The Yin & Yang of Customer Service – How to Balance Empathy Vs. Productivity.


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Potter, tetherless, in Yosemite. Photo by James A Hurst.
Potter, tetherless, in Yosemite. Photo by James A Hurst.

Good technical support is a constant struggle between maintaining empathy for your customers and running an efficient, productive, and  profitable business.

After all, you have budgets to keep to, a limited technical support staff, and a lot of customers you have to help. You can’t spend unlimited time and energy with each customer, and have to set up canned answers to more quickly get through support requests.

At the same time, forming and maintaining strong customer relationships is critical for any business to thrive. Strong customer relationships means repeat business, referrals, good reviews and most importantly increased profit.

The problem is that fomenting strong customer relationships takes time. Time generally means decreased productivity. If your business is inefficient, you will lose money. At the same time, if you are too curt with your customers, you will lose referrals and repeat business.

It’s a catch-22 – no matter what you do your business is stuck!

Customer Service is Like Walking a Tightrope – Which is Why Balance is Key

Too much emphasis on personal relationships in customer service will kill your productivity and profit margins. On that opposite end – too much emphasis on productivity will kill your brand and reputation.

It’s important to note, that the market is rapidly changing. Customers are demanding more personal care than ever. In fact, an American express survey in 2011 found that 78% of consumers have bailed on a transaction or not made an intended purchase because of a poor service experience!

That’s why your customer service needs to be both empathetic, and on point.

A case in point is the buzzfeed article where the customer support agent named Tonya learned in her talk with a female customer that she had just gone through a rough breakup. The support agent ended up cheering her up and sending her flowers. She also gave her air miles.

This display of human spontaneity and empathy helped their business (imagine the cost of  exposure via paid campaign) and frankly, good for humanity. However, what if Tonya (and her colleagues at the call center) got into a deep, emotionally filled conversation with every single call? Chances are, Capital One (the company she represents) would go out of business quickly.

There are two parts to the solution, and together they will help you find the perfect balance in your contact center.

The first key is your personnel. In an age where customer service is moving to center stage you can’t compromise the quality of your agents. They need to be highly qualified to take care of the technical and practical issues your customers are confronted with. More importantly they have to be emotionally intelligent and capable of reading the situation properly, diffusing resistance, and providing the customer with care he needs. The agent is your man on that tightrope we mentioned. Pick the ones with good balance.

The second key and the one we will elaborate on, is innovative call center technology, more specifically big data analytics. These new tools enable you to measure the impact of every nuance in your business on your bottom line  so you can track your support team and learn how your service is affecting your customer churn, your brand reputation and future sales. It will also show how playing around with your different KPI and service strategies moves the needle for your business.

Proper Technology & Infrastructure – The Analytic Tools That Will Help Your Business Skyrocket

We know that we need our customer support agents and tech support agents to be highly functioning and motivated. We also know that we need to have the right mix of empathy and productivity in order to best reach our business goals.

Now the question becomes – how do we go about quantifying and testing that we are operating correctly?

How do we actually know that the higher end support is indeed giving our business the results we desire, and isn’t just a waste of time?
The answer comes down to analytics. We use A/B testing in the marketing world to see which landing page or advertisement best converts visitors. So to in the world of tech support and customer service, we use testing and analytic tools to make sure that we are balancing and treating customers in a way that is promoting business growth.

Customer Support Analytics Tools for Gauging Empathy and Productivity

Contact center analytics is a relatively new field, yet it’s growing fast. Here are two examples for companies that can provide you with relevant data and valuable insight on the impact of customer service on your business. Make sure you find the best analytics partner for your line of business and your structure of customer service.

Forsee: is an analytics company that focuses exclusively on the customer’s experience with your brand. They track customer interaction, social media, surveys, etc. to get an idea of your overall customer satisfaction. You can then use  this data, compare with churn & sales data and see how your customer service is affecting your bottom line.

ClaraBridge: focuses on  predictive analytics. They mine and analyze data throughout your customer’s journey, from marketing & purchase through support and advocacy. With that information they can get insights into the lifetime value of a customer, the likelihood of a first time customer turning loyal etc. Using that data they provide insights  on how those outcomes are influenced by your brand’s service and support policies.

You Need to Analyze All Your Channels

It’s important to note that even with good analytics, you can only succeed if the data you provide is good. That’s why you should be mining data from all your  channels and throughout your customer’s journey.

Analytics will help you see where your engagements are helping your company and adding more overall value to your business.

Armed with extensive data and the right analytics tools you will be ready to tackle the big questions of customer support. What are the important KPI’s to drive the most effective support? where do you set those KPI’s at, and how do you reward agents to keep you service operation running smooth and efficient delivering the best value to your brand?

All of those, will inform, guide and help your agents walk the fine line of Empathy Vs. Productivity in customer service and promise customer loyalty and advocacy while keeping an eye for your bottom line.

Hagai Shaham
Customer Service Marketing and Content Expert.background in film making script writing and more.


  1. Hi Hagai: The idea that a call center agent could be considered more productive because he or she stays on script seems tenuous – if the script is cruddy to begin with. While I agree that service center agents are at risk for meandering off topic when speaking with customers, I don’t see empathy and productivity as opposing forces that need to be balanced.

    Empathy does not have to involve more conversational time. In my experience, it tends to diminish it. When agents can better serve customer needs, aren’t problems resolved with less haranguing? Aren’t customers generally happier, more satisfied, and less likely to demand more call center time? In the end, doesn’t that make the call center more productive?

  2. Hi Andrew,
    First, thanks for reading our content.
    I think there might have been something that got lost between my intension with the post and how you read it.
    starting with regard to staying on script.
    The post very clearly promotes CS agents independent thinking.
    In the second half of the post we say that the first key is – finding the right CS agents – and that “they have to be emotionally intelligent and capable of reading the situation properly, diffusing resistance, and providing the customer with care he needs”.
    This approach puts the responsibility and choice in the hands of the agent, not in the script.

    As for the question whether empathy and productivity are opposing forces.
    Here I have to say i agree with your second paragraph.
    They don’t HAVE to be.
    In a perfect world, where all customers are reasonable and all problems are clear and the agenda of the customer and agent is aligned (for instance – solving the problem in the most efficient way) productivity and empathy do work very well together.

    The challenges arise when the situation is more complex.
    We gave one example which is the extreme case in the article.
    Another example that did not find it’s way into the article is the growing sentiment that CEO’s respond directly to customers.
    We are using empathy and productivity as opposing forces in the article to address the issue of maintaining the fine balance between satisfying all of our customers demands and laying the law.
    Working in customer service we can’t do our job properly if we don’t empathize with our customers; and you are right empathy often makes for a better connection between agent and customer, and thus makes things go faster.
    But there are times when it doesn’t, and it’s when customers get demanding beyond what is sustainable for our business.
    At that point it is our duty to take a step back, and take a cold look at the situation and ask our selves: is that level of service sustainable or not.
    Can we, over time, provide that level of service and support a business or not.
    And if the answer is no we need to politely and generously offer the alternatives that are sustainable within our business model.
    I hope that makes sense,
    and thanks again for reading our content,


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