In a battery of experiments, Imperial College’s Johannes Hattula and his coresearchers Walter Herzog, Darren Dahl, and Sven Reinecke interviewed marketing managers about their personal preferences for a selected product or service. The researchers then primed some managers to be empathetic by having them describe a typical customer of the offering and imagine that person’s thoughts and reactions. All managers were asked to predict customers’ desires and took a survey assessing empathy levels. The more empathetic managers were, the more “egocentric” they became; that is, the more likely they were to say that the customers’ preferences were the same as their own.
The effect was consistent. The more empathetic managers were, the more they used their personal preferences to predict what customers would want. Another key finding that should get people’s attention is that the more empathetic the managers were, the more they ignored the market research on customers that we provided them.