As customer service and support become imperative across industries, many brands tend to make improvements in this niche. They streamline communication, add more channels, and invest in customer service agent training. However, out of all these service improvement methods, it is empathy that remains key to excellent customer service, customer experiences, and loyalty.
How can your customer service agents demonstrate empathy? More importantly, how can they do it organically and remain authentic during the conversation? Scroll down to discover nine proven customer service tips on how your agents can demonstrate empathy.
What is customer service empathy?
Great customer service revolves around having the best possible human-to-human interactions relevant to the roles and relationships you’ve established. However, not every interaction between a customer service agent and customer involves empathy. Often they merely resemble simple question-answer transcripts. What is customer service empathy, then?
There is empathy in customer service if the agent can put themselves in the customer’s shoes. In this scenario, the agent can really understand the customer’s issue, establish a meaningful connection with the customer, and offer the best possible solution to the problem.
Empathy in customer service or support doesn’t mean that the agent always agrees with the customers. It means that the agent sees and understands their frustration and truth. It can disarm the frustrated customer and invite them to trust the agent’s will and ability to solve their issues.
Given that empathy is a well-known concept in psychology, let’s look at its official definition.
Definition of empathy
According to Psychology Today, the definition of empathy is:
“Empathy is the ability to recognize, understand, and share the thoughts and feelings of another person.”
Empathy is a character trait. Some agents have it more expressed than others, but it can definitely be trained and developed. Empathetic customer service agents can lead pleasant conversations and relate to customer mindset and point of view.
Why is empathy in customer service so important?
The big question here is why invest in developing empathy in customer support agents? Why should agents spend more time with a single customer? After all, empathizing is more time-consuming. Still, expressing empathy goes beyond just improving customer experience. Here is why it is crucial in customer service:
- Provide better support – your approach to customer service and support will remain generic until your agents can understand every customer individually. When an agent understands how a customer feels, they can be more sensitive during the conversation, provide better help, and relate to their pain points even if those belong to the “common” category.
- Read between the lines – customers often don’t tell you how they feel. However, their tone and voice tell the story of how the issues with your services or products affect them. Agents who are able to read these subtle cues will be better suited to resolve problems. Since they can validate customers’ feelings they can establish common ground for cooperation.
- Avoid most conflicts – unhappy customers tend to become even more upset when they feel unheard. With compassionate agents, your brand will deal with significantly fewer conflicts. Customers who feel heard and understood are more cooperative. They also become more patient and tend to give their best to help come to a quick resolution.
- Build long-lasting emotional bonds with your customers – emotions can help you build more meaningful and long-lasting customer relationships. When your agents make customers feel heard, it triggers an emotional bond. It can ensure repeat business and improve customer loyalty.
- Capture more sales – upselling and cross-selling are quite challenging when a customer thinks your agents only want to squeeze more money out of them. However, if the relationship is based on understanding and customers see agents care, upselling and cross-selling become so much easier.
- Make conversations easier – agents who can understand customers and see where the frustration is coming from can anticipate questions better. They can be proactive, facilitating conversations and making customers feel understood and properly cared for.
Given how important empathy is in customer service, you should not mix it with sympathy, which is another phenomenon that emerges in human-to-human interactions.
The difference between sympathy and empathy in customer service
Customers want to be heard, not told what to do or given a piece of unasked advice. That’s the key difference between sympathy and empathy. While empathy is all about understanding why customers may have these feelings, sympathy is all about understanding from the agent’s perspective.
Sympathy in customer service can be seen in giving unasked answers and advice to customers or simply telling them what to do. Sympathy is more focused on the surface of conversation as it doesn’t involve acknowledging emotions but pushing them aside while focusing on a more practical solution. Empathy, on the other hand, makes a customer feel heard and validated.
Now that we’ve established what empathy in customer service is and why it’s important, let’s go over some customer service tips.
9 Proven tips on how can customer service agents demonstrate empathy
Introducing empathy in customer service is a slow process. Agents need to understand what it is and what they need to do to demonstrate it. Don’t worry if it’s not something your agents were keen to do in the past, you can help them become more empathetic.
Below you can find easy-to-follow tips you can share with your agents to help them demonstrate empathy in conversations with customers.
Listen, understand and take action
Agents can easily demonstrate empathy in conversations if they follow a three-step process – listen, understand, and take action. Instead of interrupting a customer, let them say everything they want to say. Once the indicator for typing shows there is no action on the other side, it’s time to show you understand a customer.
For instance, a simple “We hear where this is coming from and understand how frustrating it is not to be able to check the status of your order” would do the job. Follow up with action immediately after. For instance, “Can you please give us your order number, and we will check the status and notify you promptly?”
Use positive language and tone of voice
Positive language and tone of voice in customer service translate to focusing and sharing what you can do for your customers rather than what you can’t. A positive tone is welcome as it is clear, straightforward, and doesn’t use too many words. It can help you build credibility and invite the other party to trust you. Here are the characteristics of positive language and tone of voice:
- informs what can be done
- outlines available choices and alternatives
- enables the agent to appear encouraging and helpful
- emphasizes positive actions and outcomes
Three examples of empathy statements
The best way to understand the difference between negative and positive language and tone of voice is to take a look at the following examples.
Negative language and tone of voice:
- No, sorry, we have a no-refund policy.
- The item you want is out of stock, and we won’t have it until spring.
- The colleague that handles that is currently on vacation. Sorry, I can’t help you out in any way.
Positive language and tone of voice:
- Sorry, we understand how frustrating it can be, but we cannot offer you a refund. What we can offer you instead is…
- We know how much you wanted that product. Unfortunately, the item you want isn’t currently in stock. However, if you want, we can pre-order it for you and ship it to you as soon as we get another shipment in. How does that sound to you?
- That’s a valid question. Can you give me a minute to find out what I can do and call you back as soon as possible?
Communicate clearly in every situation
Clear communication is vital in customer service, and it can help you a long way if you manage to deliver it consistently. Your priority should be to make yourself as clear as possible in every customer interaction.
A win-win situation occurs when you show that you understand frustration while at the same time you offer clear explanations in easily understandable terms.
Proactive vs. reactive support pays off
Empathy enables agents to anticipate the customer’s next question or remark. Instead of waiting for it, they can offer a solution proactively. By going the extra mile agents help customers see the entire company as a brand that genuinely cares for them.
They can contribute to making and updating walkthroughs, FAQs, and self-service help centers to enable customers to solve problems on their own.
Connect with customers on a human level
The one-size-fits-all approach is an obsolete practice if you want to demonstrate empathy and that you care for your customers and clients. Although the alternative, interacting and connecting with customers on a human level, is more time-consuming, it also delivers better results. There are plenty of ways to do it:
- go beyond for your customers to remedy bad experiences
- customize and personalize your interactions to make them authentic and relevant
- show that you value customers’ time and respond as quickly as you can
- don’t neglect customer concerns – explain everything in great detail and as if talking to a friend
Dedicate time and resources to training
Ongoing customer service and support agents training is imperative. Developing empathy takes agents’ time and effort. After initial training, which is the most time-consuming because you need to bring your staff on board, the follow-up training should be less resource-heavy. Practice makes perfect applies to this skill too.
Develop your interpersonal skills
Interpersonal and soft skills help your agents become better at expressing empathy. In fact, positive attitude, clear communication, and efficient conflict resolution are the healthy foundation for empathy. Developing these skills in your staff will help you take customer experiences to a new level and make your service quality consistent.
Your agents need to be adaptable, meaning that communication channels shouldn’t affect their ability to demonstrate empathy. With increased mental flexibility, developing interpersonal skills is easier as agents can respond accordingly no matter the situation.
Embrace tools that boost speed and efficiency
Ensure that you are using the best tools to boost speed and efficiency. With access to cutting-edge customer service software, you will not only increase productivity but get access to several features you can use to monitor conversations, organize training, and ensure the quality of services.
When you monitor and manage all customer communications through one dashboard every improvement is streamlined and easily measurable. Plus, you get access to recordings and transcripts, so you can easily find good examples of how to and how not to talk with customers.
Measure and analyze customer feedback
When it comes to measuring, make sure to collect your customer feedback. It’s one of the most valuable resources you can get your hands on. This actionable information can tell you exactly what/who is good and what/who needs improvement.
Measuring and analyzing customer feedback is an ongoing strategy. It helps you gauge customer sentiment and make relevant improvements to impress your customers.
There are many ways to facilitate empathy in customer service
Showing kindness and compassion to your customers in need will paint your brand as caring and trustworthy. Among many other benefits, it can help you generate repeat sales, build long-term relationships, and increase the number of loyal customers.