RiddleBox co-founder Jeremy Moore and CEO of Data Sapiens, Koen Michiels, join Marlow FM’s Mike Bourton to discuss how business can balance the drive for short term impact and long term, sustainable growth.
This blog summarises the findings and conclusions from my personal dissertation which was completed between January and May 2019 in partial fulfillment for the requirements of my MBA program at the Henley Business School.
I was supervised during the research by Professor Moira Clark, Professor of Strategic Marketing at the Henley Business School and Director of the Henley Centre for Customer Management.
To compare the roles of trust and empathy in driving customer loyalty to brands in the supermarket and airline sectors.
What I expected to find
The drivers of customer loyalty remain a focal point for organisations seeking competitive advantages in crowded markets. This is especially true for the supermarket and airlines sectors where the lifetime value of an average customer is high and customers generally have a range of brands to choose from. Loyalty may be influenced by a range of factors such as price, convenience, perceptions of quality and prior experiences. I wanted to focus on just two: trust in the brand, and perceptions that the brand was empathetic.
My original perception was that trust ‘is a given’ towards established organisations in the highly regulated supermarket and airline sectors. You trust easyJet to get you from A to B safely, even if it won’t be very comfortable. You generally trust any supermarket from Waitrose to Aldi to be stocked with a range of food at an acceptable quality.
Yet I felt that empathy, or lack of it, was far more relevant in the ‘loyalty driver’ category. A charming and energetic checkout assistant could transform a dreary in-store shopping experience just as much as a stressed cabin crew member could undermine your enjoyment of an otherwise comfortable and on-time flight. These customer-employee interactions impact us emotionally, and sometimes powerfully.
My perceptions were contrary to the fact that references to empathy remain largely absent from corporate websites, CEO statements or company annual reports. Trust remains a buzzword, but empathy still does not seem to get much attention, and the customer-facing employees are still usually the worst paid.
Definitions used in the research
Accurately assessing the levels of trust, empathy and loyalty felt by customers obviously presents some challenges. Most important to clarify are the interpretations of each construct which I used throughout the research:
“[Brand trust is] the confident expectations of the brand's reliability and intentions in situations entailing risk to the consumer”
Delgado-Ballester et al (2003, p.37)
“[Empathy is] the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.”
Oxford Dictionaries (2019)
“A deeply held commitment to rebuy or re-patronise a preferred product/service consistently in the future, thereby causing repetitive same-brand or same brand-set purchasing, despite situational influences and marketing efforts having the potential to cause switching behaviour.”
Oliver (1999, p.34)
Data was collected via a 28-question online survey which, using validated scales, measured the levels of trust, empathy and loyalty that respondents felt towards the brand they patronised most often in the supermarket and airline sectors.
The results discussed here are based on the first 100 responses received over a 3-day period in March 2019, during which the survey link was shared to my LinkedIn network. Among the initial respondents the gender split was 54% male and 46% female and 80% were in the 26 to 55 age group. The majority were based in the UK.
The data-set will be expanded to 1000 respondents later in 2019 to test the findings of this pilot although a range of reliability, correlation and significance tests were performed to ensure the findings from this study were highly likely (i.e. more than 70% probability) to be corroborated in an expanded version.
What I found
Supermarkets show more trust and empathy than airlines
First, I looked at the raw levels of trust, empathy and loyalty people felt towards their chosen brands. Overall, it was a pretty even picture. Trust was slightly higher in supermarkets and empathy was slightly higher in airlines. Respondents seemed to feel more loyal to supermarkets than to airlines.
Budget supermarkets provide a poorer shopping experience than Tesco and Sainsbury’s but inspire more loyalty
Delving into the supermarket data, respondents appeared to feel very loyal to budget brands like Lidl and Aldi, and saw more premium brands like Waitrose as trusting and empathetic.
In the trust and empathy stakes, EasyJet beats Ryanair, Virgin outperforms BA and international airlines generally well surpass all UK operators
In the airlines sector, the overall trust and empathy scores were lower than supermarkets, with Ryanair performing especially poorly. Among British brands represented, Virgin easily outperformed British Airways, although the various international premium operators mentioned, like Emirates, easily outscored Virgin.
People feel more loyal to supermarkets than airlines: they really don’t like Ryanair and they really love Waitrose
The Net Promoter Score table below (the higher the result the better) again shows the greater loyalty customers feel towards their supermarket compared to their airline. Generally, customers have more freedom over choice of patronage towards supermarkets than airlines, and are more in control of their experience (compare being trapped on an overnight flight versus a 30 minute dash around the supermarket).
The real purpose of the study though was to see whether trust or empathy had a greater influence on loyalty. Linear regression tests were performed on the results to show definitively what proportion of the loyalty scores were explained by either the trust or empathy scores.
Empathy is a better predictor of loyalty than trust for supermarket brands with a clear identity (i.e. either budget or premium)
Whilst the empathy scores for budget brands like Aldi and Lidl were not especially high, the findings show that they are a strong mediator of loyalty. As brands, these stores are really understanding customer demand for value and convenience – at the expense of a great customer experience. Unsurprisingly, customers of Waitrose and M&S do really care about being shown empathy from staff. For brands which are harder to differentiate by price like Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Morrisons, Asda and Co-Op, trust is a more important loyalty driver.
Budget airline passengers just want to get from A to B as quickly and cheaply as possible, whilst more expensive operators will achieve more loyalty by being more empathetic
Here, empathy comes out as a slightly stronger influence on loyalty for BA, Virgin and Thomas Cook – and the International category. For the budget operators like easyJet and Ryanair, empathy is barely a factor.
Overall, reliability and consistency of service still trumps a personal, memorable experience… just…
With all the responses aggregated, I found that the levels of trust in the brand had a marginally greater influence on loyalty than the empathy shown towards its customers by the brand as a whole and its employees:
Managerial implication 1:
Measure customer perceptions of trust and empathy throughout the customer experience journey
Whilst brands already seem to be focusing heavily on trust, empathy is receiving less attention as a standalone construct, but in many cases is a greater driver of loyalty. Measuring trust and empathy in the brand-customer relationships is essential to provide the awareness to organisational leaders of where to focus trust and empathy enhancing activities and how to benchmark their impact and ongoing effectiveness.
Managerial implication 2:
Identify which trust and empathy enhancing activities befit the identity and strategic objectives of the brand
The research shows that budget brands can generate positive word-of-mouth purely by offering value and convenience. Trust, and by extension empathy, can be enhanced for these brands by constantly delivering on this offering and listening to what customers want. Premium brands seeking to increase market share may be best to focus on frontline employee training and welfare, to ensure those personal customer interactions are positive and memorable. Shoppers who are prepared to pay more seem to seek a more human customer experience, though investment in employee training may be a waste of money for budget brands seeking to remain true to their reputation. Some established brands, like Sainsbury’s and British Airways, are neither seen as a budget nor premium and this lack of identity risks hampering the selection of an appropriate strategy to enhance customer loyalty.
Managerial implication 3:
Learn what competitors and brands in other sectors are doing to enhance trust and empathy in the customer experience
Among the principles of the ‘experience economy’ is a merging of products and services and business-to-business and business-to-consumer markets. In the context of customer experience providing the basis for competitive advantage, innovations occur so often that brands who lose touch with what their competitors and other businesses are doing risk being left behind. In this study, Waitrose achieved a very strong NPS result and several respondents referenced the way Waitrose’s employees are treated as a key factor behind their own strong loyalty – something British Airways (especially in light of recent headlines) might do well to take note of.
What most managers are really interested in is financial performance, and without the correlation to actual re-purchasing behaviour the measures of trust, empathy and loyalty are only partially helpful. Many people trust, like and feel an affinity towards certain brands but it does not mean they are going to open their wallet. Similarly, as evidenced by the budget airline responses here, people do not necessarily need to feel great about a brand in order to be a customer of it.
Therefore, any measure of these constructs or how people ‘feel’ should be easy to correlate with financial KPIs to ensure the organisation is working for all its stakeholders – customers, employees, leadership and shareholders. And as per the British Airways case referenced above, to gain a truly holistic view of how people feel, just asking customers is not enough. We know that the customer experience emerges from the employee experience, so measuring and improving the levels of trust, empathy and loyalty felt by employees towards their leadership is a commercial imperative for organisations seeking competitive advantages by increasing customer loyalty.
If you are interested in exploring these issues further then you might be interested in the following:
My company, RiddleBox, measures the quality of relationships across organisations by assessing levels of trust and empathy and its impact on loyalty, commitment and satisfaction – and ties the insights back to key performance indicators each quarter throughout a financial year. Click here to find out more
This summary is intentionally brief. If you would like to receive a copy of the full study, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, which is also the place to reach me if you’d like to discuss the findings in more detail
I attach a list of relevant resources for further insights and comparative studies on these topics. Enjoy!
Feel free to comment below to ask a question or give your own perspective :)
Every 6 months or so we publish findings from the RBX Index platform, which our clients and partners use to measure the quality of relationships between people in their organisations. So far, over 10,000 participants have contributed to our dataset in 2019, taking the all time participant count well beyond 1.5 million.
This data is concerned with manager-team relationships and, taken in isolation, is only of limited use without an indication of the correlation between the customer RBX Index and financial performance. Click HERE to find out how the scores are calculated.
Generally, an RBX Index scored by employees and customers of 75 or above measured at least twice per year will be a good indicator of sustainable financial performance. As you will see below, scores in this range have been pretty rare this year which does not necessarily bode well for the coming months which, given political events, look set to be turbulent enough already.
Analysis by manager gender
Overall RBX Index scores are down from 77 in 2018 to 60 in 2019 to date.
However, male manager RBX Index scores are currently exceeding those of female managers, a turnaround from 2018.
RBX Index 2019 vs 2018 by gender (all scores out of 100)
2018 saw unusually high RBX Index scores inflated by a couple of specific programs we ran, so 60 is a return to levels seen in prior years.
For the first time in RiddleBox’s history, female manager scores average slightly less than male managers, although it is virtually equal. Whether this is an anomaly or the start of a trend remains to be seen. What we do know is that the road towards greater gender equality in organisations still has a huge distance left to be covered.
Analysis by sector
Recruitment and Hospitality sectors are currently seeing the best quality relationships, Engineering and Land Transport are currently seeing the worst.
Average sector RBX Index scores in 2019
Whilst most organisations today claim to be ‘‘people focused” this evidence would suggest otherwise. Hospitality companies have always performed strongly on the RBX Index, and another very relationship focused sector, Recruitment, is also doing well.
As per prior years, sectors with more technically focused personnel, or those organisations in the public sector like Healthcare and Transport, perform less well.
Arguably, sectors like Engineering and Telecommunications are experiencing the greatest changes through technology and the need for high quality leadership to attract and retain high quality talent is most important here.
The greater alignment between manager self-scores and team scores, the better the prospects for a productive manager-team relationship. Greater alignment generally reflects greater self-awareness by a manager.
Manager-team alignment score
Female managers appear significantly more aligned to their teams than male managers so far in 2019.
Alignment is often far more important than the overall RBX Index, as the more “on the same page” managers and teams are, the more effective any improvement or development initiatives are likely to be.
Again, the role reversal from 2018 may be an anomaly or an indication of a wider shift in organisations giving a better balance of freedom, challenge and support to female managers - something which has been severely lacking in years gone by.
Most in-demand relationship attributes
The RBX Index measures 5 core constructs which, when combined in the optimal way, produce highly effective relationships.
“Empathy” continues to receive the weakest scores by participants in the RBX Index data, and is therefore the most in demand construct in relationships in 2019, as it was in 2018.
%age share of weakest RBX Index constructs in 2019
Empathy has become a buzzword in many aspects of life in 2019, as we have written about before referencing Jacinda Ardern.
In the digital age and in the experience economy, with ever greater social issues around mental health, the ability to see the world from someone else’s perspective is perhaps the key driver of competitive advantage for organisations seeking leaders who can build inclusive cultures, and front-line staff and processes which truly understand customer needs.
When the manager self-score is lower than the team score, we generally see that Managers feel that Trust, rather than Empathy, is lacking.
Generally, the workforce measured by RiddleBox in 2019 so far appear to be willing to give far more of themselves if they are shown greater trust and empathy by their managers.
Do you want to see what you or your manager will score?
Employee wellbeing initiatives must coincide as much as possible with improving the customer experience.
Let us caveat the following by saying that, of course, we believe passionately in employers treating their employees with trust and empathy. It’s at the core of what RiddleBox is all about. And of course we acknowledge the serious impact that mental health issues are having on individuals’ ability to express their best.
But in order for CEOs and board rooms, generally motivated and targeted by short-term financial performance, to give the wellbeing agenda their attention (and thereby increase the chances of sustainable progress), the case for its impact on the bottom line needs to be far stronger.
Here at RiddleBox, we have been doing a lot of analysis to attempt to correlate wellbeing, employee experience, customer experience and performance from the data we collect from our clients.
This is what we have found over the last 13 years:
Wellbeing initiatives have a positive impact on employee experience (no surprise)
Often, where wellbeing initiatives are most obvious, employee experience is good but the customer experience and financial performance is poor
Where customer experience and financial performance are good, but employee experience is poor, any commercial success will only be short-term
Sustainable financial performance requires BOTH employee and customer experience to be good
And what do we mean by ‘good’?
We ask employees and customers to measure the experience they are receiving from their managers and organisations using our RBX Index, which uses the scores from 11 statements, and a big data algorithm, to generate a single experience score for each stakeholder group out of a maximum of 100. The employee and customer experience score needs to consistently be over 70 to result in sustainable financial performance.
The results comparing wellbeing and customer experience in the same organisation allow us to create the following graph:
Zone A: Happy teams but often unproductive or un-focused. There is a lack of commercial acumen, customer-centricity and goal clarity. Result: poor performance
Zone B: Generally fulfilled and satisfied employees and customers. Could be improved by greater purpose alignment for employees, and even more customer success focus. Result: good performance
Zone C: A strategy which sees more customer-focus than employee attention. Result: increasing levels of employee attrition, stress and, ultimately, a decline in customer experience
Zone D: Pure customer or product focus which causes employees to be over-worked and feel under-valued. Result: strong financial performance which starts to decline when top talent leave and new talent don’t want to be treated in the same way
Zone E: Very fulfilled, satisfied and loyal employees who deliver a consistently outstanding customer experience. Result: lasting financial performance and stakeholder engagement
There seem to be 2 key conclusions:
Firstly, employee wellbeing initiatives should be accompanied by a clear strategic relevance and, where possible, a clear connection into improved customer experience.
Employee wellbeing and ‘customer success’ should not operate in silos.
For example, many organisations are investing in employee coaching. This clearly creates a valuable way for employees to improve self-awareness and provides them with space to reflect on challenges and opportunities. But the benefit should not stop with the employees: the skills gleaned in the coaching conversations can be channelled into customer dialogues, if the willing is there and the learnings are highlighted. After all, questioning techniques, active listening skills and empathy are the foundations of good sales practice.
Secondly, it’s impossible to manage wellbeing or experience for employees or customers unless the perspectives of the different stakeholders are measured and compared over time to each other, to self-assessments and to performance KPIs. Research suggests that less than 1 in 5 organisations say they measure ROI from wellbeing initiatives, with 1 in 2 organisations relying on employee churn as the main indicator of the impact. A universally applicable measure of wellbeing, employee and customer experience – like RiddleBox’s RBX Index - is required to fairly benchmark an organisation, and correlating this number over time to financial performance is required to truly get the message to CEOs and board rooms that employee wellbeing, when combined with a related focus on the customer experience, leads to lasting commercial success.
So the risk is that until customer metrics, employee engagement and wellbeing initiatives are combined onto a single platform, and trends are viewed through a performance lens, too many organisations will take the false short-cut of plying their employees with fruit, gym memberships and health insurance at the expense of true customer-centricity.
The reality is that you can have both ways.
RiddleBox are continuing their research into organisations’ wellbeing initiatives. Throughout June 2019 you can contribute to the research quickly and anonymously HERE
I thought that Mental Health Awareness Week received fantastic coverage across broadcast, print and social media this past few days. Is this topic finally being taken seriously?
The main stat that caught my eye was:
1 in 4 in the UK has or will have a mental health issue in their lifetime
Just think about that. That is alarming.
Much coverage has referenced how people are treated at work. A recent survey of the Royal College of Surgeons revealed that more than 54% were planning to retire early or change profession because of the stress and mental health challenges it was causing. This isn’t just a ‘millennials’ or ‘social media’ problem.
Many company leaders are rightly addressing this. Larry Fink, CEO of BlackRock, has more than $6 trillion dollars in assets under his watch. He recently emphasised the importance of companies serving a social purpose as well as a financial one. Fink attracted a fair degree of opprobrium from many quarters and was accused of practising ‘corporate socialism’ i.e. allowing his own politics to blind him to what was best for his company and his investors. Interestingly, he also received a great deal of support, with many senior figures acknowledging that Fink’s view was actually a recognition of a growing body of evidence that long term economic success was inextricably linked to the way a company addressed social issues like employee wellbeing.
Reflecting on the coverage of Mental Health Awareness Week, I have 3 thoughts:
CEOs are rarely judged on long-term economic success: their average tenure is around 5 years and they judged on quick ‘turnarounds’ or fast ‘cost-savings’ or efficient ‘product innovation’
Mental health issues and wellbeing are still a taboo subject in numbers-obsessed board rooms
Where they are discussed, mental health issues are so often ‘bundled into’ wellbeing, which is causing problems
Within the confines of this post, I can address only the 3rd point.
Organisations are absolutely responsible for their employees’ wellbeing. Wellbeing initiatives may be anything from providing breakfast at work, gym memberships and health insurance to more regular 1-2-1s with managers and coaches. A culture of wellbeing will help to reduce stress and improve mental health. However, most serious mental health cases - such as sustained anxiety or depression - originate either in private lives or through a physiological disposition. A culture of wellbeing should allow the identification of mental health issues more readily, but it is not the role of line managers and or even HR teams manage these directly. It is their role to ensure those affected are referred to and treated by professional psychologists or counsellors, and to ensure work commitments are never a barrier to effective management of a condition that is not going to be solved quickly, if ever – contrary to the ‘instant results’ imperatives of many businesses.
In my work with RiddleBox, we speak regularly to HR directors. They all acknowledge that wellbeing is important but when I ask them how they measure it they rarely have a convincing answer. How can we manage what we cannot measure? How can this be taken seriously in the board rooms as a driver of financial performance when there are such intangible correlations? How can more CEOs feel comfortable in managing their businesses using wellbeing metrics, not financial ones? Because only then will we see more economic success founded on employee wellbeing, which will help to tackle mental health issues properly.
I’d be interested to have some answers to these questions.
The world is rightly mightily impressed with the way Jacinda Ardern has navigated New Zealand’s response to the Christchurch terror attack with empathy, strength and focus.
Many column inches in business media in 2019 so far has been taken up with companies’ responses to the gender-pay gap saga. The recent Economist article on the progress of women in the workplace says the dial has not moved much in recent years in terms of breaking the glass ceiling. It has been recognised that looking at stats around pay gaps can be misleading in terms of understanding whether companies are doing enough to encourage women to take up senior positions.
More insightful than the pay gaps may be to understand better the experience of women in senior positions, and the teams they lead. RiddleBox’s RBX Index measures the experience of a leader’s team (to produce a score out of 100), and compares it to a self-assessment performed by the leader themselves. Recent data shows that female managers score themselves weaker than male counterparts, but their teams see them stronger:
We are in an age where soft skills and collaboration are the bedrocks of the economy. This needs more brain power than muscle power. Many people will have read Yuval Noah Harai’s bestseller Sapiens. In it he discusses how many of the most intelligent animal species - elephants, bonobos, killer whales, honey bees and lions - thrive in matriarchal communities where the female influences ensure security from tempestuous males and prosperity for the community as a whole.
The reference to Jacinda Ardern’s display of empathy is relevant because RiddleBox’s same recent data set exposes the fact that empathy is by far the most lacking construct among the core tenets of the employee experience, as scored by employees themselves:
Could a male leader have behaved like the New Zealand prime minister? Of course. Do many female leaders lack empathy? Of course. So rather than focus on who is filling what role and what they are being paid, let’s learn more from nature and from shining leadership examples in the news to bring more empathy back to work.
In a perverse way, the leader response to a terror attack lends itself to being empathetic. Most people might feel that day-to-day scenarios in business to do not lend themselves to focusing on feelings and emotions. We would disagree – this focus is needed more than ever. At RiddleBox we see a strong correlation between weak self-confidence in male and female managers and poor empathy scores. Psychology teaches that one can only be truly empathetic to the extent that one appreciates themselves first – and it is here that companies need to do more by giving their managers the right support and instilling in them the confidence to behave naturally (i.e. as a human being).
Anne Benischek is a friend of RiddleBox and is familiar with leading teams in a male dominated environment. Currently at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, she corroborates our message:
“At an individual level, becoming more self-aware and being more empathetic towards oneself has been shown to help people become more open-minded and psychologically flexible. Research suggest that this is at the heart of what makes people in today’s workplaces do well, and stay well. And just as Jacinda Ardern demonstrated so beautifully, this level of self-awareness and compassion (towards oneself and other people) is what allows her to effectively and sustainably relate to, collaborate with, and inspire other people.”
To finish, based on the actions of our program participants, here are top 3 popular empathy enhancers for the workplace:
Taking 5 minutes at the start of a team meeting or 1-2-1 to “check in” about people’s health, family and anything that might be preventing them from being “present”.
Introducing rewards that include an employee’s partner or family such as hotel or restaurant vouchers
Promoting more face to face interactions in the office (not Skype/Slack/Email). When meeting someone face to face, keep all devices off the table. Give each other full attention.
The RBX Index data collected in the last 3 months show service sectors scoring poorly because of poor trust levels. In the cases where trust scores were higher, it is empathy - or the lack of it – which tends to be responsible for restricting overall scores.
Companies that operate in every sector are well established brands and have been around for quite sometime. When it comes to customer experience, customers trust these brands and their ability to deliver.
However, when it comes to employee experience, the brand image has no impact on trust levels and it directly is a result of the leader or manager who manages that team or individuals. When we look at healthcare in particular, the trust score is low - be it NHS or a private hospital.
It would be natural to presume that patients would trust hospitals to treat them with care and sort their ailments with minimal disruption. However, looking at the comments and how that is impacting health care professionals there are a few themes that seem to be emerging.
1. The proliferation of no-win no fee lawyers advertising seems to have an impact on patient expectations as patients seem to be less tolerant and seek guarantees about the procedure.
2. When cash is tight and Brexit uncertainty looms over the horizon, people expect more value. These coupled with readily available information via Google has widened the trust gap between the providers and patients.
Experience of healthcare workers has also been impacted significantly and the reasons they cite is the increase in the volume of paperwork, processes etc to avoid getting sued. This in turn has created a toxic culture and has impacted well being of health care workers.
Another significant trend we observed was that leaders who were constantly achieving their goals and moving the organisation were extremely self-critical. When we spoke with them to understand why that was the case, they almost invariably suggested that it helps them constantly improve and look for newer and better ways to enhance the experience they create to their teams.
And we also observed that women leaders/ managers were more self-aware and were more critical of themselves. They were not sure of their abilities whilst they were in fact more than ready to take on bigger and better challenges. Male leaders and managers on the other hand were less critical of themselves and in many cases overrated their ability to create and provide superior experiences for their team members. It demonstrates that organisations need to do more to encourage more women leaders come on board.
RiddleBox’s RBX Index measures the experience leaders create for their teams. Using the Index develops managers into leaders who care, creating an inspiring, safe and fulfilling working environment. To find out more about RiddleBox, explore the rest of our site.
Amid all the relentless focus on optimizing the customer experience across the Hospitality sector and given the challenges ahead for key players in 2019, it could be that those who choose to look internally at optimizing their employee experience could find themselves not only surviving, but thriving.