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A Guide To Empathy In Customer-Agent Interaction

Have you ever had a bad customer service experience? Of course, you had. That's an industry given. But, probably, you've had some excellent customer service experiences, too. The elements that distinguish a customer service experience that makes you smile from one that makes you fly off the handle originate from one crucial factor: empathy.

Identifying and understanding the person's feelings on the other side is necessary for building and nurturing meaningful relationships with customers. In fact, to the relief of customers far and wide, organizations of all sizes are becoming increasingly aware of this need.

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Nevertheless, it's not always as easy as it sounds to practice empathy. As a matter of fact, customer service and empathy are two things that should but not always go together. Perceiving customer empathy is a mode of relating that asks customer service representatives to reach within themselves and discover commonalities with people they've never met before.

Even though providing top-notch customer service should be the focus of the whole organization, and not only of the customer support agents, they are the ones that bear the most significant burden. Being the ones who promptly interact with customers, they generally have the most considerable influence on how the customers will perceive the entire organization.

For this reason, it only makes sense to train and educate your support agents to develop this must-have character trait to make sure that your customers are walking away singing your praises. Given the influence excellent customer service has on the overall customer experience and your client's future purchase decisions, developing skills as customer empathy has become of the utmost importance for organizations that tend to retain their existing ones and attract new customers.

So, without further ado, here's our comprehensive guide to empathy in customer-agent interaction, where first, we'll explain what customer empathy entails, and later, we'll go through several proven practices to help you become more empathetic toward your respected customers.

The Significance Of Empathy In Customer Service Efforts

The meaning and interpretation of empathy don’t really change when it comes to customer service efforts. It’s still defined as the skill or capability to understand what other humans are feeling, connect with those emotions, and react with compassion.

This is particularly major in such unpredictable times when many customers already feel vulnerable and are increasingly aware of where their hard-earned money goes. For example, modern-day customers might be okay with paying for their shipping in order to get their purchase delivered to their doorstep faster. However, they still expect thorough and prompt customer support, which typically determines if you’ll ever see them buying from your business again.

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Along the same lines, nowadays, customers have so many different options to choose from that jumping from one ship to another has never been more accessible for them. In effect, according to the second edition of the “State of the Connected Customer” report by Salesforce Research, 61% of customers have stopped purchasing from a company because their rivals provided a better customer experience. This is something to think about, isn’t it? Well, this is where the importance of empathy in customer service efforts enters the equation.      

Empathy And Sympathy In Customer Service

So, where's the role of empathy in all this? Let's think about it this way—what kind of customer service will an agent provide if they don't understand and relate with the issue the customer is referring to and displays no genuine interest in solving it?

This is where we should also discern the differences between empathy and sympathy in customer service since the line between the two might seem pretty thin. As good as sympathy might sound, in customer service, you should aim to nurture customer empathy instead. Here's why:

  • Sympathy might make you look unprofessional and hurt your overall brand image. If emotions lead the entire query, the customer might lose their trust and appear hesitant about your products or services.
  • Exaggerated sympathy might bring you too close to the issue you're trying to solve and take on the customer's emotions personally, which might make you share the "victim" position with them.
  • Sympathy might prevent the agent from doing their best job. Getting too emotionally attached to a customer service matter can affect the result, and certainly not in a good way.

On the other hand, empathy allows you to demonstrate that you genuinely care and understand the problem without getting emotionally involved. Nurturing customer empathy as a core value of your customer service culture brings the best results in addressing your customers' needs. It helps agents see things from another person's perspective while keeping a cool head.

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So the most crucial question is—how to show more empathy to your customers and make showing customer empathy a stellar in how you deal with your clients? Continue reading to learn how you can improve customer service empathy within your organization and why empathy statements in customer service are vital in achieving this fundamental trait.

Ways To Improve Customer Service Empathy Within Your Organization

Practice Active Listening

Not all customers are good at explaining precisely what they need, which doesn’t make it easier for customer support teams to help them overcome the apparent problems. For this reason, practicing active listening and listening with full attention is the only way to uncover what they really mean or need in order to solve their issue.

What distinguishes active listening from simply hearing is that being an active listener demands you to keep engaged and reflective about what is being said. Put differently; as an agent, you should show that you’re listening using verbal and non-verbal feedback, paraphrase to confirm understanding, ask questions, and use affirmations during the conversation.

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Of course, in the digital era we live in, many such interactions also happen via email, live chat, or other channels where agents don’t have the chance to make eye contact, for example. In this case, even though it’s not technically active “listening,” you can still pay close attention to your customers’ needs and reply in the sense that you’re closely following their situation and looking for ways to help them efficiently.

Recognize The Customer’s Concerns

When a customer contacts your support department with a particular problem they have with your products or services, one of the most critical things to practice customer empathy is to acknowledge the problem from the very beginning of the conversation.

So, when a customer expresses any kind of emotion that they feel, be it excitement, frustration, misunderstanding, or other, and doesn’t get the feeling that the agent understands it, it might end up as rejection, or, at least, put some unnecessary tension in the conversation.

This course of events can, in fact, be explained by something that psychologists call a communication chain. The communication chain tells us that when a person transmits a verbal message, they naturally expect a response, and when there’s none, the chain is broken, or left “unlinked.”

Recognizing a customer’s issue is that response that links the chain together and leaves the customer with a secure feeling of connection. It shows that you understand and that you’re ready to tackle the issue.

Overcome Your Biases

When it comes to biases, you might believe that you have none. Regrettably, we all have them about specific topics and things, and that's 100% normal. However, in customer service, no kind of prejudice will ever work in your favor, as they may make you fall to conclusions too fast and prevent you from doing your best before you can think of it.

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For instance, imagine that you're a customer service representative of some eCommerce app, and you get a call from a client who sounds a bit older. There's a good chance that you'll automatically presume that the person calling is less tech-savvy because of their age and not that your app has navigation issues. Well, this is where it all can begin to collapse.

To preserve customer empathy, you need to learn to deal with these occurrences over time. The crucial keywords here would be to stay aware and recognize—by discerning that you might be making incorrect assumptions, you will be able to take a pause, think about it, and reinstate the conversation on its steady path.

Try To Create A Genuine Connection

Even though the primary goal of a customer service interaction is to help or assist the customer, that doesn’t mean that agents should blindly follow their customer service scripts and manuals. So, if you ever have a chance to connect with a customer on a more personal level, like if you notice that you and the person on the other side have something in common, why not bring it up?

Most of the time, such slight moments can immediately boost the mood and make it easier to solve the issue or release the pressure from the conversation if there are any. When appropriate, it can also help you have a couple of laughs and share experiences that can further strengthen your relationship. This will bring you closer to the customer and put a warm memory in their mind when they think about your business.

In the end, what can be better than someone telling their closest ones that they had the best experience ever with their customer support representative, who was really helpful along the process and happened to go to the same elementary school as they were? You get the point.

Put Yourself In Your Customer’s Shoes

Or in other words—try to look at things from your customer’s perspective. The ability to do that will permit you to change places with your client for a minute, leading to your providing more empathetic service after all. As simple as it may sound, every so often, it’s challenging to draw the line between what you as a customer service agent think, what your customers go through, and what they’re actually going through.

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By catching sight of the things from your customer’s perspective, you can get a far better understanding of their problem and discern how you would feel if you were in their situation. This can help you embrace your customer’s point of view and look at the problem in a completely different, empathetic light.

Of course, having the latest Y Meadows software implemented within your customer support system to track down previous customer support tickets or conversations with the same customer would make things a lot easier for you, as you’ll know everything that went down before you tackle the latest customer service issue.

Expressing Empathy: Top Empathy Statements In Customer Service You Should Use

Anyhow, all of the things we mentioned above can bring you closer to providing more empathetic customer service to your clients. The crucial thing here is not to just serve a customer but be there for them as well.

To finish off this lengthy blog post, below, you’ll find the most appropriate empathy statements for customer service that might come in handy during your department’s subsequent interaction with customers if you aim to make them feel heard, understood, and valued.

If you’re trying to acknowledge your customer’s feelings, you could make the following statements: “I am really sorry to hear that you’re experiencing this difficulty. I will do my best to resolve this issue as soon as possible.”, “I get why you’re angry, but I can certainly help you out.”, or “I completely understand your frustration, but let’s try to find a viable solution.”

If you want to uncover what’s important in the conversation, you can go with: “Did you mean that….”, “If I understand you correctly…”, “Did I get that right?”, or “Can you elaborate a bit more on…”.

Suppose you want to show some genuine customer empathy and put yourself in your customer’s shoes. In that case, you could use some of the following empathy statements in customer service: “I can tell why this is an issue,” “I can 100% relate to your frustration”, “That must have been very confusing,” or “That would be annoying for me, as well.”

To maintain that positive momentum and diffuse tension, you could use phrases like: “I’m thrilled you asked,” or “I will gladly help you find a solution,” or “I’m glad you asked, let me know if there’s anything else I can do to help you.”

Finally, suppose you want to make your customers feel more appreciated by your business. In that case, you can use statements like: “Thank you for your patience,” “We are very content to have you as a customer,” “I appreciate you being so positive about the issue,” “Is there anything you’d want us to improve about our product or service?”, and so on.

Final Thoughts On Empathy In Customer-Agent Interaction

In conclusion, empathy is a skill that demands polishing, but it can significantly add up to your customer experience if used right. Nurturing customer empathy is excellent because all people are emotional creatures, and most of their decisions are driven by emotion rather than clear logic.

Implementing empathy in your customer service efforts can make your organization look more human and help your clients see that you’re on their side. In the end,  even if you won’t be able to solve every problem your customers might encounter, you can certainly still make them feel better by striving to achieve real, human connections.

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