Using empathy as your customer satisfaction currency


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It’s a common belief that customer service is all about solving problems. A good customer experience comes from delighting customers with solutions and rewards. Meanwhile, a bad experience comes from not finding a solution to the problem.

It is (of course) true that solving customer problems is an integral part of customer service. But, when it comes to winning the satisfaction of your customers, merely fixing a problem isn’t always enough.

This is because to deliver a satisfying experience, customers need to feel heard. More, they need to feel understood. And empathy is the currency of understanding. But how exactly can you show and use empathy to win customer satisfaction?

What is empathy?

Empathy refers to the ability of one human to identify, understand and share the feelings of another. So, in customer service, empathy means appreciating and validating the emotions of each customer.

Empathy is a cornerstone of human service. When you are being empathetic to your customers, you’re putting yourself in their shoes (figuratively speaking). You’re treating them like a human; not a ticket in a queue or a file in an in-tray.

This empathetic attitude allows you to gain insight into the way the customer views the situation. You can understand how and why that customer’s view differs from your perspective and policies. And, in establishing that foundation of understanding, you can start to build a better experience.

Empathy and satisfaction

When customers make the effort to come to you, there’s usually an emotional reason behind it. This is because emotion motivates more than fact or logic. So, if you can identify and understand that underlying emotion, you can adapt your approach accordingly.

Veering away from stock platitudes and showing empathy gives your service a friendly, human voice. It boosts customer satisfaction because it allows you to acknowledge the way your customer is feeling, and to validate their emotions.

This validation is extremely satisfying for customers. It helps them feel respected, cared about and listened to. They’ve been understood on a human level. In turn, the customer will then feel more confident in the service they receive. They’ve been treated respectfully and carefully – not just fed company policies.

Empathy as currency

Emotion, then, is one of the most powerful forces in customer relations. People remember the way they felt about something long after the details of the experience are forgotten. When you use empathy to elicit positive sentiment, they customer will remember that your service made them feel good. (Even when you couldn’t come to a solution.)

For example, an angry customer starts a chat session when their order arrives broken. Without empathetic service, they’re still angry when they exit, even though the problem is solved. The negative emotion (anger) is then remembered and associated with your service.

With empathy, the agent apologises and validates the feelings by recognising that they’d feel that way too. The problem is solved in the same way, but the customer has felt listened to and understood. As a result, they have calmed down. So, a positive emotion (calm) is attached to the memory of the experience.

No matter what emotions the customer is feeling, you can use empathy as a currency to turn any interaction into a satisfying experience. Even if you can’t solve their problem, with empathy you can still help customers feel listened to and appreciated.

How to show empathy

Showing empathy is easier said than done. Sometimes it’s hard to identify an emotion, other times working out how to respond can be tricky. So, here are three steps to showing empathy.

1. Make sure you understand

Before you can show empathy to a customer, you need to make sure you understand their problem. So, avoid making assumptions. If you’re unclear on part of their problem, ask them if you are understanding correctly. This way, you demonstrate the desire to understand them — which helps the customer feel listened to right from the start.

2. Identify their emotions

Identifying how a customer is feeling can vary in difficulty based on contact channel. Over the phone or in person, agents can use tonal cues to help them identify emotion. Meanwhile, online support like live chat relies on indicators such as word choice or emoji use. Tools such as sentiment analysis can also help agents identify negative or positive moods.

3. Use empathy statements

Once you have identified the emotion of the customer, you need to be capable of adapting your service accordingly. This is where empathy statements are useful. These are set phrases that provide guidelines for how to appeal to the customer’s need for acknowledgement and validation. You can tweak empathy statements on a case-by-case basis, to reflect the different empathy needs of each customer.

Empathy, satisfaction, loyalty

Customer satisfaction is closely linked to customer loyalty. If you can create satisfying experiences, you encourage the customer to return to your business. Empathy is the currency with which you can win that customer satisfaction.

No matter the emotion of the customer, and no matter the viability of finding a solution, empathy is a great tool for building relationships with your customers. So, be empathetic, and create satisfying customer experiences.

Niamh Reed
I'm a Keele University graduate and copywriter for digital engagement specialist Parker Software. I graduated with first-class honors in English with creative writing and was also awarded a certificate of competency in Japanese. I can usually be found feverishly writing business technology articles – covering everything from AI to customer service – and drinking too much tea.


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