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Empathy: The power to understand someone else

February 26, 2012

empathy (Photo credit: glsims99)






  1. Identification with and understanding of another’s situation, feelings, and motives.

It takes one sentence to describe something that can take years to cultivate in a customer service setting. How often have you called a company with a grievance or complaint and been met with a robotic tone, an uncaring attitude?


How does that make you feel?


If your customer service agents are “strictly business”, and avoid that much needed human component in their day to day business, trust me you will “strictly be losing business”.


In this post, I want to explore a few fundamentals about what it means to be empathetic. I also want to explore what it isn’t. Having coached agents for several years, a response I would typically get when asking “Why did you apologize, or empathize?” was:


“We didn’t do anything wrong.”


This may well be the case. More often than not a customer approaches customer service with just their perspective to work off of. Speaking for myself, I don’t always go over the instruction manual, or the terms and conditions of every contract I sign or appliance I buy. This can and will result in customers calling in to dispute, argue or cancel a product or service.


The question becomes, do we want to push our customer away because they weren’t as thorough as they should have been?


Of course not.


Do we want to let them know that we can understand the situation they are in?




Whether we did something wrong or not, as a fellow human being we can all relate in some way to someone else’s situation.


A simple example would be the loss of a pet.


I can certainly understand how someone would feel if they lost a loved one.


FYI: If relating and understanding another person is something you outright refuse to do. My suggestion would be to consider another line of business. To create a great moment for our customer it is VITAL that we show understanding and care for the situation they present us.


  • Empathy is also not an indicator that we will give away the store.


In my experience another common misconception an agent will have, is that by “understanding” a situation, they are opening the door to give away credits, freebies, promotions, etc.


This is not always the case. Now and again, yes, you will use the tools you have available to you, to help resolve an issue. However, more often than not, if you show your customer concern and care and empathize with their situation, you can very often use the other tools at your disposal; (listening, offering solutions, providing information) to resolve an issue and you didn’t give away a single penny.


I recall an escalated call that came to me once; our customer was very aggravated with her billing. She felt she was paying too much for her services. As a leader in this situation, I didn’t have much to offer her to lower the bill. Instead I spent time letting her know I understood her situation. I myself had gotten a high cell phone bill before, and it had put me in a bad stop. This created an immediate connection with the customer.


Once I had that connection, I brought up some of the great features and benefits of her service; I wanted to find out if she was aware of what she was paying for.

She wasn’t!

No one had ever bothered to tell her about the additional incentives she gets by being a subscriber. By the end of the phone call, I had created a customer for life, who saw the value of the services she was paying for, and I didn’t have to spend a penny to keep her revenue.


Lincoln memorial cent, with the S mintmark of ...

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These are the situation we create when we empathize. They create a long lasting relationship with your customer, and reinforce that we are all humans in this together.

Make a friend, show some empathy.

To summarize:

Empathy, Empathy, Empathy.

If you’re a leader or a coach, call a company you do business with. Take notes on how they react to whatever situation you are calling in about. If they empathize how does that make you feel?

Reinforce this with your agents. Let them know its ok to understand how someone feels, and in the long term will create situations that are positive and grow revenue!




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