Book Review: The Empathy Edge

Maria Ross is a brand strategist and author who, for many years, has taken a deep interest in empathy and its relation to business success. As a consultant, she has worked with well-known brands in the technology world and much smaller businesses. She is also the author of Branding Basics for Small Business. 

The Empathy Edge, Maria Ross, 2019, Page Two
The Empathy Edge, Maria Ross, 2019, Page Two

The Empathy Edge shows how compassion can support or drive business success. Perhaps the book’s most fundamental message is that to appear empathetic to customers, a company needs to be empathetic. 

Many companies have seen how empathy breeds loyalty and are eager to cash in on the benefits but reluctant to do the work. These folks slap a coat of faux-empathy over their true intentions and tactics, hoping that no one will notice its insincerity. But people notice.

The Empathy Edge, Maria Ross, 2019, Page Two

Ross believes, like Marty Neumeier and other modern brand thinkers, that brands “cannot simply claim a brand attribute, such as empathy (or transparency or honesty… take your pick of the brand attribute du jour), and expect people to believe it”. 

The Empathy Edge

The Empathy Edge is more about walking the walk than talking the talk. It opens with leadership and culture and only then translates these foundations into the makings of an empathetic brand. Beyond enumerating the benefits of compassionate leadership and culture, Ross gives some useful pointers to the habits and traits that leaders and organizations can adopt to start or continue their journey to becoming more empathetic. 

Ross gives the surprising example of how Christina Harbridge founded a healthcare debt collector that achieved far more robust than average industry performance by being nice to their clients. Ross also notes how REI closes all of their stores on Black Friday, one of the busiest shopping days of the year, and encourages their customers to spend the day outside with their #OptOutside movement. These and other examples from well-known companies like Jet Blue and Salesforce, as well as small businesses such as yoga teachers and pharmacies, paint a vivid picture of how empathetic business practices can make money and do good in the world. 

Ross contrasts these examples of excellence with less positive stories. She reminds us of the 2017 United Express 3411 incident where a doctor was removed by force from a flight, suffering injuries in the process, to make space for a United employee. 

Despite his initial non-apology, “I apologize for having to re-accommodate these customers,” then-CEO, Oscar Munoz, was subsequently promoted to executive chairman. 

“For years, the company has attempted to let advertising do the job of convincing flyers that exceptional customer service is its core value.”

A big plus for this book is that it signals the start of a journey. The Empathy Edge podcast explores empathy and business with a series of engaging guests and lively discussions.

Who should read this book 

We recommend The Empathy Edge for a broad audience, including business leaders and markets in all industries.

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