Join Jeff Toister for an in-depth discussion in this video Empathizing with customers, part of Customer Service Foundations.
Empathy is an important customer service skill. It allows you to understand how a customer is feeling and use that insight to find ways to make them feel better. Of course, to really understand how a customer is feeling, you need to have had a similar experience, or at least be able to relate one of your own experiences to the situation. Sometimes empathy comes naturally. If you've been in the same situation as the customer you know exactly how they feel. Other times empathy is a bit more difficult. A hotel associate may never have traveled on business so she doesn't understand what it's like to arrive exhausted after a long day of client meetings.
A technical support rep may find it hard to relate to the frustration a customer feels because he can fix his own computer. A medical lab technician may have a hard time emphasizing with a patient's nervousness if she's never had blood drawn to test for a potentially fatal disease. You can still find a way to empathize with your customers if you've never been in their shoes. But you'll need to find an experience of your own that's relatable. I'd like to show you an exercise that can help you do this. You may want to download the worksheet to guide you.
Or, you can just take notes on a piece of paper. Start by thinking of a situation where a customer was upset. Why were they upset? For example, imagine a customer is upset, because they discovered an unexpected fee on their bank statement. There might be a mix of several emotions. Customers don't like to spend extra money, so the extra fee could cause an anxiety. The fee is an unpleasant surprise which could make the customer mistrust your bank. She may start feeling confused by the fine print when she tries to understand the fee and why it was charged.
The customer might even be irritated if she has to change her spending and saving habits to avoid incurring the fee again in the future. That's a lot of emotions. The next step is to think of a situation where you had a similar feeling. Think about how you felt. If we look at the bank example, the bank teller might think about a time when he was charged an unexpected fee. It may not have been on his own bank statement, but perhaps it happened with his cable bill or maybe his cell phone provider. Recollecting that experience could help the teller understand the negative emotions associated with an unexpected fee.
Even if the fee, itself, is small, the feeling surrounding it might be intense. The final step is to think of ways you can demonstrate empathy to your customer. Showing your customer you understand how they feel can validate those feelings. You want them to believe that you're there to help. The bank teller might empathize by listening carefully to the upset customer. And then acknowledging the unpleasant feelings that come with an unexpected fee. I can understand. Nobody likes to see an unexpected fee. The teller could also provide suggestions to help the customer avoid the fee in the future.
This product education can help restore confidence in the bank and help the customer feel like the bank is not trying to take advantage of her. If the bank's policies allow it, the teller may also choose to reverse the fee as a goodwill gesture. There are a couple of things you should always keep in mind when using empathy with your customers. First, expressing empathy is separate from solving your customers rational needs. The bank teller in my earlier example might not have the authority to reverse the fee. Or perhaps a situation really does warrant the charge. That doesn't mean he can't empathize with the customer in an effort to make her feel better.
Second, empathy must be sincere. There is a world of difference between someone sincerely saying. I'm very sorry that happened. And saying I'm very sorry that happened. Finally, we all have our own feelings too and it can be difficult to empathize with a customer when we're concerned about ourselves. Let's say you've had a long day and have a splitting headache. You're tired and all you can think about is going home and crawling into bed. The very next customer you serve may need your empathy to feel better.
But it will be hard to do if you're concentrating on your own needs. Empathy isn't always easy but it's one of those skills that's often the difference between good and outstanding customer service.
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- What is outstanding customer service?
- Identifying your customer
- Creating a customer service vision
- Enhancing likability in person, over the phone, and via email
- Actively listening to customers
- Going the extra mile
- Taking ownership of problems
- Diffusing angry customers
- Using data to evaluate and improve your customer service<br><br>
- The PMI Registered Education Provider logo is a registered mark of the Project Management Institute, Inc.