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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