The Importance of Empathy as Part of a Customer Service Strategy

by Jeff Wiener on May 1, 2015

The innumerable communication channels available for customers to voice their issues with businesses these days can often leave customer service representatives feeling like they want to pull their hair out, as not only the ease of communication but the anonymity of it often results in both a higher frequency of complaints and outright attacks as well; a constant deluge of negativity that can leave any business feeling more than a little jaded.

But before you fire back in defence of your company, consider where such words of anger and frustration are coming from, the experience the customer has had, and the history that customer has with your company, and use those things to put the complaints in context. And even though today’s dog-eat-dog business world is more focused on landing that next big client, getting that next big sale, or closing that next big deal, you’ll find that a little empathy can go a long way as part of your company’s customer service strategy.

Simply put, when we talk about customer relationship management we can’t forget that ‘relationship’ is literally at the centre of the entire idea of developing and maintaining lasting connections with customers; and at the heart of any lasting relationship needs to be empathy, the ability to feel what your customers are feeling.

To clarify, when I speak of ‘empathy’ I’m speaking of the ability to put yourself in another person’s shoes, as it were, the ability to understand and share another person’s experiences and emotions. As the Dictionary entry states, empathy is “the psychological identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another.”

In the context of customer service this process can often seem both time consuming and emotionally intensive, as it involves connecting with customers not as numbers on a page, but as actual human beings who bring to the relationship with your company their own complex set of experiences and emotions. While customer service can seem exhausting even when following a set script for each customer, I won’t lie that it gets more difficult when you treat each customer like an actual individual and subsequently attempting to empathise innumerable times per day, but the rewards are far greater.

Now admittedly empathy is not something that businesses are generally good at; processes are usually developed and streamlined to maximize efficiency and profits, with little thought to how those processes actually impact customers. What is good for your business, you see, often makes things considerably more difficult for your customers.

So why should businesses employ empathy as part of a customer service strategy? In a competitive economy where customers can easily take their business elsewhere what truly sets a company apart is usually not its products or its prices, but its customer service. This fundamentally means– and I don’t mean to demean anything I’ve already said–that there’s money it in, as treating customers fairly and equitably will set you apart from the market, particularly in customer-centric industries.

But aside from examining your processes from the viewpoint of the customer, the next step to truly empathizing with customers is to actually listen to what they’re saying. Regardless of the channel the complaint is delivered through, apologize to the client, offer additional support, or respond in a way that is relationship saving. Here at Digitcom we emphasize delivering the customer smile, a simple way of reminding both our customers and our team that our focus first and foremost is on meaningful, lasting customer satisfaction. Even if the problem is not immediately resolved at least empathizing demonstrates that you’re attempting to see the problem from another perspective.

Given the variety of channels customers have available for voicing complaints empathizing can certainly seem like a daunting task, but with the right core philosophy, attitude, and team in place it’ll quickly become second nature, and in a business world where relationship management is quickly becoming the only real distinguishing factor, understanding your customers’ experiences and how they feel has never been more important.

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