A guide to Empathy in Customer Service

Customer Service Empathy

It’s no secret that customer service can make or break the success of a company. Or, at least, it shouldn’t be! Thousands of businesses can sell the same products at the same prices, but eventually, only a few of them will stand out of the crowd. Where does the difference lie? In their customer service strategy!

Well-trained customer service agents are the best business card a company can ask for. It can’t get any simpler than this! If you want high profits and stellar reviews, you need to invest in training your customer service staff. And you need to focus on empathy!

We live in an era where communication between companies and customers can lead the way to increased customer satisfaction, customer loyalty, and financial performance. Everything a company desires can be achieved with a “little” thing psychologists call empathy. According to the Empathy Index, the most empathetic companies are also the most successful.

What is customer empathy?

Empathy is the ability to put ourselves in another person’s shoes and comprehend and feel their emotions. It’s what makes us compassionate and understanding and what connects us as humans. Empathy is the foundation of healthy relationships. While it comes from within and can’t be forced, it can certainly be cultivated.

Empathy may seem the same as kindness, but it isn’t, especially when it comes to empathy in customer service. Empathetic customer service agents go beyond being nice and polite to establish a real connection with the customers. They know empathy is paramount for positive feedback and a constructive conversation.

Even though customer service interactions can’t always end with the customer getting the resolution they want, agents should continue to show empathy and understand their concerns. Customers need to feel listened to and understood even if they don’t receive the answer they were looking for.

Empathy is not about agreeing with the customer. It’s about being receptive to their truth. Customers need to see they are more than just a ticket number and that their concerns will be addressed.Empathy

Types of empathy

Most customer service representatives already possess empathy skills but don’t know how to best explore them and bring them to the surface. Researchers have identified three types of empathy:

Affective empathy – focuses on the feelings and emotions we experience in response to other’s emotions. People with a high level of affective empathy can be significantly affected by other people’s pain, fear, or other emotions.

Cognitive empathy – refers to our ability to understand the spectrum of emotions other people are feeling. It focuses more on our ability to identify the emotions of others and understand where they are coming from without sharing them.

Compassionate empathy – takes us one step further, beyond understanding and sharing other people’s feelings, and compels us to show compassion and act to help them.

Great customer service representatives show a high level of cognitive empathy. They manage to understand the customer’s needs and concerns and address them accurately and with diplomacy to end the conversation on a satisfying and positive note.

Holding Hands

How does customer empathy help companies stand out?

Treating customers with empathy means to carry customer service conversations in a positive and friendly manner while establishing a connection. An excellent customer service team cultivates and expresses empathy every time they interact with the customer. Approaching customers with empathy diffuses any potential tense situations and makes way to productive communication.

While clients will feel they are being heard and their concerns are being taken seriously, your company will stand out as a business that really cares. Empathetic responses convey the fact that the company values each customer. However, for empathy to make an impact on your company’s reputation, you need customer empathy to be the rule and not the exception in your company.

Customers tend to judge the interaction with customer service agents based on certain aspects of the conversation. They will only remember its most memorable parts. The peaks of a conversation between customers and company representatives are usually reached at the conversation’s most intense moment and at the end. Depending on how the customer agent managed these moments, a client can label an interaction as “positive” or “negative.”

This is why it is vital for your customer agent to keep their patience, friendly tone and use empathy for each conversation. Customer service representatives usually struggle with empathy statements and phrases that anchor the discussion in a productive flow. Verbs like “don’t,” “can’t,” or “won’t” have no place in their vocabulary. Every potential negative-charged sentence or phrase should be transformed into positive communication.

How to apply empathy to daily customer service interactions?

The beginning of an empathetic conversation starts with verbs that convey appreciation and respect for the customer. “Thank you for contacting us!”, “I am sorry to hear that you…” or “I am happy to help!” are usually great conversation openings, especially if the customer agent is dealing with an unsatisfied customer.

The next step is to actively listen to the customer’s concerns and questions and align with them. Customer service agents need to let the customer know they understand their feelings and thoughts through empathy statements like: “I totally understand what you are going through…”, “You are right!” or “I realize how complicated it is to…”.

Customer Service Agent

As soon as the agent has created a connection with the client, it’s time for them to guide the conversation toward reassurance. Using empathetic phrases like “I’ll get back to you as soon as possible!” or “I see what the problem is.” and focusing the conversation on what “I” can do instead of “we” is a great way to establish a personal connection with the customer and reassure them that you will personally see to finding a satisfying solution.

If the client shows frustration or even anger, the customer agent needs to keep their patience and try to defuse the situation with carefully chosen empathetic and positive statements. The phrases will be crafted using the passive voice, such as “It seems that X happened.” or “It sounds like…” to avoid potential inflammatory or accusatory statements toward the customer.

When the moment comes to end a conversation, maintain the same positive note. The end of a conversation might set the tone of the customer’s review following your conversation, so it is just as important as the rest of the discussion. End with a fond farewell like “Thank you for reaching out!”, “I am glad I could help!” or “I appreciate your patience!”.

Devin Bailey
Devin Bailey
I've been in the call center industry for over a decade. A big part of my job is educating businesses on the role telecommunications and outsourced task procedures can play for their business. Understanding their processes is critical to verify and implement the right services. When I am not in front of clients I manage the technological infrastructure in the call center.