“I see you.” “I hear you.” “I feel your pain.” These words settle the soul in a world filled with chaos.
Customer service representatives call upon empathy in every interaction. But only the top customer service reps know how to use the power of empathy to build brand recognition and customer loyalty.
For growing companies handling customer service for the first time or looking to expand their team, training your team to empathize ensures a lifetime of happy customers.
The good news is that most customer service representatives naturally radiate empathy. If you’re attracted to the position, chances are you like people and feel a connection to others with or without a CSR job title. But, like all skills and talents, there’s always room for growth.
Let’s take a look at what empathy is, different types, and the role it plays in the workplace and for your company at large.
What is empathy?
Empathy is the ability to relate to another person’s situation and emotions, or perspective-taking. Developing empathy allows you to see from a different person’s perspective and support them in a unique way. The goal of empathy is to help someone to move on from a difficult emotion or to lift them out of a tough situation. It’s similar to emotional intelligence.
Is empathy the same as sympathy? No, sympathy reflects sharing the emotions of someone else, while empathy reflects understanding and perspective sharing of someone else.
Types of empathy
To fully understand empathy, we can break it down into three types:
- Cognitive Empathy: A surface-level understanding of the other person’s feelings or situation. In customer service, this helps you recommend certain products or reply appropriately to a request.
- Emotional Empathy: Sharing the emotional burden of another person’s feelings. Customer service leaders can use this type to connect with and calm team members after a difficult customer interaction.
- Compassionate Empathy: Action-oriented approach to fully understanding and resolving a customer’s pain. CSRs who reach this level of empathy are the gold standard—you form a connection with the customer while understanding that, ultimately, your role is to swiftly solve their problem.
How to develop empathy in customer service
After working in customer support for several years, I can attest that even the most empathetic of us get worn down. It’s hard to remember to show compassion when you deal with angry email after angry email. Especially when it’s unjustified and irrational.
But, that’s human nature. And, as customer support professionals, we chose this life. I developed a few tips to help me stay empathetic, even during the worst of times.
Pause to stay mindful
Wading through a seemingly infinite queue of customer complaints wears down empathy. Stay refreshed by taking breaks. A quick stretch, snack, or context switch can help keep your mind fresh.
By thinking clearly, you can tap into the customer’s perspective and understand their story. Give them the benefit of the doubt. Maybe they’ve had a bad day and are taking it out on you.
When you approach issues objectively and mindfully, you can show more compassion and empathy to your customers.
Take action with active listening
Dig deeper to find the cause behind the complaint. Ask questions and follow up to get to the root of the issue. By actively listening in customer service, you can avoid unnecessary back and forth and get to a resolution quicker.
Remember, more than anything, your customers contacted you to solve a problem. Tap into your product knowledge and offer thoughtful resolutions to their requests.
Bond with teammates
Empathy is a cyclical force. The more you feel heard and accepted, the easier it is to give that to others. Especially in the world of customer service where burnout is high, bonding with coworkers can make all the difference.
Allow yourself to vent when you need it. Share a funny customer story with a coworker. Take some of the emotional burden off yourself by sharing customer moments with others. Other departments may even offer new resolutions or incorporate customer feedback into upcoming features.
Empathy training in the workplace
Bringing empathy into the workplace benefits both the company and its customers. It’s no surprise that more and more organizations provide training for the skill. Industry leaders, like LinkedIn and Tesla, are some of the 20 percent of employers in the US offering empathy training.
Schools realize the importance of empathy training as well. For instance, Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School of Business includes empathy courses in its MBA program. As customer experience becomes a leading revenue generator, students with a people-oriented mindset will be more attractive to hiring managers.
What does empathy training actually look like?
Many trainings teach the “Elements of Empathy Wheel.” It starts with self awareness and moves into peer awareness. The five elements include observing, listening, relating, connecting, and responding.
Can empathy be taught?
Empathy training in the workplace proves that adults can be taught this seemingly innate skill. In fact, a study by Development Dimensions International showed that only 40 percent of frontline leaders were considered to be “proficient or strong in empathy.”
“Many executives I have worked with do not even have the basic emotional vocabulary necessary to understand the broad landscape of emotions that exists in organisations and society.”Graham Ward, INSEAD Adjunct Professor of Leadership
Truthfully, as much as you may think your employees value empathy, a training program locks it down. You’ll be able to set goals and create metrics around the skill set to prioritize it at the core of your company’s values.
Benefits of empathy training
Of course, empathizing with others “feels” good. But in the world of business, we rely on numbers and data to back up those feelings. Thankfully, the Harvard Business Review did the work for us.
They explain the correlation between empathy and success, citing that 80% of departments with higher empathy skills also prove to be better performers. In addition, the top ten companies in the Global Empathy Index 2015 doubled their value and generated 50% more earnings (defined by market capitalization) than the bottom ten.
And—this is fascinating—they drew a correlation between empathy and ethics. Scandals at Deutsche Bank and Wells Fargo caused a significant drop in their empathy ranking and brand reputation. Focusing on empathy building may help prevent ethical scandals and customer disdain.
As is true in most cases of innovation these days, tech companies lead the charge in empathy training. They made up about 60% of the top ten most empathetic companies in 2016. And tech companies like Facebook doubled down on the benefits of empathy with the introduction of their “Empathy Lab.”
New brands take note: Empathy is and will continue to be a differentiator in today’s market.
Overview: Empathy training for your team
What might empathy training look like at your company? For a growing e-commerce company, implementing an empathy training program doesn’t require a huge commitment or a lot of money.
Begin by teaching employees what empathy is and its importance in the workplace. Then, break into teams and practice mirroring techniques. This will help employees listen to each other and reply appropriately—a skill you’ll need for great customer service. Focusing on facial expressions, mindfulness training, mirroring, active listening, expressing concerns, body language, etc.
Read through real customer complaints, then call on team members to recount a time when they were in a similar situation. This will help practice relatability.
Finally, brainstorm resolutions and actions that could solve the problem. Look to other companies for inspiration. For example, Ebay’s “Up & Running” campaign provided free services and helpful support to small businesses during the pandemic.
Ebay understood their customers’ situation, felt emotionally connected to their plight, and created a tangible solution. Every element of the Empathy Wheel came into play. It’s no coincidence this campaign resonated with their customer base.
How can you use empathy to provide delightful experiences for your customers?