Learn about the importance of emotional intelligence for business relationships, along with actionable strategies for improving your own EI.

As the world hunkers down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many small business owners face tough times. No matter if they can keep their operations open remotely, partially open in line with CDC guidelines, or if they have to shut down altogether until re-opening plans are announced, communicating compassionately to customers has become increasingly paramount.

Having the right customer service skills is essential as a small business owner. It can make all the difference in attracting – and keeping – customers. Improving your emotional intelligence and your employees’ emotional intelligence could be what you need to take your business to the next step. Here are some tips on how to build your communication skill set as a small business owner.

What is emotional intelligence, and why is it essential in the workplace?

Emotional intelligence refers to the ability to identify and manage one’s own emotions and the emotions of others.

Psychologist David Goleman made emotional intelligence popular, establishing five key components In his theory, including self-awareness, self-regulation, social skills, empathy, and motivation. Empathy plays a particularly important role in the workplace when it comes to establishing relationships with employees and customers. This engenders greater trust and respect, and for small business owners, that can translate into increased loyalty among existing customers and better business outcomes.

Emotional intelligence is the strongest predictor of performance, no matter the job, according to a study by Travis Bradberry, co-author of Emotional Intelligence 2.0, and president of TalentSmart. The vast majority (90 percent) of top performers score highly in emotional intelligence – while just 20 percent of bottom performers do, according to a TalentSmart study.

Emotionally intelligent people also tend to be more financially successful, Bradberry found. Every point increase in emotional intelligence adds $1,300 to an annual salary, according to the TalentSmart study. For small business owners, fostering one’s emotional intelligence can boost sales and keep revenue streams humming.

How emotional intelligence impacts business interactions

It all starts with learning how to be more self-aware and understanding how others perceive you. It’s also helpful to self-assess and identify where your relational skills may be lacking. This is greatly aided by enhancing your listening and empathic abilities, including learning how to pick up on nonverbal cues that your prospects and customers may be sending you, such as sighing heavily, interrupting you, or raising their voice.

Amidst the uncertainty of COVID-19, emotional intelligence is essential now more than ever. The way a small business owner communicates to customers during this trying time can make all the difference in whether they will continue to be your customers or run the opposite direction to your competitors.

It can be challenging to muster the right tone and words in this prolonged period of forced economic downturn, but the advice offered by experts can aid small business owners. One idea: follow the HEART framework of sustained crisis communication, recommended by Ted Waldron and James Wetherbe, two professors at Texas Tech University’s Rawls College of Business:

  • Humanize your business on your social media channels and customer mailing lists, letting customers know what you are doing to help them as well as your employees weather this sustained crisis.

  • Educate customers about how you’ve adapted to shutdown orders to ensure a safer environment, and if applicable, how you may have changed your operations to accommodate them.

  • Assure stability in your business by communicating that you will continue to be there for your customers, providing the products and services they value, and assuring them that your business can transcend the pandemic.

  • Revolutionize your offerings and make clear to your customers how you’ve been able to innovate to serve them during this sustained crisis best, and how those innovations will continue long after the shutdown is over.

  • Tackle the future – show how your business will emerge from the pandemic stronger than ever, with an even greater ability to provide the type of products and services your customers truly value.

In all of your communications to customers, make sure you express genuine empathy for how the COVID-19 pandemic may be impacting them. Showing your compassion and support through emotionally intelligent communications will go a long way toward generating goodwill that will last far beyond this crisis.

You can improve your emotional intelligence

The good news is that you can boost your emotional intelligence, no matter your personality type, by adopting a few techniques. The more you practice emotional intelligence skills, the more your brain makes the required connections between rational and emotional centers to turn new behaviors into habits.

  • Listen: Perhaps the most critical empathetic skill is listening. It’s not just about not interrupting. You need to let your prospect or customer express what they are feeling. It may help to rephrase and repeat what a customer has said to you, so they feel understood.

  • Communicate calmly: Expressing yourself in a non-threatening way is a crucial step to productively managing your emotions, Moss says. Prospects and customers might then be more inclined to communicate their feelings similarly.

  • Learn: As head of your company, you will always remain the top customer service representative of your business. Periodic coaching on such skills might be the ticket you need to be successful.

Furthermore, having training sessions can teach you to become more aware of nonverbal cues from prospects and clients. This could mean learning to pick up on signs of impatience if you’re over-explaining, for example.

When it comes to exceptional customer service, making people feel heard can be the key to winning them over. In addition to actively listening, also try to see a situation from the customer’s point of view. By encouraging more productive communication, you’ll strengthen your business relationships.

Emotional intelligence can help strengthen many aspects of your small business – and during this sustained crisis, it can make all the difference in strengthening your relationships with customers. At Santander, we’re ready to help you. Contact your relationship manager if you are looking for guidance or financial support.

This article is for promotional purposes only. Santander Bank, N.A. (“Santander”) does not provide investment, business, financial, accounting, tax, or legal advice, and the content of this article does not constitute investment, business, financial, accounting, tax, or legal advice. Santander does not make any claims, promises, or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness, currency, or adequacy of any content. Santander expressly disclaims all express and implied warranties of accuracy, completeness, currency, or adequacy of the information and content in this article. Readers should consult their own attorneys or tax or other advisors regarding the applicability of any referenced information or financial or other strategies to their own unique circumstances. This article does not necessarily reflect the views or endorsement of Santander.

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