Why Empathy is the Secret to Great Customer Service

Offering great customer service is no longer just a ‘nice to have’ — it is fast becoming the key differentiator between business success and failure. Luckily, today’s companies can harness its power by developing one important trait…

Imagine for a moment that you’ve been awaiting the arrival of an important package. The day comes when it is due to arrive, but by evening there’s still no delivery. After a while, you check on the tracking information and see a message that the order has not even shipped. There was a mix-up with the company you’ve ordered from, and the package will not be delivered by the time you need it.

In scenario one, you reach out to a customer service agent who bluntly informs you there’s nothing you can do but wait. You’re left feeling powerless, angry, and frustrated.

In scenario two, you reach out to a customer service agent who apologizes for the mix-up and tells you that they understand your frustration. They offer options on ways to resolve the situation and stay connected with you until you find a solution. 

Which company would you buy from again?

Offering genuine empathy in customer service is what sets today’s companies apart. It leads to great customer experiences that drive loyalty, positive reviews, and ultimately, repeat sales. In fact, recent research by Dixa found that a whopping 96% of consumers (of a cohort of 3000 consumers across the US and UK) indicated that empathy from customer service agents is important during a support interaction.

The importance of offering empathy in customer service has been especially apparent this year. COVID-19 has exacerbated feelings of stress, difficulty, and powerlessness for many. In fact, the average company saw the percentage of customer service calls scored as ‘difficult,’ increase by more than 100%. And globally, 59% of people say they look for higher quality in customer care than they did a year ago. 

But even in these trying times, some customer service departments will thrive while others flounder. 


Because those who have flourished are harnessing the power of customer empathy. 

The difference between great customer service and satisfactory customer service is having agents who continuously go the extra mile to deliver a positive brand experience. Here’s how to make that happen in your own business:

What is empathy in customer service? (and what’s its real value?)

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

Offering empathy in customer service starts with personalization and ends with customers feeling fully understood. 

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
  • That the company is doing everything it can to help them

Quite simply, empathy is the best way for you to show your customers that you really care. And while it’s not always possible for customer service representatives to solve a customer’s problem, showing empathy helps customers to feel that their concerns matter. It reinforces that they are valued by your company.

How customer service empathy helps you stand out 

Research has shown that when it comes to empathy in customer service, it’s not enough to offer it situationally. Instead, it needs to be the common thread that’s woven into the fabric of every customer service interaction.

And we know that people don’t really judge their customer experience as a whole. Only certain parts of a particular event define it as memorable — its most intense moment (its peak) and the end. This is commonly referred to as The Peak-End Rule

This peak plays a huge part in your customer’s overall experience. Essentially, how you deal with the most intense moment is absolutely vital to your customer’s recollection of the event and whether they label it as ‘positive’ or ‘negative’.  So be sure your customer service team maintains their friendly, efficient, and empathetic approach from the start, throughout the peak, right through to the close of the interaction. 

Maintain this level of understanding for your customer and your chances of ending each conversation on a positive note will increase.  

When you consider that 89% of companies compete on the quality of customer service alone, the impact of empathy becomes a clear differentiator. It can be the important difference between a positive and a negative peak; a loyal customer, or a competitor’s gain.

Why developing your team’s customer empathy is crucial

Some companies understand that they need to show empathy in their customer service, but aren’t sure how to make it a pillar of their company culture. 

Put simply: it starts with your team members. 

For some people, empathy is a natural part of their personality. Hiring managers can develop creative ways to seek this out when building their customer service teams. However,  empathy is also a quality that can be taught and developed. 

One of the largest and most admired companies in the world, Apple, offers a guide to empathy in their training manual. The guide is meant 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 provides them with several empathetic phrases to use with customers.

Some other great ideas for developing your team’s customer service empathy include:

  • Asking your customer service agents to run-through common tasks your customers carry out, like placing an order on your website or making a return. Then, noting things they found difficult or challenging in the process.
  • Reviewing surveys, ratings, and previous customer cases and asking team members to identify what the customers must have been feeling during the interaction.
  • Hosting on-site visits and focus groups with your customer service agents and real customers.
  • Modeling it: be a company who is empathetic to the needs of your team! Often, a culture of empathy starts at the top.

Customer service agents who are focused on improving their empathy skills will soon be able to pick up on a customer’s needs simply by sensing tension in their voice, or frustration in their tone. This will allow them to address situations before they escalate. 

The main point to communicate to your team is this: empathy in customer service means listening to what your customers have to say. But taking this to the next level means tuning in to what they aren’t saying. 

Companies that show customers empathy will lead to customers who show the company empathy. Even a small gesture can make a huge difference. 

Customer empathy can make a real difference during difficult times

People yearn for their needs to be considered and understood, especially during times of upheaval like we’re experiencing now. Agents will be dealing with customers that have lost their jobs, businesses, and even their loved ones. In difficult circumstances, even minor situations carry a much heavier weight.

As a company, you have the power to make a positive difference in your customer’s day, and in turn, create a loyal customer for life. Remember that one small act of goodwill can start a movement. And all it takes is a little empathy. 

If you’d like to improve your customer experience but aren’t sure where to start, our latest CX Insights report, Reconnecting the Customer Experience, is here to help.


Tue Søttrup

Tue Søttrup

Tue brings over 20 years of experience in customer service to his role as VP CX Excellence at Dixa.

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