How to show empathy in customer support
Updated: Jan 13
We’ve all had bad customer service experiences. That’s unfortunately an industry given. But, hopefully, we’ve all had some great ones, too. The factors that differentiate an encounter with customer support that makes you smile from one that makes you tear your hair out all stem from one crucial element: empathy.
The ability to understand and identify with the feelings of another is a fundamental requirement for building meaningful relationship with customers. As a matter of fact, to the relief of clients everywhere, businesses of all sizes are becoming increasingly aware of this need. However, it’s not always as straightforward as it sounds to practice empathy. It’s a mode of relating that asks you to reach within yourself and discover commonalities with someone who you sometimes have never met before. Therefore, it only makes sense to train your support team to develop this must-have character trait in order to make sure customers are walking away singing your praises. Without further ado, here are seven ways to show empathy in customer service.
01. Read and listen carefully
Whether you are providing customer service over the phone or face-to-face, it is extremely important to listen and, when possible, maintain eye contact during your conversation. Doing this will ensure that you understand the customer clearly and avoid miscommunication. You’ll also be able to pick up helpful clues about how they’re feeling about your company’s service through their tone of voice and body language. Writing down notes can also help keep information organized and centralized in one place.
02. Repeat and confirm
Once your customer has provided the entire story, it’s your turn to confirm and validate what you understood. Repeating the information is a good way to make sure that both sides are on the same page and, of course, that you listened and internalized what they were expressing. In fact, repeating the last words from your interlocutor is so effective, that it's a negotiation technique used by the most seasoned FBI negotiators. Known as ‘paraphrase,’ it's one of the key components of active listening. Keeping that principle in mind, still be sure to phrase things in your own words with your own interpretation. No one wants to find themselves conversing with a robot.
03. Use meaningful key phrases
After listening and understanding the situation, it is now important to acknowledge the other person’s emotions. When doing so, it’s always good to use positive, reassuring language. Doing this is called ‘perspective taking,’ which means you explicitly recognize the other person’s perspective and emotions. Sometimes, this is even more important than the actual solution, as people often simply want to feel cared for. Here are some key customer service phrases which could come in handy when trying out this technique:
“I understand where you are coming from.”
“I would be upset too if this happened to me.”
“I can only imagine how you feel.”
“I can completely relate.”
04. Let them vent
The reality is, most customers who contact support are frustrated. While some might be patient and calm, others could be potentially explosive, which is why it’s good to prepare for both scenarios. If you do encounter an extremely upset user, one way to handle the situation is by actually, letting the customer vent. Many times, all people really want is to blow off some steam, which could do more good than you think. The customer might even thank you for it, as in a sense, it is a way to show empathy. Have a look at this article if you’re looking for more tips on how to deal with difficult customers.
05. Stay positive and be patient
Being empathetic to the first customer of the day is easy. But in order to treat the last customer the same way you treated the first one, you need to remain positive and motivated.
No matter how frustrating the situation can be, steer clear of judgement and remember that we all know what it feels like to be on the other side. Find ways to clear your head and shake off your own stress throughout the day, whether by taking a five-minute lap around the office or doing small stretches at your desk in between phone calls.
06. Always be respectful
Respect can be defined in many different ways. Yet, one universally recognized way to show you care about a customer is by asking for their name. Greeting the other person by name is definitely the best way to get off on the right foot, as it will also give you the opportunity to introduce yourself, and establish more of a human-to-human rapport than anonymous voices across a telephone line. This step is the perfect opportunity to get an idea of the energy of the conversation, as well as to help you evaluate how to help the customer.
07. Let the customer feel cared for
Customer service can’t always deliver solutions, but it can always deliver empathy.
Remember that customers who contact support have probably tried everything else themselves already. As a customer service agent, you are their last hope before they give up — maybe on their problem, and maybe on your company - which is why it is extremely important that your customers feel cared for. As Uncle Ben from Spiderman said: “With great power, comes great responsibility.”, That’s why the best way to show you care is by efficiently offering solutions, and getting back to the customer in a timely manner.
At the end of the day, showing that you care goes a long way, and even has the potential to be paid forward as customers will rave about their positive experiences to their peers and colleagues. You can’t always solve a customer’s problem, but you can always treat them with the utmost respect and prove your reliability as a company.
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