Empathy in Customer Service

How to Use Empathy to Improve Your Customer Service

If you want to take your customer service from okay to incredible, there’s only one way to do it, and that’s with empathy. Empathy is the key to your success. But what exactly is empathy, and how can you use it to improve your relationships with your customers? In this post, we’ll tackle the ABCs of empathy along with practical advice on how to use it effectively.

What is Empathy in Customer Service?

Empathy is the ability to see, understand, and share the feelings of another person. In customer service, empathy is the act of putting yourself in the shoes of your customer and seeing the experience from their eyes.

Empathy is essential for developing a positive relationship with your customers. Without empathy, you cannot create winning experiences for your customer or relate to them when they have a negative experience with your business.

Empathy doesn’t mean that you always agree with your customers, but rather that you understand where they’re coming from. And if your intention is to achieve 100% customer satisfaction from every interaction with your brand, you’ll need empathy to help you accomplish that goal.

If your intention is to achieve 100% customer satisfaction from every interaction with your brand, you'll need empathy to help you accomplish that goal. Click To Tweet

Not only will taking an empathic approach to customer service increase your overall customer satisfaction, but it will also extend your customer retention rate. Customers are loyal to brands that demonstrate empathy. When a brand truly cares about its customer’s experience, listens to feedback, and acts accordingly to that feedback, customers will notice and respond by sticking around and telling others about the brand. 

The Importance of Using Empathy in Customer Service

Empathy is not a buzzword, but it’s often unintentionally treated like one.

That’s because many organizations understand the importance of empathy but don’t know how to effectively demonstrate empathy in their customer relations. So instead of employing empathy in their customer relations, many well-intentioned brands simply turn it into a vague mission statement. It sounds good to say that you care about your customer’s experience, but how do you show that in your day-to-day actions?

When considering the importance of empathy, think about your own experiences as a consumer. Are you more likely to do business with a brand that cares about your experience and demonstrates its human side?

For example, have you ever had a great dentist that you couldn’t help but tell others about? Or  a positive exchange with an owner of a local bakery that made you an instant fan and advocates for that establishment? They made you feel heard, understood, and respected. And you can do the same with your own customers.

Empathy is important because customers are willing to pay a premium for it. If your interactions don’t include empathy, don’t expect your customers to stick around, even if you offer the most affordable option. 

According to this research from Hubspot, 68% of consumers are willing to pay more for excellent customer service. In fact, a sizable portion of respondents is willing to pay 20% or more for quality customer service. And without empathy, quality customer service does not exist. The takeaway? You may be able to attract customized with low prices and minimum customer service, but you won’t be able to keep them. 

Empathy in Customer Service

How to Sow the Seeds of Empathy in Customer Service

The first step to increasing empathy in your customer service is to train your team.

Everyone on your team who may possibly one day interact with your customers should receive empathy training — from the receptionist to the valet.

Some of us are naturally more empathetic than others. But fortunately, we can all learn how to be more empathetic in our dealings with customers. Empathy training focuses on teaching your team how to create positive interactions with your customers so that everyone wins. If we understand what the customer wants in every situation, we can help the customer get those results. 

When training your team, discuss what your customer wants and how the team member can help the customer. This can also be applied to negative interactions. If a customer is frustrated and angry, the team member should respond with empathy, not defensiveness, and understand that the customer isn’t attacking them. 

The appropriate response, which you can teach, is to listen intently to the customer, put yourself in the customer’s shoes (i.e. become the customer), and respond to the customer like you would want someone to respond to you. 

Listen to Understand

There’s a right way and a wrong way to listen. The wrong way is to just be politely silent and let the customer talk while you’re not actually listening. The right way is to intently listen to your customer as they are sharing their feedback and perhaps frustration with you. Instead of biding your time until you get a chance to speak, you are listening to the customer describe the experience or their pain point on their own terms. By listening you’ll be able to provide a thoughtful response that is more in line with what the customer needs or wants. 

The show but you understand, repeat what the customer says but on your own terms. this accomplishes two things. First, it shows the customer that you are listening to what they had to say. Second, it gives you the opportunity to clarify any misunderstandings that you may have. In order to create a satisfying experience, you and the customer must be on the same page. 

When they’re venting, don’t interrupt. Allow them to speak. The more they talk, the less frustrated they will be by the end of it. And you’ll have more information to use in formulating your resolution plan. 

Be a Team Player

When a customer comes to you with their frustration, they are not attacking you. The best response is not to be defensive, i.e. defend the brand or the decisions that ultimately led to the customer’s frustration. Instead, the best option is to remember that it’s not you against them, but rather it’s you two against the problem. 

This means you shouldn’t try to win an argument with a customer. It may feel good at the moment, but it doesn’t actually solve the problem. In fact, if customers are facing frustrations when interacting with your team or using your product or service, the cause of the problem doesn’t come from the customer but rather from you. At some point along their journey with your brand, you did not explain it clearly enough. 

Ask Questions

If you don’t understand the customer’s perspective, it’s important to dig deeper with exploratory questions that give you greater insight. In fact, following up with questions can show the customer that you honestly care about their experience. 

When asking questions, don’t be defensive, but truly seek to understand what’s causing their issue. Be careful not to be passive-aggressive with your follow-up questions. In other words, don’t accuse the customer of wrong-doing in your question-asking. Always assume that the customer is acting in good faith.

Empathy in Customer Service

Acknowledge How Your Customer Feels

Whether you’re addressing a positive or negative emotion when interacting with a customer, it’s important to acknowledge how they feel. 

You can transform a conversation from adversarial to agreeable by saying something simple like, “I understand your perspective. That would be frustrating to me, also.” This empathetic response makes your customer feel heard and validated. 

Take off your corporate hat and be human and acknowledge how you would feel if the same thing happened to you. You may not respond in the same manner but you would likely feel similar to the customer.

Be Willing to Help

Once you understand the problem that your customer is facing (whether it’s caused by you or not), the next step is to show your customer that you’re willing to help. Remember to take an “us against the problem” approach, instead of fighting your customer. Offer solutions that will help your customer navigate their problem.

Final Thoughts

You cannot deliver great customer service without empathy. Empathy allows you to put yourself in the shoes of others and see the experience from their perspective. By employing empathy, you’ll create a positive experience for your customers.

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