate attempt to manipulate their customers' emotions to drive sales or boost their reputation. In other cases, it may be a well-intentioned but misguided attempt to align their brand with a societal issue or to sympathise with their customers' challenges. Whatever the reason, empathy washing is ultimately a short-sighted and ineffective approach that fails to create real value for customers.
To truly excel, businesses should strive to be genuinely empathetic towards their customers and the broader community. This means taking a customer-centric approach and investing in meaningful actions that address their needs and concerns. Anything less is not only disingenuous, but it's also unsustainable and ultimately detrimental to the company's reputation and relationship with its customers. Customers want to do business with companies that care about them and their wellbeing, so it's up to businesses to demonstrate they care in authentic and purposeful ways.
Get in touch to find out more about our proprietary Empathy Framework and Audit.