Importance of Empathy in Customer Service

Really why should you care? You are already providing acceptable standards of customer service and your customers seem happy with you, so why even bother about anything else. Much less taking on and understanding the importance of empathy in customer service. You are running a business and are in business because of customers and so the focus must be customer-centric rather than how you view your standards of customer service. Empathy is an indispensable part of customer service and that which separates great customer service from satisfactory service. When your staff delivers empathy in customer service, customers will feel special and cared for. Even your staff will have enhanced levels of job satisfaction, when they see customers being more open and friendly towards them. Such service comes from and reaches the heart – after all everyone in question is human and would be drawn to such positivity. This in turn has dramatic impacts on the bottom line and long term growth of your company. Start at the top most level and filter this emotion down to the grass roots and be amazed how empathy in customer service can save you time, resources and embarrassment.

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It is not hard to understand the importance of empathy if as a company you are customer focused. It is simply the ability to see things from your customer’s point of you and experience what the customers do. As a customer service Manager, a friend would often hear customers complain about not being able to speak with anyone post 4pm since no one answered the calls. As a Manager, this person was very proud of the current high standards of customer service and so this was a major setback. He apologized to the customers and then began mystery calling after 4pm. This put him in the exact same place from where customers were viewing the service. Sure enough there was no response. He could now appreciate the predicament and empathize with the customers. Some of the customer service representatives were tampering with the system such that only a few call lines remained functional and hence the rest of the calls were unanswered. The manager was able to remedy this before it blew out of control – empathy and careful listening were his guiding forces.

If your company has a culture of empathy, it would be mandatory and a pre-requisite within the realm of your customer service. Empathy can be taught – there are pertinent and effective training programs that help customer service representatives understand and utilize this important component. Viewing a situation from the customer’s perspective is all it takes. Imagine how you would feel if your car broke down in the middle of a highway and you reach an indifferent or even a rude customer service person. You would feel frustrated, annoyed and would vow never to use the company ever again – right? Empathy is the opposite of this – it is customer service with a heart! Take your company’s reputation and growth to an unprecedented level just by adding this magic ingredient to the overall recipe success.

Empathy in customer service is not just about ‘expressing’ that you feel bad about the service lapse or a faulty product. It transcends this by showing unfeigned interest in what the customer is saying, helping them to calm down by listening attentively and acknowledging how they feel. Apology must be extended immediately and the customer must be given an effective resolution immediately. In the example of a car break down, the customer would want the service engineer and or a tow truck to reach them urgently. As an empathetic customer service person, you would need to send the engineer immediately with proper directions and continue to calm the person while he or she is waiting. Even suggesting that the person sip water or a beverage while they wait, would amount to empathy since in crisis situations, people tend to forget the most obvious. Just putting yourself in the customer’s current situation would make it easier to understand what the customer is experiencing. This customer, despite his or her predicament, would definitely be more than willing to stay loyal to your company and also narrate the experience to their business associates and friends. The customer would have felt that his or situation was taken seriously and someone understood it well enough to act immediately and also provide kind and empathetic service.

You are very likely to have a highly emotional and angry customer to deal with if the service lapse is a major one. As humans, we all know that angry people lose the capability of thinking clearly and fail to understand reasoning and logical explanations. It is in such situations that empathy plays a crucial role. “Wikipedia defines empathy as having many different definitions that encompass a broad range of emotional states, such as caring for other people and having a desire to help them; experiencing emotions that match another person’s emotions; discerning what another person is thinking or feeling; and making less distinct the differences between the self and the other.” From a customer service perspective, empathy will hasten the process of calming the angry customer enough for him or her to reach a more receptive stage. It acts like a sponge – instantly absorbing the negativity and ire thereby leaving the lines of communication clear and open. The agitated and even abusive customer is now ready to give you a fair hearing. Be cautious – indifference, show of anger or even feigned interest at this stage can prove extremely harmful for the reputation of your company and also clear the way for the downfall of your business. Empathy coupled with action can never be emphasized enough in customer service.

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Empathy is aimed at improving rapport, forging strong relationships and building a customer base that is loyal. As pointed out in earlier write-ups, happy customers are easier to manage and are more likely to cooperate with you when things do go haywire. Also customers, who have experienced repeated instances of empathy in customer service, are unlikely to get easily perturbed or angry with you. Empathy is not a reactive emotion to be used only when a customer is upset – but rather to be shown in all interactions to keep customers from getting upset. Your customer service representatives will find that they are more productive, successful and happier doing what they do when the customers are happy. Keeping customers happy is in their control! Empathy is being courteous, kind, receptive and creating a rapport with your customers in every situation and interaction. Address them by name each time. When there is a situation that is bugging them use positive words to keep the situation under control – “I understand how you feel and I am here to help sort this out”, “I can feel your frustration since I too would not like to be in this situation” – are the kind of words that ooze empathy. Follow it up immediately with the best solution after informing the customer.

Empathy must be sincere since anything less than sincerity will appear like a mockery of the customer’s feelings and the situation will snowball out of control. A friend had been having intermittent and minor problems with a mobile service provider’s services. However, to save her-self from the bother of switching over to another, had been accepting the solutions provided by the customer service teams. However, after two days of continuous loss of internet services, called up the customer service in sheer frustration. Her call landed to a customer service agent who was not only indifferent but actually sniggered and suggested that maybe she was doing something wrong. You can surely imagine what this lady would have felt. A strongly worded email to the top brass of the service provider, with copies to all her friends and associates and switching over to a competitor was the result of this indifferent customer service. Using a professional demeanour, choosing your words carefully and being profoundly respectful to the customer in every interaction spells empathy like nothing else.

“Go with The Golden Rule: treat others as you would like to be treated. All customers want to be treated like $1,000,000, whether they are spending $1,000,000 or not. Little extras, like free shipping or discounts on future purchases, can help your customers feel special and taken care of, making them more likely to remember you, and subsequently return or refer their friends. Remember: your customers aren’t just buying your products or services, they’re buying an experience.” – Sunday Steinkirchner

That’s everything empathy in customer service is meant to be!

– Developing your listening skills – listen not just to the words but the unsaid messages through body language, the voice and facial expressions. If records suggest that a problem is being repeated and customers are leaving, you can be sure that you have let indifference set in, which will be great to ensure your company’s failure!

– Empathy must be a culture and a value. If the leaders display empathy to one another and to their staff, it will be easier for the staff to see its importance. They will know exactly how it would feel if empathy was lacking. Constantly train people to enhance this vital trait. Encourage your staff to show empathy to one another and work as a team.

– When a regular customer calls ensure that the greeting is pleasantly using his or her name. Even if the customer is calling to provide unpleasant feedback, he or she will be more inclined to tone it down and also listen to you. This will enhance the rapport and the congenial working relationship. A prospective customer must also be greeted politely and asked his or her name. Use whatever form of addressal the customer deems appropriate and take the conversation forward, without crossing the line of familiarity. A sound knowledge base and toned skill set for your customer service staff is also indispensable to convey empathy. Only someone who can anticipate needs and provide the best solution will be termed as being empathetic.

Empathy may not be an inherent trait for some and such persons may find practising it, several times daily, a daunting experience. However, with requisite training, guidance, coaching, monitoring, practice and feedback, this powerful technique can be easily mastered.

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