Poor customer service is costly. Businesses are losing 75 billion dollars annually, because customers don’t feel as if they are being treated as they should. What’s more important though is that customers often don’t complain directly when they are upset. They simply find another business to work with. In many cases, the problem isn’t a matter of competency.
Instead, the issue is empathy. When customers feel as if the people assigned to help them don’t care, that has a stark impact on their relationship with the business. Per latest SalesForce report, 84% of consumers say that they want brands to treat them like a person, not a number. And such treatment is essential to winning their business.
This is why customer support teams must be trained to show empathy when dealing with frustrated customers. More importantly, they must do so in ways that are believable. The following seven techniques can help.
1. Get Support Teams to Buy Into The Concept of Empathy
Ask a customer support agent if they are good at their job, and they may not consider their ability to show empathy through their customer communications. Instead, many focus on their problem solving skills. That’s understandable. After all, people do look to them to fix things. So, it can be challenging to get them to understand why empathy should be a top priority. To get teams behind the concept of empathy, present them with some compelling facts:
- Empathy can save a customer relationship, even if the problem isn’t resolved in the customer’s favor.
- Customers who are treated with empathy become brand ambassadors.
- Showing empathy via social media channels can improve a brand’s reputation.
- PR disasters can be averted with a show of sincere empathy.
2. Sacrifice Other Metrics in Favor of Empathy (At First)
Your team won’t prioritize empathy unless you do. It has to be prioritized in training and during employee assessments. If you tell workers that empathy is important, but judge their performance only on factors like call resolution time, they aren’t going to believe you. Train workers to show empathy, then reward them with good performance reviews when they do just that.
3. Teach Agents to Rephrase Customer Complaints to Listen Actively
There’s more to empathy than feeling sorry for someone. It’s truly understanding what they are experiencing, and how that must make them feel. Active listening plays a very important role here. If customer service agents can show customers that they truly understand what they are saying, that can make a big difference.
One valuable technique is to have agents simply rephrase the customer’s words back to them. This forces agents to listen to what customers are saying rather than spending that time formulating their next response. It also makes any miscommunications clear, and allows the customer to clarify what they are saying.
4. Help Support Teams Learn Tone Matching
Consider two different customers. The first contacts a telephone support center and says:
“Hello. My name is Dr. Peters. I have been trying for three days to get your app to work, and have had absolutely no success. I have a business meeting in the morning, and I need to have this functioning before then. I presume someone here can help me with that.”
The second calls as well. They say:
“Hey, this is probably something really silly, but I can’t get this app to work for the life of me! It would be sooooo amazing if you guys could help.”
Both have similar problems, but the tone is absolutely different. To show empathy and respect, it’s important that customer service staff works to match the tone of the customer. Too formal can seem condescending. To casual can come off as being disrespectful or flippant.
If there are language barriers, things can become even more complicated. However, you should cater to such audiences as well. Hire at least a few reps who are fluent in another language (e.g. Spanish) and coach others to pick up at least some basic Spanish verbs and other words and phrases, to have “more common” with the customer. Localized customer support is utterly important if you want to create an inclusive brand image.
5. Teach Customer Support Teams About Their Customers
Familiarity leads to improved empathy. The more teams understand the needs, values, and frustrations of their customers the better. Customer personas aren’t just helpful for marketing. They are ideal tools to help support teams better understand and empathize with the customers they are tasked with helping.
6. Empower Agents to Go ‘Off Script’
No customer is going to feel empathy if they know the agent helping them is simply following a script. That lack of flexibility and empowerment is guaranteed to leave customers feeling frustrated and unheard.
Of course every agent should understand standard customer service procedures. Then, they must be trained to identify the exceptions to these rules: most customers find off-script conversations to be tremendously more delightful. In fact, agents trained to communicate to the customer with empathy using lines such as “I understand your frustration” and “I understand how that made you feel”, receive higher “scores” from customers.
7. Make Sure Agents Have The Technology And Training They Need
Agents need up to date technology, and they need effective training to help them use it. No, technology and good training doesn’t teach empathy. What it does do is remove frustrations and roadblocks for your customer support agents. This gives them more time and energy to focus on showing people the empathy they deserve.
Customer service agents who trained to show empathy will always be better brand representatives than those who are simply problem solvers. Use this tips during and after training to ensure that sincere empathy is always a top priority.
Independant inbound marketing consultant with 5+ years in the industry, including coaching and developing e-learning courses. Bylines at the Huffington Post, Tech Cocktail, Hackerspace by Lifehacker among others.