15 Simple Tips to Practice Empathy in Customer Service

Sorry, our company policy doesn’t allow that.

While we currently don’t have that feature, would you mind telling me what you’re trying to achieve so I can suggest the closest alternative?

The first customer probably felt a strong “not my problem” vibe from the company while the second customer felt included and genuinely listened to.

The striking difference here is empathy. One tries to lead with a problem-solving mindset and ends up alienating the customer, knowingly or unknowingly. The other leads with empathy, placing far more value on the value of the interaction rather than the functional outcomes. That explains why we sometimes feel unsatisfied even after getting our problems solved or feel genuinely satisfied even if we didn’t get what we wanted. 

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Empathy is of greater significance today

Empathy has always been the cornerstone of customer engagement. Why this conversation today? Empathy is taking on a greater significance in a world of digitally transforming businesses. You can’t visualize the body language, emotions, and intention of a customer to truly mirror it in your responses. Before you get on the same page with your customer, it’s already time to move on to the next customer.

But it’s easy to see why some companies fail to be empathetic towards customers. The needs of customers are rapidly changing at a pace companies find hard to keep with. When the leadership of a company follows a revenue-first approach and fails to adapt to customer needs, it’s not long before the clear lack of empathy permeates down to the customer service representatives. 

“Our product is great. Customers want fast support, and we give them. Why does it particularly matter to practice empathy? Does it matter to customers?”

Empathy is not just linked to customer satisfaction. Customers have thousands of brands vying for their attention every single day. They can choose who they want to vote for, and it has more to do with than having a good product or service. Customer service driven by empathy is quickly becoming a competitive necessity. Furthermore, failing to show empathy does more harm than you think. 

A lack of empathy breeds mistrust. Approaching customers with a problem-solving mindset makes sense, but when you are suggesting to pay more for an additional feature or buy a new product, customers are more likely to doubt your motivation. In this case, approaching customers with empathy makes it easy for you to convey your message right and gain their trust. Unless you walk a mile in their shoes to understand their motivations, you will find it extremely difficult to convince them of yours. 

What empathy means in customer service

Being empathetic doesn’t mean you agree with everything customers say. It is about understanding their emotion and reflecting it in your actions. Read more.

So yes, empathy always matters to your customers and it’s time you start practicing it.

How do you practice empathy in customer service?

Now we come to the question, what does empathy mean in customer service? Should you start listening more? Should you keep your language in check? Should you treat the customer as their own person and personalize the engagement?

The answer is all of the above and more.

1. Listen instead of waiting for your turn to speak

When a customer gets an issue with their purchase or finds the product falling short of their expectations, they may feel confused and restless. They are not just expecting answers when they contact the support team. Answers are everywhere, even on the internet. They would want to ask every question they have, vent out their frustrations, and take home more than a solution. Practice active listening and assure them that you understand the problem. Don’t jump right to the conclusion. By doing so you are discouraging them from contacting you.

2. Personalize your interactions

Personalization is a key factor in displaying empathy. You know who your customers are, and that gives you the edge no competitor has. It’s a waste if you are not using that information to forge meaningful connections with your customers. Customers are tired of the self-serving, impersonal messages flooding their inboxes. You can stand out just by showing you know who they are. Treat customers as their individual people to make them feel truly seen and understood. 

3. Keep your language in check

Be mindful of what you say to the customers. You can immediately calm down the anxious customer or completely throw them off just with your word choice. Imagine yourself in the customer’s position and contemplate what you want to hear at the exact moment. Would you like to be met with a robotic or apathetic answer? Some simple word choices prove to be influential in delivering empathy statements:

  • That must be frustrating. Let me help you real quick.
  • I understand you have trouble logging in. Did you try resetting your password?
  • We regret to inform you that the option is not available anymore.

4. Match the customer’s tone of voice

Replying to a customer’s disappointed message with an over-enthusiastic response is a bad thing to do. So is sending a robotic reply to a customer’s curious email. Always match your tone of voice with that of the customer. You don’t have to go out of the way of your brand persona, but you should tune according to the situation.  

5. Remind customers you play on the same team

There will be instances where customers have unrealistic expectations. They may be expecting services you are not built for or promised to deliver. Instead of lecturing about what you do or don’t do, ask them what they’re trying to achieve. Give them an alternative if you have one. Even if not, point them in the right direction. You should always remind customers that you’re playing with them, not against them. 

6. Say no with grace

And when it comes down to saying no, do it with grace. You can’t always say yes or meet customer expectations no matter how. Customer service agents should not be held against such unrealistic standards. You can say no politely by framing the answer in a positive light. 

No, but we have a different solution for you.

Instead, if we tried this, would it help?

The second response makes the customer a part of the solution while the first response reduces them to disempowered customers who need to be told what they need. 

7. Move from transactional customer relationship

Sales is a play of numbers, customers aren’t. You should end the transactional approach to customer engagement once they move past sales. If you are always fixated on reaching the solution, you will never create lasting connections with the customers, which is important to create a sustainable business in the long run. You need to make customers stick with you, by showing empathy. 

8. Don’t try to win arguments

It would be easy to get down to the level of difficult customers and throw insults. That never leads to anything good, for you will not only lose the customer but also bring the company’s reputation down. When customers overreact, don’t take it personally. You never know what’s disturbing them until you understand their point of view. Shift the conversation from blame games and towards the solution. Because, it’s not about who’s right, but how to help the customer move past this. 

9. Mirror customer motivations, not frustrations

Customer support reps often encounter difficult, even abusive customers. When you are tempted to confront them, be the bigger person in the room and try to diffuse the situation. That doesn’t mean you should take the abuse. Take a break. Transfer the call. Remember to stand up for yourself without putting them down. Understanding the types of empathy will help you here. Show cognitive empathy (understanding the emotions) when the customer is focused on the solution and show emotional empathy (sharing the emotions) when the customer is focused on discussing the problem. 

10. Reach them before they reach you

Nothing says empathy more than meeting customer needs before they even realize what their needs and pain points are. Proactive service, the act of preemptively preparing customers for any roadblocks, shows that you care about your customers and are genuinely interested in helping them get maximum value out of their purchase. Over time, proactive service will also reduce the customer’s problems and thus difficult conversations where it’s tough to uphold empathy.

11. Don’t rush closure

Never look like you are in a hurry to close the ticket. You are implying you have better things to do than be present for them, and customer satisfaction goes downhill from there. Quick support is different from hurried support and customers can tell the difference. Providing quick support involves avoiding waiting time, being knowledgeable in your subject, and better ticket management, and not hurrying the actual interaction. Patience is a key character trait of customer service empathy.

12. Never assume before you ask

Customers don’t like being assumed when they aren’t done explaining. Assuming will delay the resolution and lead to a lot of back and forth which could’ve been avoided if you had let them finish. Drive your conversations with empathy and unbiased curiosity, and customers will reveal useful information that you need to solve the problem. Basically, walk in your customer’s shoes but don’t make their decisions for them. 

13. Don’t let your bias show

When talking to customers, never let your bias show, or even better, conquer your biases. Biases stem from the assumptions you make without any supporting evidence. When you over-explain technical information to elderly customers because you assume they may not be tech-savvy, you are being biased. When you talk in English to a non-native English-speaking customer because you assume everyone speaks English in that particular country, you are being biased. Never let your judgments based on gender, age, race, accent, or nationality influence your treatment of the customer. 

Being neutral is critical to maintaining any relationship, even more so in customer relationships, where you are representing your company and not your individual beliefs and opinions. 

14. Strike general conversations

Don’t make customer service conversations fall into a routine. Strike general conversations. This is not to learn their preferences so you can sell to them better, but to genuinely build a lasting connection with them. Don’t get personal while going off-topic but try to build on the information customers voluntarily give.  

15. Create an ongoing feedback loop

To fully understand customers and to use the knowledge to showcase empathy, you need to keep the conversation going, even outside of the support calls. Create an ongoing feedback loop to encourage customers to voice their concerns and opinions. When the customer feels ignored or doesn’t have a positive outlet for an opinion, they are taking it elsewhere, online. A Moz article says a single negative post can make a business lose 22% of its customers. That’s a lot. Inform them their opinions matter and are being leveraged to make their customer service experience better.

Bottom line: Empathy is not a vanity metric

Empathy in customer experience translates to excellent customer service and tangible business values. Being empathetic towards customers makes great revenue sense. You can avoid customer churn, gain return purchases, earn trust, and win customer loyalty among a sea of competitors. You can’t always win, but you can very well deliver great human interactions. 

In the end, you will see more benefits than a hefty balance sheet. Read more to find how empathetic connections lead to great customer service.