Customer Service Empathy Guide

customer service agent empathy guide

Customer Service Empathy Guide

There is one skill that every exceptional customer support representative should have and that is empathy. Yes, it’s important to be able to speak with confidence, just as it’s important to have patience and positivity, but above all, empathy is critical.

In this article, we’re going to explore empathy in great depth and share some customer service tips for your team to be able to better empathise with their customers. We’ll be looking at the following:

  • Why is empathy so important in customer service?
  • How to identify an empathy problem?
  • How to build empathy?
  • How can one empathise with the customer?
  • How to express empathy as a company?

Read on if you’d like to learn more about building empathy on your customer service team and how it can be transformative for your overall customer experience.



What is empathy?

Empathy, in a nutshell, is the ability to understand and share someone else’s feelings. It refers to being able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and understand the situation from their perspective.

As far as customer service goes, empathy means being able to deal with a customer on a human level and trying to understand their situation as best as you can to find the most appropriate solution.

Having empathy doesn’t necessarily mean that you agree with them. However, it allows you to recognise and understand their truth.

Empathy is widely believed to be an inherent trait; something that you either have or you don’t. However, it is almost certainly something that can be learned. It may take some individuals longer than others, but empathy is an inherent human quality that simply needs unearthing.



Why is empathy so important in customer service?

The bottom line of having empathy is to make your customers feel ‘heard’. This can help calm every situation, ultimately speeding the resolution process along. But, there’s more to it than that. Here are six ways empathy can support your customer service representatives:

  1. A deeper understanding of people: if the role of customer service agent could be summed up in one word it would be ‘people’. Empathy helps you better understand people and their feelings, which will ultimately allow you to support them better. The fact is, if your customers feel like your customer service representatives are insensitive and cold, they will be far more likely to engage with your competitors in the future.
  2. Better intuition: naturally empathic people have better intuition when it comes to spotting the things that go unsaid. You see, some customers won’t always spell out their feelings. Depending on the situation, an empathetic customer service representative will be able to pick up on fluctuations in voice, tone, and the language that they use, ultimately enabling you to intuit their pain points and what they feel is at stake.
  3. Faster resolutions: as mentioned earlier, empathy can be used to resolve customer complaints faster and with greater precision. When you can understand what is unsaid, getting to the root cause of the problem and offering a solution is much, much easier.
  4. Improved customer relationships: when you listen to a customer and make them feel valued and understood, it will ultimately strengthen the bond between brand and customer, influencing their purchase behaviour. In short, empathy is an effective way to bolster customer loyalty.
  5. Encourages empathy in return: the role of customer support representative is, at times, unforgiving. Many difficult conversations need to be had and it often involves telling customers no. However, when you come from a place of empathy, your customers will have an easier time empathising with you in return.
  6. Prediction and reaction: another excellent benefit of showing empathy is being able to predict how a customer will likely react in a certain situation. This means that you will often be able to have answers prepared in advance for follow-up questions that are likely to be asked. You may also be able to predict the ideal alternate solutions in advance, while also designing effective customer service journeys.


Empathy is not just important for the customer and making them feel valued, but for the wellbeing of the customer service rep as well.

The fact is, employing empathy will ultimately make the job easier – and less frustrating. When you can carry out your duties more effectively and win customers over without having to endure too much verbal abuse, it makes everything less painful for everyone involved.



How do you identify an empathy problem?

As a consumer, there’s a good chance that you’ve had customer service interactions of your own in the past. Can you recall a time when you didn’t end up with the resolution you wanted but you went away feeling good anyway? If so, then it’s because you were fortunate enough to speak with a customer service rep who dealt with you empathetically. Unfortunately, such instances are indeed rare.

Below are some tell-tale signs that a customer service department is lacking empathetic reps:

  • There’s a distinct lack of customer satisfaction. There’s no clearer sign of a lack of empathy than consistent customer complaints.
  • Tone mismatch between rep and customer. Whether formal or informal, your customer service reps must match the customer.
  • any late responses are sent out without apologies.
  • Customers are frequently discouraged to contact customer support.
  • Your reps tend to have a ‘not my problem attitude and pass customers from pillar to post.

If any of the above signs are common in your customer service department then you almost certainly have an empathy deficit.



How to build empathy?

So, what do you do if your customer service reps are lacking empathy? Can it be taught? If so, how can you build empathy in your department?

  • Identify and understand biases: have your reps work together in a team training exercise and identify their biases. As open-minded as we all like to believe we are, we all make judgements based on language, colour, gender, religion, age, accent, and vocabulary. Those judgements aren’t always intentionally hurtful, but they can be unhelpful. For example, if an elderly person calls up, many people’s first assumption would be that they are a bit of a technophobe and that the issue is likely their fault – this won’t always be the case.
  • Create a culture of positivity: it’s easy to show empathy toward the first customer of the day but as it approaches the end of the shift it will become increasingly harder to remain positive. A great way to monitor this is by having your employees monitor their own emotions throughout the week and take notes whenever they feel a positive or negative emotion – including any events that trigger them. This can help build a personal profile for each employee and better understand what brings them down and what helps them maintain a positive attitude.
  • Delve deeper into your customer base: there’s a difference between a stereotype and a demographic. As mentioned earlier, you need to identify and understand biases. What you also need to do is to try and better understand your customer base. What does the product and/or service mean to them? How can your customer service reps relate to them? The better we understand our customer base the easier it will be to empathise with and support.
  • Reading fiction: whether you want to build empathy personally, or you wish to encourage your employees to be better able to put themselves in others’ shoes, reading fiction is one of the most effective means of building empathy. It’s also a hobby that brings a wealth of other benefits as well. You can’t force your employees to read books, but there are other empathy-building activities you can encourage, such as group role play.
  • Teaching and training: regular training is always recommended to keep customer service departments sharp and on top of their game. It can also be very beneficial to have certain employees who may be struggling with empathy teach new starters about the various products and services they will be supporting them. This can help them recognise how people see and learn differently.
  • Feedback to your customer service reps: you likely already have some form of customer service survey that you offer, however, how much feedback do you share with your employees? You must take the time to feedback to your staff and let them know what they are doing right and the areas in which they can improve.



How can one empathise with the customer?

So, now that we have a better understanding of what empathy is, why it’s important, how to spot a lack of it and ways that you can build it up; how can you better empathise with the customer? Below are 12 awesome tips that can help you and your customer sales reps offer the best possible service:

  1. Listen actively: particularly after settling into a job, it’s easy to fall into the habit of making assumptions and ‘half-listening’. Listen actively and repeat back what their problem is. In most cases, a customer simply wants to be heard.
  2. Don’t be sympathetic, be empathetic: rather than say: “I’m sorry, that must be so frustrating”, say: “I completely understand how frustrating that is”. You should also be more personal: “we” aren’t trying to solve anything, “you” are.
  3. Mind your attitude: no matter how tempting it is to lay blame on the customer or expect an apology, remember that it’s a customer service rep’s job to help, not be right. That said, you must always stand your ground with abusive or especially difficult customers. Maintain a professional attitude at all times.
  4. Don’t take it personally: there’s always a very good chance that your customer will be overreacting so give them the benefit of the doubt. It isn’t personal and you never have the full story; they could be having a very difficult time. Do your best to calm the situation and offer a resolution.
  5. Involve your customers in the solution: sometimes a customer may be expecting things from your product or service that simply cannot be delivered. In this case, ask the customer what they think the right solution may be so they can see things from your perspective and work with you to find the ideal compromise.
  6. Ask the right questions: the more you understand your customer’s situation (e.g., what they’re doing/trying to achieve), the easier it will be to help them overcome their problem.
  7. Always look for common interests: you need to win the customer over to calm them, make them feel heard, and ultimately resolve the situation as effectively as possible. A great way to do this is to look for common ground. Do you need a minute or two while you load up some information? Ask them a few questions to keep them occupied and to build rapport.
  8. Always be respectful: show the appropriate respect by using their name throughout the conversation. You should also remember to remain respectful even if the conversation takes a bad turn. You take the high road, especially when defending yourself.
  9. Understand the language barrier: if you are dealing with customers in their second language, be patient and respectful. Speak slowly and with clear language. Don’t use unnecessary fluff words that may otherwise confuse the situation.
  10. Tone match: as mentioned earlier it’s incredibly helpful to tone match when speaking with a customer. Whether they are being formal or personal, meet them halfway. This doesn’t mean that you need to act like a robot and suppress your personality. Use your best judgement.
  11. Never assume: remember to identify and understand your biases. The same applies to making assumptions; do not. You should always ask the customer – even if you are convinced to know the answer. This is critical in making them feel valued and that you are not rushing them.
  12. Never be afraid to side with them when they’re right: there will be times when customers are dealing with very frustrating situations. When the company is at fault, never be afraid to side with the customer. This is a highly effective way of calming them down and lowering their voice. When you say: “You are right, that was our mistake. Please hold on while I get that fixed for you”, they will have more respect for you, feel heard, and ultimately be more compelled to remain loyal to your brand. It’s all about accountability.



How to express empathy as a company?

There are no two ways about it: empathy starts from the top and flows down. The fact is, when the leadership of a company is always customer-focused and is never shy to display empathy, the employees will be far more likely to match that level of commitment.

All of the most negative customer support stories are very rarely down to the customer support reps but as a reflection of the company’s culture. If the leadership doesn’t care, why on earth should the customer service reps?

In the least patronising way possible, think of your employees like your children. They will mimic your attitude, just as children do their parents.

You also need to give your customer service representatives the freedom to take matters into their own hands when the occasion calls for it. For example, allocate a small budget for each support team so that they can go above and beyond when they feel like a customer can benefit from it.

Not only does this display an element of trust with your employees (making them feel valued), but it can enable them to use their best judgement and do what is necessary to retain a disgruntled customer’s loyalty.

Certainly, it’s not always possible to deliver the perfect solution, however, empathetic human interaction is often more than enough to make your customers feel truly valued and understood.

We cannot stress how valuable quality customer service is.

You should never see spending money on your customer service department as an expense but as an investment in your customers.

The more empathy you can employ as an organisation, the more likely you will be able to bolster customer loyalty and ultimately secure a respected position among your competitors.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

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