Empathy At The Core of a Communications Strategy

The Evangelists’ Chapter 5, entitled: “Empathy at the Core of a Communications Strategy” featuring Heidi Manabat, the Director of Marketing Communications at Grand Hyatt Manila.

Learn about Empathy in Customer Service!

The following is an excerpt from The Evangelists: Insights from Leaders of the Nation’s Most Beloved Brands. Written by Pancho Dizon, this chapter is titled “Empathy At The Core of a Communications Strategy.” In it, Heidi Manabat, the Director of Marketing Communications at Grand Hyatt Manila, is interviewed about how the organization executes its strategy in communications in the hospitality industry.   

Creating a Memorable Experience for Customers

The hotel industry is easily associated with glitz, glamour, and posh. After all, they are where  you go when you’re on a vacation meant to help you unwind and bask in the pleasures  life has to offer. One goes to a hotel and expects nothing less than to be pampered with  comfortable beds, ambient surroundings, and delectable dining options.  

Still, all these amenities would mean nothing if the brand’s marketing communications  strategy wasn’t also up to par; they still need to communicate why customers should invest  their time and money with a hotel.  

This is precisely where Heidi Manabat, the Director of Marketing Communications at Grand Hyatt Manila, comes in. With extensive experience under her belt doing marketing  and communications for other hotel brands like The Ascott Limited, Crimson Boracay, and  Hennan Group of Resorts, Manabat is certainly no stranger to the industry.  

If there’s anything that’s stayed with her throughout all her experiences, Manabat shared  that it is the importance of empathy. “Empathy needs to be at the core of communications,”  she said. “This means not only understanding how the person in front of you is feeling, but  also what your audience in general might be feeling and thinking.” 

Her insights are especially relevant when it comes to hotel management, where anything  from food being cooked differently to the placement of their bedsheets can be an issue for  the customer. Multiply this by the hundreds of guests a hotel would see on a normal day  and you have a recipe for disaster. At some point, there will be a customer who complains― and it may not even be entirely reasonable.  

To counter this kind of issue, Manabat said it’s crucial that personnel remain cool headed. “It’s key to keep oneself level-headed―don’t get too emotional or defensive. Put  yourself in their shoes and remember that sometimes customers have astronomically high  expectations because you set them that way or that’s how they interpreted it.”  

Often, management solves these problems the best way they can by offering the first  logical solution they can think of or a conciliatory offering such as a free steak on the  house. According to Manabat, they may seem small but they carry a huge impact. “People  will remember that instead of being combative or blaming them, you still tried to make  their experience as pleasant as possible.” 

This belief in empathy directly shapes Manabat’s marketing communications strategy. “The  first thing is to always be as honest and transparent as possible,” Manabat said. “This helps  prevent confusion later on and keeps your company credible.” 

This became especially relevant in the time of the COVID-19 pandemic, where the  possibility of infection causes many to be unsure when they’ll ever visit a hotel ever again. 

 

“Regarding COVID-19, we had to feel out what people were thinking: were they petrified  at the idea of going back? Or were some of them excited to revisit our grounds, albeit with  new safety measures?” Manabat said that these thoughts were what helped the company  come out with relevant safety materials. “There have been cases where someone’s tested  positive and it wasn’t communicated properly. People were puzzled over the handling and  that was the last thing we wanted.” 

Of course, empathy is also applicable when working internally with colleagues. Manabat  recognizes that different departments, for example, may have different ways of working.  Empathy comes in here by way of her adjusting her communication style to best fit  whoever she’s talking to.  

She cited one time that she had to work with people from another department where their  understanding of the company’s goals relied more on numbers and hard data. “Because I  could, I adjusted my way of communicating to reach them better,” she said. “If they’re into  numbers, you put it into numbers. Frame things in a way your coworkers will understand.”  This empathetic approach is what helps her bring out the best out of all the unique  personalities she works with.  

Empathy is also a key component in how a brand deals with their endorsers. For instance,  Manabat’s past work involved working heavily with “influencers” or personalities with  large followings on social media.  

Manabat understands that dealing with influencers comes with its own set of challenges.  For example, many of them may have a host of other commitments or only want to project  a certain image to their followers. Fortunately, she finds that working around these matters  is easier than some would think.  

“You have to remember it’s a two-way street. How your brand handles these influencers  will impact the way they treat you. Try to be understanding and of course, genuine with  them,” Manabat advised. “A lot of the ones I’ve worked with are actually quite nice and they  even remember things like my birthday―far from the image people have of them.” 

In turn, influencers provide brands with ready metrics to gauge the success of a campaign.  Likes, views, and comments on an influencer’s sponsored Instagram post are quick and  easy to see, unlike more traditional mediums like a newspaper or billboard. 

Her experience with influencers also serves to reinforce her belief that simply putting  oneself in another’s shoes can go a long way. “There were definitely difficult times when  we put together an event, and they had to pull out at the last minute for personal reasons.  As frustrating as that can be, we were understanding of the circumstances and they were  grateful for that.”

 

At the end of the day, Manabat also reminds us that empathy is a basic trait anybody can  possess with just a little bit of understanding and patience. Considering how much time  and effort is put into putting together a communications plan, simply taking a bit of time to  try and understand is a low-risk, high-reward strategy.

To get more insights from other marketing leaders like Heidi Manabat, please check out the full book, available for purchase here


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