A Finish that Won’t Fade

Did you use Play-doh as a child?

Ever inadvertently leave your simple shapes to harden in the open air? Though your brittle pieces later crumbled, a simple finishing process would have sustained them for centuries. Ceramic firing transforms malleable clay into a rock-hard, durable substance. The additions of underglaze, luster, and around 930 degrees Fahrenheit can vitrify clay creations from goo to gorgeous, glass-like pieces that are impervious to water and time.

In ceramics and in print, the finishing process is nearly as important as the design itself. Finishing refers to the services applied to your print piece after the ink hits the paper. These can be added before or after the paper comes off the press, and examples of finishing services include aqueous or UV protection coatings, binding or collating, trimming or folding, stamping, laminating, perforating, mounting, or coatings like matte or satin varnishes.

Fabulous Finishing Techniques in Design and Print

In the past, many of the rock-star finishing options were impossible for the budget-conscious customer.

Things like die-cutting, embossing, or foil stamping options were saved for the fanciest invitations or a “lifestyles of the rich and famous” print run. Today, however, technology has transformed ordinary printing, decreasing the time and expense it takes to create textured, fabulous pieces.

Ready to take your work up a notch but not sure what your options include? Here is a basic menu of finishing services accessible to you today:

Trimming or Die-Cutting

Trims can be used to shear or reduce a printed piece along crop lines, page borders, or into a unique or fun shape that expresses your brand (like business cards in the shape of a coffee cup).

Foil Stamps or Blocking

This process is creating by pressing metal dies (or colored foil) onto a surface with a heated die. This process is used mostly to enhance typography and logos.

Embossing or Debossing

This allows you to press an image into a paper or card to create a three-dimensional design.

Embossing results in a raised surface while debossing brings a depressed (indented) surface. This is a great way to give your design impressive dimension and texture.

Perforation or Unique Folds

Perforating creates a series of fine holes to allow a portion of the printed piece to be easily detached (think coupons, ID cards, RSVP slips, or ticketing items).

Non-traditional fold options include everything from accordion and zig-zag styles to overlapping or tapered die-cuts that create wonderful visual texture. Looking for inspiration? A quick conversation with our design team will undoubtedly spark creativity!

Laminating or Binding

Laminating binds clear plastic film onto printed matter to improve durability and protect it against smudges, wrinkles, or tears.

Binding options include anything from a simple staple or comb binding to saddle stitching, screw binding, combs, spirals, and more.

Varnish and Coating Options

Commercial print applications (like brochures, business cards, and packaging options) typically apply a protective coat that seal the ink and enhance visual appeal.

Coatings range from basic machine and aqueous varnishes to UV coatings and high build varnishes that have the appearance of water or wax. Confusing? No problem. Our experts can guide you through the best varnish or coating options for your particular project.

Ready to turn heads with a resounding finish? Go big and bold to make your next printing soar.

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Seven Sizzling Summer Promotions

Businesses need promotional items to help reach out to potential customers and clients – it’s just a fact.

Promotional products allow people to see your brand and remember you, drawing a whopping 500% more referrals from customers who are satisfied with the gift. Like a business card with a bang, clever promotional products build goodwill, name recognition, and expanded brand exposure.

But, sometimes the biggest barrier to distributing great products is finding the right idea.

Looking for affordable and effective items to catch the attention of your prospects? Here are seven promo products to bring heat to your marketing mix this summer:

1. Zip-Front Drawstring Bags

Want your brand to travel with people as they go?

High-quality, colorful, customized drawstring bags will get your message circulating! Sturdy but lightweight, these comfortable, machine washable bags are great for goodie bags, thank you gifts, and life on the go.

Zipper pouches make the bags more convenient, accessible, and fun. Add coupons or gift incentives to bring more traffic your way.

2. Clip & Go Hand Sanitizers

Try a squeaky-clean message on promotional hand sanitizer!

Travel-size hand sanitizers can be stashed in totes, diaper bags, backpacks, and purses for a little germ-fighting squirt before meals, after handling animals, or when spending time in public.

Hand sanitizer promotional products are effective message-bearers for restaurants, doctors’ offices and health clinics, independent contractors, and more.

3. Customized Lip Balms

From flavorful scents to serious sun protection, promotional lip balm is affordable, enjoyable, and always in style.

Perfect for health professionals, dental promotions, and all of your trade show needs, customized balms can give their lips some serious love.

4. Water Bottles & Tumblers

Promotional water bottles are a smart giveaway item that boosts your branding efforts at racing events, school activities, corporate outings, trade shows, or anywhere thirsty patrons travel.

Choose shapes, sizes, or lid styles from any variety of materials, including stainless steel tumblers, water bags with attachable carabiners, vacuum insulated copper travelers, and so much more.

5. Absorbent Snap Cooling Tool

Lightweight and refreshing, cooling towels bring a consistent cooling effect that lasts for hours.

Wet it, wring it, and snap to activate. Great for the gym, in the field, or on the go, this high-performance product will stand the test of time.

6. Pocket Notebooks

Want to keep your name at their fingertips?

Handy mini-pocket notebooks are sure to stick around. Try eco-friendly custom recycled notebooks, custom debossed mini journals, or jotter pads with attached pens. Make your product useful and your name will be a companion and stays close at hand.

7. Stadium Cushions

Want to switch it up and get more than just your logo noticed?

Stadium cushions offer a soft place to land for customers who will love you immensely when enjoying this gift. From traditional cushions to amusing shapes, stadium cushions make your logo pop against a minimalist background. From law firms and insurance agencies to VIP customer or employee picnic giveaways, this giveaway will be their grab-and-go for outdoor concerts and sporting events of every kind.

Want to know more? We’re here to simplify your shopping experience and bring your brand to life! Give us a call today to learn more.

Avoid These 3 Management Blunders (with Four Teamwork Tweaks)

Want to liven up your next dinner party?

Just ask people for their “worst boss” stories. Here are some painful (anonymous) stories from those who’ve lived to share:

“When I was an intern at a PR firm, my manager would make me run her personal errands (pick up dry cleaning, ship things, drive her and her friends to SXSW events, etc.). She would get my attention by calling me ‘Intern.’ Needless to say, when they asked me to stay on full-time, I politely declined.”

“I once had a boss who multi-tasked in meetings by being on her phone and present in the meeting. In both 1:1’s and in group settings she would shift her attention constantly from the speaker to her phone—back and forth, back and forth . . . At first, I just thought she was extremely busy, and it was the only way for her to get everything done—until one day, I caught her doing crossword puzzles on her phone while doing a check-in with me.”

“I once had a boss who, while I was replying to a question addressed to me by their boss in a meeting, actually put their hand less than an inch in front of my face to silence me so that they could answer instead.”

Whether you’re the CEO, an intern, or a new manager, working with others is a key part of success in every job. But managing well while empowering others requires a delicate balance.

Beyond learning the names of your interns, here are four tweaks you can make in your leadership.

Listen

Good listening is essential to management, and it begins long before you start a meeting.

Keys to listening well include generating questions in advance, keeping an open mind, and not jumping to conclusions before or during conversations. Don’t assume you know what someone is thinking; instead, listen with the intent of understanding before “solving.” And give your team conversational breathing room by personally checking in for “no good reason” on a weekly or bi-weekly basis. You may be surprised by what they share!

Pair Criticism with Compliments

The Harvard Business Review says a good rule of thumb is to give more praise than criticism, but surveys show that 40% of respondents claim they never gave positive reinforcement.

People need a balance of both praise and criticism in order to thrive. Top performing teams typically give five positive comments for every critique.

Distinguish Between Personal and Organizational Issues

Employees will have challenges, and it’s your job to address them.

But workplace problems are typically either personal or organizational and treating them differently can be hugely helpful. Personal problems should be handled with compassion and accountability. But organizational issues may involve hiring, restructuring, or strategic planning. Don’t confuse bad attitudes with bad workflow policies!

Finish Meetings with a Question

Want to boost communication in your team?

Conclude every meeting with this question: is there anything else? Whatever is top of mind (concerns, challenges, excitement) will bubble to the surface quickly. This question signals you care and gives people permission to share things that aren’t explicitly on the agenda. Try it and see what happens!

From mediating personality clashes to enabling great leaders, your management skills are the key to growing great teams. Keep the conversations flowing as you encourage others, and your business will flourish.

Grow Adaptability in the Midst of Change

“Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or the present are certain to miss the future.” (John F. Kennedy)

When the going gets tough, the tough get going. Change is inevitable, and the more we resist it, the tougher life becomes. The world changes dramatically each day, so adaptability is a necessary life skill and a critical leadership imperative. In his book Emotional First Aid: Healing Rejection, Guilt, Failure, and Other Everyday Hurts, Dr. Guy Winch describes how even the youngest among us illustrate adaptability:

Three toddlers are given a difficult task to do. Each handles the challenge in his or her own unique way: one cries and gives up immediately, one tries the same strategy over and over, and one tries different methods until he finds one that eventually works. Clearly, the third toddler has a higher level of adaptability. His resilience gives him both the strength to persevere and the wisdom to overcome. But this raises one question: is adaptability something you’re born with, or can you learn it? Even young children show that grit is not necessarily an inborn trait.

Flexibility or Versatility?

In their book, “The Platinum Rule,” Tony Alessandra and Michael O’Connor describe adaptability in two components: flexibility and versatility. 

Flexibility deals with attitude: can you roll with the punches? Will you stop forcing a round peg in a square hole and try something new? Versatility deals with ability: are you capable of change? Do you have a propensity to adapt? While versatility may be an inborn trait, each of us can pursue flexibility.

Shifting Mindsets

Neuroscience demonstrates that our brains are moldable – meaning the paths, or neural networks of our minds, can be re-formed through our choices.

In neuroplasticity, the pathways of our minds (which determine our thoughts, choices, and actions) can be formed or reformed. This moldable quality remains even into our elderly years, so when we determine to change our attitudes, we can actually reform our brains.

Adaptable people do more than just cope, they embrace change daily. Adaptable people ask the hardest questions, hone strategies for dealing with the unknown, and make intentional shifts to address challenges. This requires honesty and authenticity. Ask your team to point out blind spots or glaring inaccuracies in your business. Address and enact change regularly, and your old neural pathways will lose their potency.

Shifting Behaviors

Choices become behavior and behaviors become habits.

Some habits are great, but others create deep ruts that are hard to escape. To grow adaptability, force yourself to experiment with new choices: join activities, meet new people, and listen to podcasts you completely disagree with. Write a list of five hard things and then go do them. Have teammates teach you a new skill or allow younger people to lead meetings you would normally facilitate. Immerse yourself in new environments so you are more comfortable with change as a lifestyle. You’ll be surprised what you learn about yourself and others!

Shifting Destinations

Some of the greatest things in life were born from imagination.

Satisfying curiosity releases dopamine in your brain, so give yourself permission to dream, wonder, and wander. Dr. Todd Kashdan says “curious explorers” are people who see life an enjoyable quest to discover, learn, and grow. Curious explorers are people who:

  • Notice small details in the daily grind
  • Remain open to people without judging or reacting too quickly
  • Let novelty unfold while resisting the temptation to control the flow
  • Read books, build models, take classes, or start a hobby “just for fun”

Ready, set, grow! By shifting mindsets and behaviors, you can increase flexibility in a way that reforms both your habits and your brain.

Savvy Tips for the Best Stock Photo Selection

Image is everything.

Statistically speaking, compelling images average 94 percent more views, are three times more likely to be shared online, and significantly increase your likelihood of capturing new leads. Professional photos are a fantastic way to boost the impact of your brochure, booklet, or mailing. But if you’re planning to use a stock image, here’s some interesting info to consider.

A few years ago, the Marketing Experiments tested the performance of stock versus custom photos. They found that, when swapping a generic stock image of a woman with a photo of the ACTUAL founder (and a caption naming him), they saw a 35% increase in conversions. Later, the Nielsen Norman Group eye-tracking studies found that, when photos of “real” people were compared with stock photos, the stock photos were largely ignored. The conclusion? When it comes to design perception, humans seem to have a sixth sense for authenticity.

Unfortunately, most small businesses don’t have time to arrange for custom photos, and stock photos are the most convenient and cost-effective option.

How can you make stock photos more personal or effective in your publications? With the right eye and a few helpful tips, you can select stock photos that look more natural, professional and unique.

1. Use all your senses to evaluate photos.

What has a more powerful impact on you – a steaming plate of stir fry or a generic picture of a grocery aisle?

Texture and sensory cues in photos can whet appetites, evoke emotions, or awaken desire in your clients. When designing an event flyer or business brochure, look for photos with strong visual cues: a cuddly bathrobe, a sun-drenched field, a sinful piece of chocolate, or a brilliant vase of fresh flowers, for example. Sidestep photos that seem generic, dated, or bland to the senses.  

2. Avoid clichés.

Since the eye tends to ignore stock photos, search for images that are more personal and specific in focus. Some of the most over-used symbolic clichés include piggy banks (savings), plain light bulbs (ideas), crossroads (decisions), high fives (teamwork), or handshakes (business partnerships). Instead choose photos that show real action, stark color contrasts, facial close-ups, stunning landscapes, playful pets, or generational diversity.

3. Add extra search filters.

When searching for images, enter multiple keywords to narrow your focus.

The more personal your photo is, the more effective it will be, so make search tags as specific as possible. This can include anything from image orientation and aspect ratio to the number or people pictured and the activity they’re involved in. When setting search filters, try geographical landscapes, types of food, sports activities, board game names, alphabet letters, times of day, emotions, temperatures, and more. Long-tailed searches with multiple keywords can help you find images that scream authenticity.

4. Finish well.

Always choose the highest resolution available on the stock photos you purchase.

This will give you many options for zooming in or altering an image. Sometimes a single image can be cropped in unique ways to give you multiple photos while maintaining a cohesive theme for your layout. Resolutions higher than 300 PPI are essential for professional printings, though large-scale printings may vary. If you have questions on a specific question, just give us a call!

Images work best when they don’t look like stock photos, so work hard to avoid clichés, to arouse the senses, and to personalize your selections. Keep it creative and keep it real, and your designs are sure to stick!

Drive Fresh Traffic for Your Business

A new era in business is bringing fresh flavor to Kohl’s.

As traditional retailers struggle to keep their doors open, Kohl’s executives are trying something radically different: a grocery partnership with Aldi. In March of 2018, the department store announced it would team up with Aldi to offer grocery sales in 10 of its locations.

“The key priority we have as a company is to drive traffic,” Kevin Mansell, the chief executive of Kohl’s said in a Thursday earnings call. “We’re focused on traffic-driving retailers: Groceries, supermarket chains, they drive a lot of traffic. We’re finally on a path where we’re getting more [shoppers].”

In an age of online shopping, brick-and-mortar businesses have to hustle to make their company more relevant to consumers. Kohl’s has experimented with lighter inventory, smaller stores, and more streamlined partnerships with companies like Under Armour and Amazon. Other retail giants have focused on adding communal spaces, demonstration areas, and workshops to encourage shoppers to linger.

Feed Your Funnel with New Customers

Ultimately, every successful business has to draw new business and keep customers coming back.

In your niche, there are probably several complementary businesses that don’t compete directly with your product or service. Many of these companies have a base that could easily feed your sales funnel.

What are the mutually beneficial relationships you could build with other businesses?

While Aldi and Kohl’s may seem like an unlikely match, their differences balance each other in a unique way, allowing Kohl’s to gain additional foot traffic and offering Aldi to expand their market reach. For Aldi, renting space within Kohl’s stores is cheaper than building stand-alone stores, and the partnership creates exposure for the lesser known German grocery chain.

As you consider new partnerships, it’s also healthy to keep an eye on the competition, because an ideal way to grow your client base is to capture users who are already in need of services like yours! Examine the market tactics of businesses you compete with. What product are they offering? What are they doing that their customers like or dislike? How could you do it in a better, more personalized way?

Actively monitor what your competitors are doing in web design, service packages, or marketing techniques to feed your creativity or to counter punch with your own sales strategies. Looking to woo some of your competitor’s customers? Tools like Mention or Reddit can help you monitor customer sentiment. Online reviews of your competitors are also a great place to see how your rivals are succeeding or where you can do better.

Position Yourself as the Answer

Whether you’re wooing new customers or generating leads, it’s important to give potential clients a good reason to try your services.

Think about what makes your ideal customer happy, sad, scared, or excited, and position yourself to bring the answers they need. “Identify those places where they are likely to be found (media, online, offline, mail, etc.) and then create messages for them,” says Jeff Motter, CEO and chief marketing officer of Easy Bay Marketing Group. This may mean creating content via webinars or printed newsletters or physically networking through community events or industry conferences.

And don’t forget to close the loop.

After your efforts to bring in business, remember to intentionally follow up with calls, e-mails, or samples. Many prospects and great conversations fall by the wayside because you fail to execute after a lead shows interest. As real estate sales guru Michelle Moore says, “Not following up with your prospects is the same as filling your bathtub without first putting the stopper in the drain.”

How to Keep Your Business Focused Through the Subtle Danger of Mission Drift

Life is full of good opportunities.

Good books to read, good events to attend, good projects to pioneer. But good things can knock us off track in pursuing the very best.

What does “the best” look like in your leadership?

It means doing what you are uniquely called to do in the style that is distinct to your personality, position, and organizational DNA. Living “the best” in leadership means that your most important job isn’t to manage the budget, to develop new products, or even to lead your team.

Your most important task is to continually cast vision.

The subtle tension every leader will face is the reality of mission drift. Mission drift happens when we are pulled off of our message or our mission, whether intentionally or accidentally. This can be an irresistible force that results in loss of momentum or a crisis of identity, so strategic leaders build in measures to continually recalibrate. If you don’t prioritize vision casting, you may end up navigating a ship that’s going in an entirely different direction than you intended.

How can you build strategic safeguards to keep your organization focused? Here are a few steps.

One Key Leader

Begin by enlisting one board member or key staff person who is committed to alignment.

Be sure they buy into your team’s mission and charge them with safeguarding its integrity. When opportunities arise that may detract from the mission, it’s great to have someone speaking up (perhaps against the majority!) or analyzing decisions from a broader perspective.

A Focused Core Team

Do everything you can to focus your core team around the mission.

Set times to swap stories about where you recently saw the “mission win” and publicly acknowledge those who are keeping the main thing the main thing. Exit or discipline people who don’t, even if they perform well in other areas. If your core team is sold out to the mission, it will pay bigger dividends in the long run.

A Culture of Mission

Your mission should be more than a vague concept on your website, but a regular part of the professional experience.

Use stories and symbols to embed purpose in your culture so people encounter it daily:

  • Mount core values on the walls. Use them as a guide for decisions and a platform for sharing new initiatives.
  • Design strategic symbols (racetracks, funnels, etc.) to communicate process. 65 percent of people are visual learners, and concepts become memorable when they’re connected with an image.
  • Put a face on success by sharing testimonials (in person or through letters) from people who have been positively affected by the vision. Illustrations exemplify goals and make heroes of people who are living the mission.
  • Use slogans to cement conviction. Ritz-Carlton hotels use the motto, “We are Ladies and Gentlemen serving Ladies and Gentlemen” to exemplify the anticipatory service provided by all staff members. Simple slogans, shared repeatedly with conviction, can motivate people to do things they would normally never do.

Make Your Mission Specific and Measurable

When coaching your team, provide concrete actions that explain how you’ll achieve your vision.

Use results-oriented descriptions (like, “you’ll know you’ve done a good job when _____.”) Outline action steps to take and celebrate mile markers achieved. Enlist creative people who can help you celebrate daily victories.

Wandering is natural. If you don’t strategically refocus people around a singular vision, your organization will fail to thrive. Lean on these strategies and safeguard your team from the dangerous drift that every leader will face.

Etiquette Training for a New Generation

Johnny Oleksinski of the New York Post has a bone to pick with millennials and their bad manners. Consider one technology-related example:

“Last week I watched in horror as a 20-something girl carefully snapped a photo of a basket of onions,” said Oleksinski. “But we weren’t at a serene farm or the Marché d’Aligre in Paris — we were crammed into the Columbus Circle Whole Foods. Thousands of customers were streaming through the aisle trying to grab some garlic for their dinners, and Little Miss Annie Leibovitz was blocking traffic to get some artsy snaps of nightshades. Will she print out these photos? Nope. A pile of white spheres under fluorescent light is even too dull for Instagram. Next time, Annie, take a breath and think about where you are . . . Pay for your brie wrap and vamoose.”

Etiquette is Part of Your Brand

Oleksinski isn’t alone. Modern professionals are finding a suffocating relationship with technology has left them oblivious to social basics their elders took for granted.

Presentation, both personal and professional, is a key to showing who you are. And etiquette training of all kinds is making a resurgence for millennials.

“Etiquette is so much a part of your brand,” said Rachel Isgar, a Phoenix-based etiquette coach and author. “Just a few improvements can help your career.”  

People respond to people, and poor manners may mean a hindered partnership, a missed promotion, or a collapsed deal. Companies like Beaumont Etiquette, which runs a marquee “finishing program” in the Plaza Hotel of Manhattan, have recognized a unique need for social training in the modern generation.

For $125, a participant can take part in a two-hour group session that teaches courtesy gestures, personal hygiene, and a range of soft skills conducive to successful socializing.

“Even if it was not something you were taught as a child, anyone can learn to have good etiquette, and it’s up to you to teach yourself,” founder Myka Meiers said. “I think, sadly, people become very self-involved . . . and forget about others. What I wish these people could learn is that by spending just a little time each day making someone else happy and spreading kindness, even the smallest gesture, their lives could be so much more fulfilled.”

Meiers says honoring others includes everything from table manners to Twitter posts. Just as we once taught people to “think before you speak,” how much more crucial should it be to “think before you post?”

“If you don’t want your grandmother or your boss to read it, don’t post it,” Meiers said. “Once it’s on the web, it’s out there for good.” 

Want to curb your own bad behavior? Consider ten smartphone tips for starters:  

  1. Never ignore those you’re with to make a call or text.
  2. Apologize to your guest if you need to respond to an important message.
  3. Never leave your ringer on in quiet places.  
  4. Never use offensive language while using your phone in public.
  5. Don’t post work-related complaints on social media.
  6. Don’t photograph everything.
  7. Never post on social media while you’re under the influence.
  8. Don’t place your phone on the table during meetings.
  9. Don’t text people about work outside of normal office hours.
  10. Don’t dehumanize cashiers by using your phone while someone serves you.

Daniel Post-Senning, co-author of the 19th edition of “Emily Post’s Etiquette: Manners for Today,” says ultimately good manners are about putting others first, whether that’s online or at a dinner party. While social customs change, manners are timeless:

“Manners are really reflections of core principles,” Daniel says. “Consideration, respect and honesty.”

Use Self-Mailers to Boost Your Visibility

Looking to target prospects with confident, eye-catching designs?

Consider a self-mailer that you send through the U.S. Postal Service’s EDDM (Every Door Direct Mail) program. This cost-effective marketing solution helps you target individual zip codes or carrier routes for a significantly reduced cost.

What is a Self-Mailer?

A self-mailer is something that can be mailed without an envelope, including anything from a simple postcard to an elaborate booklet.

Self-mailers are a great medium for stunning photos and eye-catching graphics. While e-mail inboxes are currently overflowing, physical mailboxes are not. A splashy, bold design holds great potential to be seen and shared!

A superb self-mailer can have several advantages over envelope mailings:

1. Self-mailers cost less.

Self-mailers are simple: often, they have just one sheet of paper (no need to stuff envelopes or match the contents of your letter with its packaging). Postage can be cheaper for a self-mailer, especially when you use postcards or fold-over flyers.

2. Self-mailers are more likely to be seen, remembered, or shared.

While envelope mailings are typically opened and read by just one person, self-mailers are often passed along to others or laid in visible places like the kitchen counter. Coupons or event invitations are placed on the fridge or in strategic visible locations. The bold graphics and easy accessibility of self-mailers can help people remember your message long after it’s been sent.

3. Self-mailers help you connect with loyal customers.

Whether you’re promoting an event or sending product notifications, targeting previous customers can dramatically increase response rates. Self-mailers send a personal message in a vibrant, practical package.

Where the Rubber Meets the Road

Self-mailers can be used as postcards offering discounts on home maintenance and repairs, as fold-over letters from community leaders, as fundraising pieces from non-profits, as brochures and pamphlets, or even for product inventory catalogs.

These flexible products bring a clean design, a clear message, and concrete results. Looking for EDDM tips or for full graphic design services for your mailer? We’ve got years of experience and we’re just a phone call away. Give us a call today!

True Empathy Can Win the Day

A farmer had a litter of puppies for sale. As he was driving the last nail into his advertising yard sign, he felt a tug at his overalls. “Mister,” said a boy at his feet, “I want to buy a puppy.”

“Well,” said the farmer, “These puppies come from fine parents and cost lots of money. How much do you have?”

The boy dropped his head momentarily, then drew several coins from his pocket. “I don’t have much, but is this enough to take a look?”

The farmer paused reluctantly but before he could answer three puppies rolled out of the doghouse. One tiny, awkward pup hobbled behind. The boy’s eyes lit up. “I want that one,” he exclaimed, pointing to the runt. The man shook his head solemnly. “Son, that puppy will never be able to run and play like the others.”

The boy rolled up his trousers to reveal a steel brace running down both sides of one leg. “I do want that puppy. I don’t run too well myself, and he’ll need someone who understands him.”

That day the boy won the puppy because he moved the farmer’s heart. Why? Because empathy impacts people. Researchers define empathy as the ability to sense other people’s emotions and to imagine how they might be thinking or feeling. Empathy is essential to human interactions because it allows us to connect in authentic ways and to offer helpful words, comfort, or assistance. Empathy is essential in every human interaction but is especially significant for those in customer service.

Empathy Begins with Real Listening

Would you like to be more successful in minimizing difficult situations or by helping customers overcome their hesitations as you’re trying to make a sale?

All empathy begins with real listening. As you listen with empathy, ask questions like:

  • “How is this situation affecting you?”
  • “Can you tell me more about _____?”
  • “What do you think would be your ideal outcome here?”

As a person processes, take care not to interrupt. While you may not be equipped to address their concerns, asking empathetic questions can shift your focus to listen more effectively, opening new lines of communication and diffusing tension so everyone can move forward.

Empathy involves reflective listening, using phrases that demonstrate your understanding. Phrases that show customers you are taking customers seriously might include:

  • “I can understand how frustrating it is when . . .”
  • “I see this is very complicated/upsetting.”
  • “I’m sorry to hear that and I’ll do my best to help.”

Pair Compassion with Action

As you communicate compassion, be ready to follow your words with action.

Take ownership of a situation by following up immediately, by referring it to a superior, or by positively addressing both the person and the problem. Phrases like, “ok, we can fix this,” or “let’s get this sorted out right away,” will reassure customers you’re taking ownership of the problem.

Action-based empathy also means thinking outside the box for large-scale change. Erin Henkel, portfolio director at the IDEO global design and innovation company, says often positive innovation begins with empathy:

“Effective companies need employees who constantly imagine themselves in the customer’s shoes. As they make the customer’s problems their own, they are better able to meet expectations, make necessary changes, and to retain customer loyalty for another day.”

Being able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes is a hallmark of intelligent leadership and of excellent teamwork. Work hard to grow empathy and you will open new lines of communication, create greater understanding, and help everyone achieve common goals.