Will empathy training take Walgreens to a new level?

Discussion
Source: Walgreens video – "Battle Cry"
Jun 14, 2019
Gabriela Baiter

Walgreens is looking to become America’s most loved beauty destination by combining the best in global brands and trusted, expert care in a welcoming, accessible and inspirational atmosphere. Evidence of this mission is the chain’s recent launch — Feel More Like You — a first-of-its-kind free program that combines pharmacy, health and beauty offerings to better serve oncology patients from the inside out. The service is tied together by a critical human component — empathy.

All pharmacists and beauty consultants involved in the program undergo special empathy training to better understand cancer patient needs and provide personalized recommendations that can help better manage the internal and visible side effects of the disease. This training was administered in partnership with the Cancer Support Community, an organization that has been in the field for nearly four decades “to ensure that all people impacted by cancer are empowered by knowledge, strengthened by action, and sustained by community.”  

This personalized approach is also being nurtured online by giving Walgreens’ customers the ability to navigate a wealth of information based on the specific side effects they are experiencing.

“Cancer is the least treatable but the most diagnosed illness today,” said Lauren Brindley, group vice president, general merchandise manager for beauty & personal care at Walgreens, during an educational session at Future Stores Seattle last week. “We’ve already had 15,000 services since the campaign launched, and we’re going to have to continue to show up consistently.”


Walgreens | Battle Cry – YouTube

Ms. Brindley also described Walgreens’ plans to expand similar services to people faced with other illnesses, including eczema and diabetes.

CVS, on a similar track, recently announced an expansion of its HealthHub concept with in-store and online services dedicated to chronic disease management for high blood pressure and diabetes. While Walgreens appears to have taken the approach one step further by creating a full-spectrum health experience that leverages the expertise of multiple departments, it’s clear that both retailers are stepping up to offer more meaningful services for their customers.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What role does empathy, if any, play in retail sales and customer service? Would the approach described in the article apply beyond health services such as Walgreens?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"Empathy, when deployed at a depth more significant than merely superficial, plays a transformative role in retail sales and service."
"That ability to deeply connect is within us all but, sadly, it can become scarred and hardened by so many or our own defenses and experiences."
"This is awesome. Feeling better in the mind is shown to aid physical recovery so this has great potential for cancer patients."

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17 Comments on "Will empathy training take Walgreens to a new level?"


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Art Suriano
BrainTrust

Empathy training is a great idea, and when dealing with something as delicate as cancer, it can go a long way.

The problem though too often is that those who sit high in the corporate office are quick to roll out new marketing campaigns and training campaigns, but by the time they arrive at store level they are quickly forgotten. Companies implement the training, but there is never any follow up, and most importantly, they neglect to integrate the concept into their culture. So as a result, once associates complete the training, everyone at store level goes back to their old habits of getting the tasks done before we even smile let alone say hello to a customer. Retailers just don’t understand that.

Empathy can be a massive win for Walgreens and frankly for any retailer when and only when it becomes integrated into the culture, and that takes a lot more than any “quick fix” marketing or training campaign.

Neil Saunders
BrainTrust

I applaud this idea of supporting consumers who are going through a tough time during or after cancer treatment. Empathy and knowledge are vital ingredients in helping customers navigate the range of beauty and personal care options available to make them feel good.

However, I question whether Walgreens is the right place for this. I don’t doubt it has expertise in health or that it has a range of beauty products which can make a difference. However, its stores are dispiriting and they are categorically not places that make people feel good about themselves. If this was in Ulta, Sephora or even Target, I’d have much more confidence about the concept.

All the drugstore chains need to come to grips with a fundamental truth: you cannot offer premium services in a sub-standard environment and expect them to do well.

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

I get what you are saying about the store interiors, but I have also been in Walgreens stores with beauty departments that rival those found in fine department stores. The chain will have to make changes on the sales floor in more stores than currently offered for women to feel comfortable.

Neil Saunders
BrainTrust

Department stores — in most cases, that’s a very low bar!

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

Where’s that laughing icon when you need one? 😉

Ian Percy
BrainTrust

You gave me a springboard for what I was about to submit, Neil, so if you don’t mind I’ll take it. It’s in your phrase “empathy and knowledge.” They are hand-in-glove. In my opinion, however, the latter is “trainable” but the former is not. “Empathy” is constructed from a “passion and a state of emotion.” Also from “pathos” and “feeling.” Finally from “to suffer”… or, better, “to suffer with.”

That ability to deeply connect is within us all but, sadly, it can become scarred and hardened by so many or our own defenses and experiences. Still, knowledge of what customers are going through — be it cancer or anything else — can awaken and release our capacity to “suffer with” them and to know how best assuage their fears. But to think we can “train” empathy is to diminish this remarkable gift.

Neil Saunders
BrainTrust

I love this, Ian! So true!

LAURA RAMIREZ
Guest

Ian, this is so beautifully written and conveyed. As I continue to see “empathy training” become more and more popular, I become ever confused about it for the very reasons you cite. I wouldn’t be nearly as confused if I saw “sympathy training” because that is a different animal and something that most people (unless they are sociopaths) can do for/with others. I would never be so bold as to say I could empathize with a cancer patient (having never had cancer) but could sympathize with aspects because my father died of cancer. I feel as though utilizing the incorrect word is, like you said, diminishing what is not only a remarkable gift, but also something with specificity built into it.

Ian Percy
BrainTrust

Thank you Laura. We are totally in sync.

Bob Amster
BrainTrust

Empathy has a lot of play in it. The first benefit is the gratitude of those afflicted. The second is the reaction of those who observe it. In general, it’s an admirable public relations effort.

Ray Riley
BrainTrust

Empathy, when deployed at a depth more significant than merely superficial, plays a transformative role in retail sales and service. The question is whether this is a PR tactic, or actually part of a comprehensive learning strategy with continual learning initiatives for Walgreens’ front-line team members. Having an empathic-based retail sales and service framework isn’t novel by any stretch, and absolutely applies to anywhere the customer engages.

Evan Snively
BrainTrust

Providing employees empathy training of any kind never hurts the brand’s standing. Though I feel like more often than not it is actually the customers who really could benefit from that kind of training….

Steve Dennis
BrainTrust

I believe we need to move from customer-centricity to human-centered retail, which is all about bringing empathy to the aspects of the customer journey. Customers buy the story before they buy the product and often, particularly in the beauty and fashion industry, this means understanding how a product makes the consumer feel. The more we tap into that emotional want or need, the better we are able to deliver in remarkable ways.

Oliver Guy
BrainTrust

This is awesome. Feeling better in the mind is shown to aid physical recovery so this has great potential for cancer patients. As for Walgreens, it offers real differentiation for them and puts them very much at the heart of the community.

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

The health related in-store and online services offered by both CVS and Walgreens are important. And expected. But this is big. We can’t even talk about this like it’s another service because is so much more than that.

My mother was a breast cancer survivor. I was a little girl when I went with her to the local pharmacy so she could pick up her first prosthetic; the pharmacist was cold and uncaring. Unfortunately, I still hear stories like my mother’s in-store experience. Yes, the Walgreens team will need extensive training, and not just in the areas of health and beauty, but I am confident that the company and the store associates who work with the customers are up to the challenge. Bravo Walgreens!

LAURA RAMIREZ
Guest

People are either compassionate and kind or they are not and so I do believe that this goes beyond any “misnomer training” and all the way back to hiring (and firing). You can get employees to fall in line with certain policies, practices and customer care but if you’ve not hired (or fired) the right people, many others may experience what your mother did. PS: I’m pleased to read she is a survivor!

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

True, it does come down to hiring. You can teach skill but you can’t teach people to be nice. And thank you!

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"Empathy, when deployed at a depth more significant than merely superficial, plays a transformative role in retail sales and service."
"That ability to deeply connect is within us all but, sadly, it can become scarred and hardened by so many or our own defenses and experiences."
"This is awesome. Feeling better in the mind is shown to aid physical recovery so this has great potential for cancer patients."

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