Great Customer Service Takes Empathy

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Empathy can be developed by referring employees to books, classes, and seminars—but for an empathic attitude to really stick, it has to be embraced company-wide, especially in the service organization. Service-oriented values must be promoted and shared, and companies must train employees, especially those in customer-facing functions, to handle interpersonal situations that can become complicated and difficult.

“Empathy is all about trying to see the situation from the customer’s point of view,” Hamilton says. “Customers are looking for someone to solve their problem, so companies need to remind service agents not to take anything personally or get emotional. Customer service agents should also be encouraged to have patience.”

To demonstrate these attitudes in action, Hamilton recommends that companies role-play scenarios that customer service agents are likely to face with customers.

“Listen to recordings or videos of interactions and discuss the right response, or even act it out. Some situations are tricky, but if you can identify and address the top reasons why customers tend to be upset, then you can help agents understand and even anticipate customer needs. In doing so, agents have practiced the right and empathetic response ahead of time,” he says.

Linda Tan, senior manager of client success at Up! Your Service, agrees with Hamilton that storytelling through common customer service scenarios is very effective for developing empathy.

“In storytelling, we come up with an actual service situation and explore what the customer is feeling, what went wrong, and how the service agent would feel if he or she were the customer,” Tan says. “Most of the time, we get a response like, ‘Gee, I don’t think I would feel good about this at all.’ Then we ask, ‘So what would you do about it?’”

Through storytelling, agents learn to be empathetic because they experience the emotions and the experience of the customer. “Storytelling can be done face-to-face, or it can be captured in video, but the bottom line is that if you can’t imagine what a customer is going through, it is very hard to deliver the kind of service that they’re hoping for,” Kaufman adds.

Organizations can also incorporate technology into their customer service strategies to provide agents with a customer profile and history as well as troubleshooting tools. And they can encourage agents to take a step back and put themselves in the customer’s shoes and remind agents not to get emotional or to take anything personally. “Companies can have processes in place to review difficult customer interactions and discuss appropriate responses so that agents can continue to grow and nurture empathetic practices,” Hamilton says.


When implemented properly, technology can give organizations a head start in delivering empathetic customer service.

“Technology provides agents with more customer information than they’ve ever had before,” Hamilton says. “Having customer data at their fingertips—alongside troubleshooting tools that recommend the right answers—allows agents to solve a problem quickly and effectively, resulting in a happy and loyal customer.”

Furthermore, sophisticated new tools enable agents to access a customer’s interaction history in real time. “If a customer is on his third call to a contact center to inquire about the same issue, he likely feels frustrated. Agents can prepare for that, and without requiring the customer to repeat his story, the agent can begin the interaction with a sympathetic ear,” he continues. “An agent who can anticipate why the customer is calling will have a better understanding of that customer and will be better equipped to solve the problem and build customer loyalty as well.”

Companies can leverage technology further by tapping into Internet of Things (IoT) data from connected devices that relate to the specific device a customer is using. Armed with this data, agents can help customers troubleshoot device issues and in some cases carry out a repair remotely or prevent a future problem the customer’s device is likely to have.

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