Let's start easy. What is empathy?
In short, empathy means understanding and reflecting the basic emotional needs of a customer.
As we know, while solid tech and good integrations will help us have the right info at hand to help solve a customer’s problem in one interaction whenever possible, customers also want their service to be friendly. AI chatbots are becoming smarter, and are even showing some empathy, but when conversations get emotional or very personal, people oftentimes prefer to talk to a human being.
IDC predicts the relationship between businesses and customers will be built on empathy in the future. Conversations need to be human, whether you're talking to a human or a bot.
From beginning to end, empathy is at the core of a personal, friendly service experience.
The ability to put oneself in another person’s shoes is what it takes to persuade a customer to come back when the going gets tough. It’s what it takes to solve a complex problem well and reassure an unhappy customer. It’s also what it takes to successfully up and cross-sell, too.
So while empathy is a soft skill, it has hard value.
Let's discuss how you can have more empathic service conversations.
Six Ways to Show More Empathy in Service Conversations
These tips will help you become more conscious of the value of empathy, and begin incorporating it into more service conversations over time.
1. Listen Hard
Listening might seem like an easy thing to do, but it is a tough skill to master. It can be particularly challenging when interacting with an unhappy customer, when under time pressure, or even when you already think you have the answer and need to restrain yourself from jumping in.
Maintaining emotional distance is key. This avoids being pulled in by a customer’s stress or concerns but also helps appreciate the emotion and frustration behind what they’re saying.
Using positive phrases such as, “I see” “Yes” “Absolutely” “Sure” “OK” and “I hear you” throughout, will ensure that the customer understands you're listening. From a customer perspective, this is the most important thing of all. It will also help slowly defuse tension in the situation. By expressing empathy, your connection with your customer will deepen.
2. Be Mindful of Tone
With the massive explosion of both choices and channels over the past years, customers are often exhausted by the time they are ready to decide what to buy. They may have encountered a number of barriers and roadblocks before actually getting hold of a customer service agent to sort out a problem. Remember: first impressions count.
Very few customers will appreciate a massively ‘up’ energy or over-enthusiasm. All customers do, however, appreciate calm and confidence. There is nothing quite so reassuring from a customer perspective as the feeling that you are in the hands of an expert.
Knowing this, taking a few deep breaths before entering a conversation will give you a moment to collect your thoughts, and it will help lower your voice too - making it clearer, calmer, and more authoritative.
3. Don't Make Excuses
Harry Selfridge of the well-known Selfridges department store in London once said:
“The customer is always right”
- Harry Selfridge
And that’s never more true than when an issue or complaint arises.
Generally speaking, customers want responses and solutions, no excuses. It's an agent's job to ‘make it right,’ no matter who is at fault, so responding with an excuse (whether valid or not) is likely to increase tensions rather than diffuse them.
Offering sympathetic statements is the right way to go here. Reassurances such as, “That’s not good,” and “I’m here to help solve this for you” will help convince a customer that you are on their side, which will help them trust you, and this will make a resolution that much easier.
4. Use the Language of Understanding
In Dale Carnegie’s famous book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, published way back in 1936, he encourages people to use this simple yet effective line: “If I were in your position, I would feel just as you do.” This immediately sends the message to the customer that you are human too - and that you understand.
Whether it is spoken or written, there are many ways to express empathy:
- “Yes, I completely understand how frustrating that is”
- “You’re right, I realize how difficult it is to...”
- “Aha, it is confusing, yes”
- “I’m glad you called today so that we can take care of this right away.”
Using these positively phrased sentences will help forge a connection with your customer. It will make it crystal clear that you empathize with their situation.
Remember that the definition of empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of others. Making it explicit is half the battle.
5. Make Customers Feel Unique
Writing on how to create a customer service culture, Shep Hyken tells the story of a successful surgeon friend.
While out playing golf, Hyken asks the surgeon if his work is boring. The doctor laughs and says, “All the surgeries are pretty much the same... But, what’s not the same are the patients. Each of them is different. They are all people and need to be treated as if they are the only patient I have.”
That’s ultimately what makes him so successful. Hyken’s friend is not only a good surgeon but also seen as a good person.
So remember, while this might have been the tenth time you’ve solved a particular issue that day, it is the one and (hopefully only) time for this specific customer.
The ability to continuously reboot yourself throughout the day and remind yourself that every customer is unique will help you keep empathy in focus.
6. Remember You Are Unique
As humans, we are hardwired to connect. We are hardwired to help each other. And opposite to tech, we are masters of intuiting big signals from little input.
For example, every day, in all manner of situations, we 'read between the lines’. We look for the subtext: the inner meaning of things. Our senses are always on alert to figure out when something is going the right way, or the wrong way - and figure out how to fix it.
However, we all have our own unique ways to connect with other people.
Some people have a wicked sense of humour. Others are incredibly fast at solving problems. And others have a natural bedside manner that everyone feels instantly comfortable with.
By figuring out your own particular strength as a human being, you can bring this to bear on your service conversations too.
To be honest, all the best experiences I have ever had with a service rep were when I felt that I was talking with someone who really understood me. Someone with feelings and emotions, just like mine.