Training Employees When the Job Requires Empathy and Human Connection

How do you train employees to be empathetic and make human connections, especially when they talk with dozens of customers daily?

Employing a purpose-driven, story-based approach can instill empathy and the importance of human connection among employees on your business’s front lines. This is the foundation of our training program at ConnectiveRx, a patient support solutions company focused on making it easier for people to get on and stay on prescription medication. While this approach can be applied across any number of market sectors, it is essential for employees interacting with patients grappling with a life-altering illness and the financial stressors of navigating the complex insurance ecosystem to pay for the specialty medication required to treat it. 

I came to ConnectiveRx from the mid-Atlantic-based Sheetz chain of convenience stores – two organizations a world away from each other regarding business focus but with similar cultures that emphasize excellence in customer service. I used the knowledge gained there and at Verizon and other companies that place a premium on customer experience to create a training culture with programs explicitly built around bringing our company purpose to life. Even though each organization I worked for was vastly different in terms of product and customer base, they each had a common goal – to establish a trusting connection between their customers and their employees. 

From the Start, Tell a Story

People love a good story. Stories exist in just about everything we find rewarding to read and listen to, and when told well, they are captivating and can inspire people to discover their purpose, whether at work or in life.

Using stories as key elements of the employee onboarding process can quickly engage new hires and engender a higher purpose regarding the work they will be doing vs. simply teaching how to use required technology or the basics of a workflow management system.

Integrating a story that winds its way through the whole employee training experience helps to solidify information and concepts in the brain. It is proven to increase the retention of information and help people connect to the “why” around a set of facts, which is critical to an employee’s overall engagement, attitude, and job satisfaction. For front-line employees such as those who staff call centers, detailed technology and tools training needs can easily dominate an onboarding program. While best practices in these areas are certainly important, so is understanding why they are doing the work – and story-based empathy training brings a new dimension to standard front-line onboarding.  

Personas Bring Customers to Life

One tactical approach to integrating story-based work is developing specific profiles, or personas, around different types of customers. This will bring to life the various kinds of people employees are likely to encounter during their interactions.  

At ConnectiveRx, we call these profiles patient personas, and they play an integral role in our onboarding process. Until you’re a patient who needs specialty medication or know someone who does, it can be difficult to imagine all the trials and tribulations that you’ll face. Patient personas bring these to vivid life for the employees who will be speaking with similar patients on a daily basis – thus making it easier for them to relate to their pain and the roadblocks they experience on their way to better health.  

For example, one patient persona may be based on a woman who is living her life as usual until she is diagnosed with cancer. What is she feeling and experiencing as she’s being diagnosed? And as she’s dealing with the insurance company to get started on treatment. 

Our employees, like all people, are themselves consumers of medical care. We’re asking them to leverage their own experiences to empathize with and understand these patient personas fully. We’re using this thread of human connection to better understand the work they will do at ConnectiveRx. It’s an intelligent approach and the training sticks with people because we’ve given them a framework to internalize it.  

To develop personas for your own organization, meet with team members who work closely with customers and then develop stories around different real-life potential scenarios. Outline the ways an employee would help them through any challenges using company best practices. Usually, these will be your front-line workers facing your customers daily. Ask them about common pain points for customers. Ask them what questions they get asked often. Ask them to tell you some stories about their most memorable experiences. This research will help you to develop a few personas that can be embedded into onboarding programs, and possibly even come back again throughout the training process.    

Stories can also often provide a needed reminder of a company’s overall mission. It is easy to get bogged down in the day to day of work and lose sight of the larger picture, which in the case of ConnectiveRx is helping people to get on and stay on their medication. By revisiting these personas in advanced training, employees are reminded why they do what they do and the impact it can have when a customer feels heard and understood. 

Libby McManus
Libby McManus is the director of training and ongoing learning at ConnectiveRx, a patient services company focused on making it easier for people to get on and stay on their medication.