Have you ever had an experience where a customer, seemingly out of the blue, got upset about an issue they’re encountering? Or have you ever had a customer yell about something that seems kind of small? If you review your experience with that customer, it’s likely you’d find that there wasn’t much empathy along the customer’s journey.

In a world of AI, self-service, and trying to be as efficient as possible with customer support, empathy is a skill that can often be overlooked.

However, not using empathy in the moments that matter can make or break an experience with a customer.

Empathy in customer service

Empathy is the ability to relate to and understand another person’s experience. This means being able to understand and feel the emotions another person is encountering. When you’re talking with a customer in person, you can often perceive their emotions and level of frustration through body language, such as furrowed eyebrows, crossed arms, or how much they fidget. Customers who you encounter through phone or written means, such as text, email, or chat, still get frustrated but don’t share it, often until it’s too late. When the customer finally expresses their frustration, it can certainly catch a support agent off guard.

In customer service, finding opportunities to intentionally empathize with your customers can enhance their experience, nurture long-term relationships, and prevent frustration. While using empathy at all stages of a customer’s experience is powerful, it can be especially needed in times of trouble, like a bug or a feature request that isn’t going to be implemented any time soon. Customers can often take the bad news when delivered with a little empathy along the way. Use these steps to ensure you demonstrate empathy in the moments that matter:

Let the customer share their experiences.

Customer support teams are focused on finding the right answers and moving on. But the value of letting the customer share their full experience is one that will foster relationships and build trust. For example, when a customer reaches out about an issue they’re encountering, let them fully explain their issue without interrupting them. This can be especially challenging when they’re encountering an issue you already know about, however letting them fully explain ensures they feel heard.

Help the customer feel listened to and understood.

Customers need to feel heard. They want to know you understand their issue so they can trust you’ll provide the best solution. After letting customers fully share their experience, you can demonstrate you have a full understanding of the issue by recapping it back to them. Here are some sentence starters teams can use:

  • “To confirm, it sounds like...”
  • “Just to ensure I understand…”
  • “What I’m hearing is that you encountered...”
  • “Correct me if I’m not describing it correctly, but what I’m understanding is…”

Don’t let the customer dangle without a solution.

When you have empathy, you can understand the customer’s experience. While the issue they’ve described may not feel like a barrier to you, to them it could be so ingrained in their work process that working around it might feel overwhelming. Recognize the value in their work and ensure they have a solid workaround and are comfortable with the temporary solution. This might mean setting up a time to screen share to walk them through the process or staying on the line longer than you might normally in order to talk through the workaround fully.

Set realistic expectations.

If you can commit to a timeframe, tell them. On the other hand, if their issue is a bug that isn’t likely to be fixed anytime soon, tell them. Customer support teams often get stuck in the trap of not being willing to say something won’t be fixed in the timeframe the customer desires. Or they feel bad delivering bad news. By setting the wrong expectation, customers learn not to trust you and experience more stress when things don’t happen the way they thought they would. If you don’t know when something will be fixed, you can still set expectations in a positive way. Here are some suggested wordings your team can use:

For a feature request: “I can see why this feature would be helpful to you. I’ve passed your suggestion along to our product team with insight into how this feature would enhance your experience. While it’s not something we currently have planned, I’ve made a note to follow back up with you if it’s something we’re able to implement in the future.”

“Thank you for sharing your thoughts on how our product could improve. It’s feedback like yours that helps shape our product development and gives us the insight we need to know what to build next. I’ve passed your suggestion along to our product team to review and will follow back up with you if it’s something we put on the roadmap to build in the future.”

For a bug: “I’m sorry this isn’t working the way it should. I’ve given our product team the details about the error so they can look into it a bit further. I don’t yet know the details on how quickly it can be resolved, but I’ll follow back up with you when it’s fixed. In the meantime, feel free to use the workaround we discussed earlier.”

Provide updates and follow up when resolved.

Finish the encounter by updating them as promised. If a feature is implemented right away, let them know. If it’s not implemented until a year later, reach back out and let them know their experience helped shape the product. This ensures customers feel engaged and valued.

By allowing ourselves to step back and see through the customer’s experience, we can better predict challenging encounters. Using empathy empowers customer support agents to help customers feel valued.

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