Why Empathy Is the Secret to Great Customer Service

Think of a time when your car unexpectedly broke down. You are filled with anger and frustration and maybe even fear based on where you are at that given moment. You begin to think about all of your plans that are now going to be more or less ruined by this inconvenience and how much fixing your car could cost among a number of other things. You call whichever auto repair service you use, only to be greeted by someone who seems to care very little that you are stranded on the side of the road. They tell you in a flat, indifferent tone that no one can come assist you for an hour. Now, think of that same situation, but imagine if the person on the other end had greeted you in a way that made you feel like they truly understood the stressful situation you were in and wanted to help you resolve it. Even if their solution was the same, I’d imagine the latter would result in you feeling much more calm and satisfied with the solution you have been given. And that’s the power of empathy.

It’s been said time and time again–exceptional customer service is the key to your business’ long-term success and growth. Yet people still assume that customer service is simply about answering customer questions and solving their issues. However, great customer service is a lot more than that. It’s about addressing customer concerns and understanding what they’re going through. And when you’re in tune with your customer’s needs, you are able to go the extra mile for them. In short, you will be providing them with a positive experience that they can directly associate with your brand.

The Real Value of Empathy

The dictionary defines empathy as “the action of understanding, being sensitive, and vicariously experiencing the feeling, thoughts, and experience of another.” In the context of customer service, this means putting yourself in your customer’s shoes and trying to address their concerns with an unprecedented understanding of what they’re going through.

For your customers, the benefits are evident. When companies focus on delivering empathy in customer service, even a simple interaction with a rep can become more impactful and memorable. It reflects positively on the brand when customers feel like they are being heard, their concerns are being taken seriously and that the company is doing everything it can to help them.

Additionally, empathy is not just a skill to be used when dealing with customers. It’s also a valuable skill to have when dealing with team members, suppliers and stakeholders too.

Teaching Empathy to Team Members

Some people are naturally more empathetic than others, therefore, it’s a quality that you should seek when you’re building your customer service team. But it’s also a quality that can be taught and developed. Even Apple has a guide to empathy in their Apple Genius Training Manual to help their employees practice empathy when assisting customers on the sales floor. It teaches them how to pick up on customer body language and tone and supplies them with a number of empathetic phrases to use with customers.

Empathy boils down to a person’s ability to relate to another person because of their intuitive understanding of the other’s experience. So in the context of customer service, this means learning all that you can about your product and service to understand exactly what your customers go through.

A good place to start when teaching your team how to practice empathy would be to have them get in your customer’s shoes and go through some of the common things your customers frequently go through (e.g. placing an order on your website). After all, no product or service is perfect. Find out what makes your product or service great, but be sure to learn the reasons why people don’t like it, or find it challenging to use.

An even better way to truly understand your customers is to have on-site visits or focus groups if possible. Surveys, ratings and reviewing previous customer cases can be very helpful too, but nothing beats observing or meeting your customers in person. The bottomline is, you have to listen to what your customers have to say and tune in to what they don’t say. Customer reps who are focused on developing their empathy will soon be able to pick up on a customer’s needs simply by sensing the tension in their voice, or the frustration in their tone and address it before it escalates. Ultimately, understanding your customer’s needs and paying attention to their distress can help you come up with better solutions for their problems and convey them in an appropriate manner.

Empathy Makes You Stand Out

A study titled “The Foundations of Hedonic Psychology” notes that people don’t really judge an experience as a whole. In fact, only certain parts of a particular event define it as memorable–its most intense moment and the end. This is commonly referred to as The Peak-End Rule. Ensuring that all customer interaction is defined by empathy ups your chances of ending the conversation on a high note. This means that regardless of the reason that a customer reached out in the first place, they can walk away from it positively.

Quite simply, empathy is a way for you to show your customers that you care. And while it’s not always possible for customer service representatives to solve a customer’s problem, showing empathy means you can make them feel that their concerns matter, they are understood and they are valued by your company.

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