We’ve all heard the expression, “put yourself in someone else’s shoes” or something close to it. In other words, have empathy. Empathy is defined as the ability to understand and share the feelings of another person. It’s not just something reserved for personal life interactions. In fact, it’s one of the most essential elements of running a successful business.

For people to believe in a leader, it’s essential for that person to have empathy…see things from others’ perspectives. Empathy is taking the time to understand people. It might be sitting down with them over a cup of coffee or conducting regular surveys of employees to gauge how they’re feeling.

Empathy is also essential in customer service. There’s little that will anger or distance a customer faster than a customer service representative who doesn’t listen or care about an issue. A lack of empathy reflects badly on a company and its brand and will likely result in poor customer satisfaction and low loyalty rates.

Some of the best companies exhibit high levels of empathy for their customers. They’re in tune with any difficulties or discomfort customers may be experiencing, and they dedicate themselves to resolving those issues at their core. The most innovative companies use empathy to anticipate customer needs and wants. Steve Jobs said, “A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” Apple is one of the most progressive brands in the world and having empathy, trying to understand the needs of its customers, is a large contributor to its success.

When you hear of companies going above and beyond for their customers, you can be sure that empathy is present. The service manager who followed up with a customer after their car was serviced has empathy. He’s putting himself in the customer’s shoes, knowing he would want the same care extended to him. Or the store that has umbrellas at the ready on a stormy day for its customers to use when they forget their own. That’s empathy.

Empathy isn’t just taking the time to recognize the needs of those around you. It’s also doing something with that knowledge. You may learn customer or employee thoughts and opinions on a particular topic, but if that information is never applied when making future decisions, it’s a waste. While empathy doesn’t always have to be followed by immediate action, it should be a guide you go by in business.

Companies can also use empathy to understand what it’s like for customers and suppliers to do business with them. They identify ways to improve and enhance the experience they provide as a result, which earns respect for brand. They use empathy to improve relationships and build trust with those who matter most—their customers, employees, suppliers and other key stakeholders.

As social media connects us more than ever before, it’s increasingly important for businesses to maintain an open dialog. This dialog feeds empathy and helps monitor how customers are feeling about a company’s products and services.

The businesses and leaders who understand the value of empathy are those that rise to the top of their industries. Those that don’t have empathy risk losing the respect of their customers and peers. Empathy is a real business skill with real results.