Tactical empathy is crucial to connecting with customers, employees

March 1, 2021
Employing tactical empathy, we can let anyone we deal with know that we understand. This goes a long way to ease the stress that accompanies a collision repair experience.
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Brene Brown, American professor, lecturer, author, and podcast host, states, “Empathy is simply listening, holding space, withholding judgment, emotionally connecting, and communicating that incredibly healing message of ‘you’re not alone.’” Do you do this when you are dealing with customers in a time of need? In a time of confusion? When something terrible has happened to your customer, and we are supposed to be there to help? I am amazed at some of the past bad experiences customers told me about when I used to work at my family’s body shop. Folks, we are better than this. I know that we can show understanding towards our customers and even take it a step further to show compassion towards colleagues within the industry. In the book, Never Split the Difference: Negotiating as if Your Life Depends on it, authors Chris Voss and Tahl Raz write, “Tactical empathy is understanding the feelings and mindset of another in the moment and also hearing what is behind those feelings, so you increase your influence in all the moments that follow. It’s bringing our attention to both the emotional obstacles and the potential pathways to getting an agreement done. It’s emotional intelligence on steroids.”

In my opinion, tactical empathy is one the most essential skills that your shop can use to connect with your customers, employees, and the auto collision industry as a whole. Listen up! Literally. This is one of the essential components of what employing tactical empathy is all about. We are all human; we love to make connections with others and let ourselves be heard. I am guilty of this often and mentally have to remind myself, “Shut up and listen!” Doing this helps me get to the root of the concern, whether with a customer, shop, insurance company, etc. What you hear when you shut up and listen will play a crucial role in your tactical empathy skills. We have to be there for our customers. We have to be there for our employees. We have to be there for our partners in the industry. This does not mean that we will be a push-over, but we are putting ourselves in a position to bring something better to the negotiating table. We can increase our influence in any situation and avoid a lot of the communication barriers that happen. Employing tactical empathy, we can let anyone we deal with know that we understand. This goes a long way to ease the stress that accompanies a collision repair experience. It goes much further than that, though; we can use this skill to impact any situation we are involved in positively.

One of a collision repair facility’s goal is to help the customer understand that you are the best trained, have the most up-to-date equipment, and understand the technical complexities involved in repairing today’s vehicles. You are selling your service to the customer, and to do this effectively, it takes understanding their needs. This is where enhancing your listening skills will help you. Over the past year, I have spoken with many shops and industry professionals in my job. I have heard a common theme often throughout this past year. Managers have had to deal with customers who don’t realize how complex the industry’s technical aspects have become, and they have to explain why the vehicle is required to have certain things done for a proper and safe repair. I want to challenge everyone that is reading this right now. The next time you are dealing with someone, whether it be a customer or an industry colleague, use the K.I.S.S. principle.

We tend to overthink something too often in our industry. I do this too much, but I have to remind myself of the K.I.S.S. principle: “Keep it simple, stupid (silly)!” Employing tactical empathy and the K.I.S.S. principle will make your interaction so much more rewarding. Putting yourself in the other person’s shoes, no matter what aspect of the industry you are involved with, will give you a better perspective and provide you a better outcome. Our industry has to remember that we need to be advocates for our customers, but it goes much further. We have to be advocates for our industry, and by all means, please “Shut Up and Listen!” You will be amazed and what you might hear and accomplish.  

About the Author

Patrick Porter | Associate Manager, Collision and Technical Compliance

Patrick Porter is associate manager of Collision and Technical Compliance at OEConnection (OEC). Before that, he was a third-generation shop owner/manager at Porter's Body Shop in Brookhaven, Miss., with the one goal of consumer safety. Porter is an I-CAR instructor and has obtained his AMi Accredited Automotive Management Certificate and AMI’s new Accredited Collision Repair Estimator Certificate. He has a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from Belhaven University and an MBA from the University of Phoenix.

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