Improve Customer Service With One Word: Empathy

Improve Customer Service With One Word: Empathy

It’s been said that being on par in terms of price and quality will only get you in the game. The way to win the game is through customer service. We couldn’t agree more. The question begs to be asked, “How do I win at customer service?”

Winning at customer service doesn’t mean that your product never has issues, it doesn’t even mean that your support team is able to resolve issues on the first try. It comes down to your team’s ability to empathize with the customer.

The science behind empathy in customer service

The peak-end rule tells us that people do not tend to evaluate an experience based on its whole, rather they evaluate the experience based on the “peak”, or its most intense moments, and the end of the experience. A study titled “The Foundations of Hedonic Psychology” affirms the peak-end rule and asserts that whatever the reason a customer reaches out, they can leave with a positive experience. When we define our customer interactions by empathy, we’re able to increase the chances that customers walk away from it positively.

Empathy on the side of the road

Let’s say you’re driving to work; you’re running late because the kids were a handful, your coffee is cold, the muffin you overpaid for isn’t very tasty and all of a sudden “bang!!” - you’re broke down. Traffic continues to zoom by and now you must pick up the phone and call for assistance.

Now, it’s going to take a minimum of 60 minutes for help to arrive. Let’s evaluate two scenarios with the exact same service being offered: one with empathy, and one without.

Driver: “Hello, I’m broken down and need assistance”

Dispatch: “Your location please...”

Driver: “2km off highway 140, Eastbound”

Dispatch: “Alright, someone will be there to help you in an hour to an hour and a half.

Driver: “AN HOUR? - I’m late for work already, can’t you do anything to help me sooner?”

Dispatch: “Everybody has to wait an hour. That’s how long it takes to get help to you”.

Driver: “Okay, thanks...I guess....”

Is there anything wrong with this service? After all, the dispatcher used their manners and gave accurate information. But this isn’t winning customer service. Let’s try it again.

Driver: “Hello, I’m broken down and need assistance”

Dispatch: “Thanks for calling us for help, I hope you’re okay – can you please provide your location?”

Driver: “2km off highway 140, Eastbound”

Dispatch: “Okay, that’s about an hour away from our dispatch centre so it’s going to take about 60-90 minutes to get help out your way.”

Driver: “AN HOUR? I’m already late for work, is there any way you can get here sooner?”

Dispatch: “I’m sorry, I understand how frustrating it must be to have to wait this long. Would it be helpful if I called your employer to let them know you’re in a bit of a jam this morning? How are you for food and water, shall I send the dispatcher with a beverage for you?”

Driver: “Awe, thanks a bottle of water would be great. And yes, please give my supervisor a call – that would make my morning a lot better.”

Dispatch: “We’re on it, see you soon.”

Simply acknowledging the situation and letting them know you feel their pain makes a customer interaction much better. The driver still had to wait an hour, but they felt heard, and they ultimately had a positive experience despite being broken down and late for work.

Empathy can be a useful tactic to have in the customer experience toolkit even when you’re not able to help a customer like in the scenario above. Empathizing with your customer will make the difficult conversations easier too.

Empathy saying “no”

Sometimes customers are wrong. Now and then a customer will become frustrated with a service or product simply because they do not understand the features, limitations of their package, or any number of things, and it’s the job of the customer support team to tell them “no” while still providing a positive experience. That’s tough.

The best chance of a positive customer service outcome is given when empathy is the focus. If the customer support agent can effectively empathize with the customer and truly put themselves in the shoes of the customer, there’s a good chance the experience will be favourable. When we understand the motivation and point of view of the customer, we are in a better position to build trust.

Identifying cues for empathy

Picking up on subtle cues is a big part of empathy in customer service. Body language is often a great indicator of how to react, as well as other indicators such as tone or word choice.

Not all customer service happens face-to-face, so learning to identify nuances like tone of voice are critical to empathizing.

Learned Empathy

Like any skill, empathy can be learned. Take Apple for example, they provide a training manual which is all about empathy so employees at the genius bar who assist customers with their tech can understand the struggle.

Learning to empathize starts with the fundamentals of identifying and understanding the pain points your customer faces. Don’t let the learning curve stop you from using these best practices today!

Create habits for your customer support team of using empathy-friendly phrases like:

“I can understand how frustrating it is when...”

“I realize how complicated it is...”

“I know how confusing it is...”

“I imagine how upsetting it is to...”

Using statements like these are the first steps towards cultivating an empathetic customer experience. They are easy to employ. To really set yourself apart, become an expert listener. Repeat what the customer says to assure them of your understanding of the issue. Then, once you’ve really nailed down the issue, make it your own problem. When you make the customer's problem your own, you are better able to display empathy, plus it creates a one-to-one relationship and contact point so the customer can be comfortable with the resolution of the issue moving forward.

Practice empathy today

Begin by practicing the use of the empathetic statements above. Learn to flex those emotional intelligence muscles more and more. Give your team gentle reminders to see things from the customers perspective and give a team member a pat on the back when they demonstrate empathetic service.

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