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The Importance of Channel Partner Empathy to Sail Through the Current Crisis

Apr 29, 2020

Empathy and Compassion can lead the way for brands to stay closer to their channel partners.


The current situation of ‘never -seen -before’ crisis has taken many nations across the globe by storm and the businesses in India are no exception. It has brought upon us some forced changes in the way we live, work or do business.  While on one side, economies might be moving to a phase of recession as businesses find it extremely difficult to operate smoothly, let’s pause to acknowledge the emotional crisis that your valued partners would be battling amid these unprecedented times.

In this time, Empathy and Compassion can lead the way for brands to stay closer to their channel partners. But what is Empathy and why is it the need of the hour? Empathy is the ability to get into another person’s world and view it from his/her perspective. In times like these when people are gripped with fear and uncertainty at a personal and professional level, brands that fail to address these may fall short in the longer game. While there are several ways to empathise, it’s important to follow a structured path in order to make sure your efforts reap the desired results. Here’s a framework based on our experience across industries to ensure that your partner-centric approach is not a set of sporadic episodes but a well-thought-out strategy.

We suggest the brands and leaders follow the CSR way to Empathy as the guiding principle:

  • Communicate consistently
  • Survey to get the market pulse
  • Respond to the concerns genuinely

Communicate Consistently

Base your communication on science, not speculation. Idiosyncratic communication should be leveraged to connect with partners on a frequent basis. The messages should be crafted keeping in mind what the partners would want to know the most. Rather than making assumptions, an important step here is to talk to partners and understand their state of mind and communicate accordingly.

Another important aspect is to be boldly transparent.  As Abraham Lincoln once said, “If given the truth, people can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the real facts.”  Inform them about action steps being taken to fight the crisis, rally their total support to avert spreading the crisis further, dispel an atmosphere of fear, foster the trust that everyone from the frontline support/sales representatives to the top management is there to support them throughout.

Communication is the hallmark of Empathetic leadership during crisis times. Ensure connectedness between channel partners and the frontline/middle management team remains strong. This can be achieved through various communication elements like brand website, videos from the top management addressing the channel partners, daily motivational messages from the social media handles of the brand, weekly updates. Make these available through channels like emails, WhatsApp groups, and others that work well with your channel partners.  

Survey to get the market Pulse

Considering that everyone now understands the importance of communication, there is a possibility that too much information from many brands on the same topic overwhelms the channel partners. Hence apart from one-way information blast, which may become just another communication for the audience, businesses need to move over to the next level of actively listening to the needs of their channel partners and create a platform where they can share their challenges, fears, and concerns.

Economists predict that the impact on consumption post lifting of lock-down will be lower by up to 25%-30% for 6-9 months. However, the ground realities could be completely different depending on the industry. Hence it becomes extremely important for the brands and leaders to start listening to their channel partners and take decisions based on the insights. Market Pulse is not new and is regularly done using various means and at different legs of the product/business life cycle. Ironically there is a say-do gap, although many businesses understand the need to check the market pulse, yet only a few execute it.

There are various ways of reaching out to the channel partners which include informal and formal ways. During the time of social distancing, reaching out to the partners could be difficult in person but technology has carved many ways to collect feedback. For instance, many of our clients use the Loyalty program platforms (websites and mobile apps) to reach program members through inbuilt surveys. This initiative not only acts as a response collection platform but also reinstates the Loyalty program vision to create an engaged channel partner ecosystem.

Respond to the concerns genuinely

Just as it is important to keep communicating consistently and collecting market feedback, at the same time it is also important to reinforce a sense of hope and optimism by responding to the channel partners with appropriate actions or symbolic gestures. Humans are emotional beings; even the smallest symbolic gesture helps a lot in rallying people together for a common cause and keeps their faith steady during the crisis. The idea is simple- even a symbolic gesture like switching off lights together can rally so many people together for a common cause and plays an important role to show support in a crisis.

Hear them, Understand them and Help them!

If mere symbolism can reinvigorate the people around us, just imagine the level of engagement a real solution to channel partners’ problems can create. Brands need to think of out of the box ideas for this unprecedented time and come up with real solutions to the real and on-ground problems. One of our clients converted this crisis into a thoughtful effort by creating a crisis fund and offering loans at very low interest for their top partners and anyone in need with a good standing w.r.t. to payments. This is a clear example of responding to problems with empathy; in return, you get long-term loyalty with an exit barrier for the channel partners.

While it can be a difficult course to navigate in an ever-evolving situation which is being lived by-the-day; Empathizing, Listening to them, and responding genuinely can make your channel partners feel more connected with the brand and more valued. Making them feel valued during the time of crisis will motivate them and build long-term loyalty.

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