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5 Ways to Maintain a Competitive Edge, No. 2: Empathize With Customers More Than Competitors

By Motley Fool Staff – Updated Oct 12, 2017 at 5:41AM

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When executives are too far removed from the experiences of their customers, they can’t see where and why they are failing them.

Getting ahead isn't simply a matter of having a great idea, nor of being intelligent or improving your mastery in your chosen arena. The key is to focus on the edge that you can keep for the longer term. In this episode of Motley Fool Answers, Alison Southwick and Robert Brokamp are joined by former Fool Morgan Housel to talk about figuring out what your sustainable advantages are, both in investing and in life. He lays out five possible advantages that you and the businesses you invest in might already have, or want to cultivate, in service of acquiring an edge. The second: making an effort to see yourself in customers' shoes.

A full transcript follows the video.

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This video was recorded on Aug. 22, 2017.

Alison Southwick: No. 2 is the ability to empathize with customers more than your competition.

Morgan Housel: Yes, this is something that I've seen a lot. I think this is especially true as the economy bifurcates with income inequality. You have CEOs and managers, or entire companies, that can't empathize with their customers because they are so far removed from the product or the experience that their company is targeting for those customers.

I give [this] example in the article. How many times do you think the CEO of Delta Airlines or United Airlines -- I won't pick on anyone -- has been booted from a flight or had their bags lost?

Southwick: Or even flown coach.

Housel: Or even flown coach and had their knees shoved up into their chest because they're 6'3" sitting in coach. Probably never. It's hard to truly empathize with the experience that your customers are going through when you are so far removed from that.

The other example I give is how often the CEO of McDonald's goes to McDonald's because that's truly what he wants to eat that day, and not because, "Oh, I'm the CEO. I need to go try the product and make an appearance." But truly they're driving down the street, they're hungry, and they say, "I need to go to McDonald's." If you can't fully empathize or just put yourself in your customers' shoes, to that extent there's always going to be a disconnect between the product that you think you're delivering and the actual experience that your customers are experiencing.

Robert Brokamp: In a previous episode we talked about the rise of artificial intelligence. And one of the points was along the lines of what you said earlier. That intelligence is essentially going to be a commodity at some point. Computers are ultimately smarter than we are. To the extent we all want to keep our jobs, we have to focus on things that computers can't do and one of them is empathy. Exactly.

Housel: Completely. 100%.

Alison Southwick has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Morgan Housel has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Robert Brokamp, CFP has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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