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Blog / Customer Experience

Empathy in Customer Service: What It Means and How to Implement It

Agents talking to each other at a contact center

What is empathy?

Empathy (n) The ability to share someone else’s feelings or experiences by imagining what it would be like to be in that person’s situation.

You may have read that Emotional Intelligence (EQ) is now considered more important than IQ when it comes to success in business. A critical component of high EQ in a call center is the demonstration of empathy in customer service.

Most people have empathy. And it can be learned and improved. Empathy is The Golden Rule put into practice: treat others the way you’d like to be treated. That is a core principle of most religions and a building block for the foundation of being a good person. Empathy in customer service is a key communication tool that lets the client know everything’s going to be okay.

Empathy and compassion are often mistaken for each other. They’re related but not the same.

Empathy is felt on the inside. It’s feeling another person’s feelings. An ability to put yourself in their situation, perhaps from having previously been there yourself.

Compassion is action on the outside. It’s giving money to a homeless person without having a personal connection to homelessness. It arises from a desire to help a person in obvious need.

There is a type of empathy that has compassion folded into it. Read on for more.

Agents talking to eachother at contact center

Why is it important to have empathy in business?

Empathy might not be the first soft skill you think of when it comes to success in business, but it does bring benefits inside and outside the organization. With empathy, you put yourself in your customer’s (or employee’s) place and consider what that would feel like. It will help you understand what it will take to deal with their issue or concern to their satisfaction.

Empathy is important in any workplace, but especially in a call center where every second spent with a customer is crucial. Empathizing with a customer’s predicament puts you on a fast track to solving their problem.

Psychologists have broken empathy down into three distinct types: Cognitive, Emotional, and Compassionate.

Cognitive empathy is understanding how another person feels and how they might think. It occurs on an intellectual level.

Emotional empathy goes beyond identifying another person’s emotions to feeling them too.

Compassionate Empathy is when you progress from feeling to acting. It’s doing something for the person for whom you feel empathy. For example, you might cook a meal for a friend recovering from an illness. However, you’re not likely to make dinner for a customer. Although, who wouldn’t love that?!

What is empathy in customer service?

Many of us think we know how we would react to a situation. But playing it out in our imagination is much different than experiencing it in real life. So, not only is it important to have empathy, but it’s also vital to listen carefully and respond empathetically to what’s being said. Assumptions are useful, but they’re not blueprints.

It’s also critical to notice what your customer is not saying. Information gaps offer opportunities to ask questions and make suggestions. The tone and intensity of the customer’s voice also indicate the level of anxiety or frustration they’re feeling.

Why is empathy important in customer service?

Showing empathy in customer service can create an emotional bond between the customer and the brand. It can diffuse anger and promote trust in the company. It also produces a sense of transference of the issue from the customer to the agent. This lessens the burden on the customer, which is one of the reasons they’re making the call.

How does empathy affect customer satisfaction?

The customer experience is everything.

Each call is an opportunity to increase customer satisfaction and retain a customer’s business. They won’t tolerate feeling like they’re being viewed as only a number on a spreadsheet. When they have a concern, they want it taken seriously and resolved by someone who’s equally invested in finding the solution. Showing empathy can mean the difference between keeping their business and having them flee to another company they perceive as more understanding.

Having to speak to multiple representatives is a major source of customer dissatisfaction. How can there be empathy when the caller is being passed around like meatballs at a potluck? With ProcedureFlow, a cloud-based Knowledge Management solution, agents simply follow the flow through any type of call. As processes are instantly available to them, agents can spend less time seeking information and more time honing soft skills such as empathy. Plus, ensuring your team has the answers they need, helps boost agent autonomy and reduces escalations.

How do you show empathy in a call center?

Showing empathy starts with feeling it. It’s a bit like adding a new routine to a workout. At first, you’re checking to make sure everything’s in place: elbows straight, feet together, shoulders back. But after a while, you develop muscle memory and do it unconsciously.

To dig deep into the empathy well, an agent should ask themselves the following questions:

How would I feel if I were experiencing their issue?

What would I want to happen in this situation?

What would make me feel heard and valued?

What would be my biggest worry if the issue weren’t dealt with?

How would I want the problem resolved?

What’s a reasonable length of time to expect a resolution?

What are some examples of empathy for a call center?

When a customer presents an issue, it’s not enough to understand them, the agent must also demonstrate that understanding.

Respond with a comment such as: “I’m sorry you’re having to deal with this.” Repeat or mirror their issue back to them by saying something like: “If I’m understanding the problem correctly …” Instill confidence with a statement like: “We can fix this for you.” These empathetic responses make the customer feel heard and that the agent is on their side.

Sometimes, customers can seem quite agitated. (The understatement of the year?!) It’s important to not take their comments personally. Maintaining a sense of composure and focusing on the core issue—the problem that needs solving—is critical to a positive experience for the customer. Remembering to show empathy can help with that.

In a world that deals with hard numbers, a soft business skill like empathy might get overlooked. But it’s worth the time and attention it takes to ensure empathy in customer service is part of your agents’ best practices. It’s part of the human connection that proves to your customer that they’re important to you and that the relationship matters.

To find out how ProcedureFlow can help your employees reach proficiency faster, book a demo today.

Written by Lisa Brandt

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