How Empathy Can Improve Customer Experience
By Ron Welty, Founder & Chief Client Officer
Everyone has bad days. Whether it’s a flight cancellation, a long wait time, or even an undercooked steak, there are many different things that can set a person off. It’s important to pay attention to how your brand reacts to these types of situations. Empathy can be a powerful emotion that can turn a negative situation into a positive customer experience. Understand what empathy is and how it can help improve customer experience at your organization.
What is Empathy?
When it comes to customer experience, empathy doesn’t mean patronizing the customer or taking the “customer is always right” approach. Empathy is defined as “the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another.” There are two types of empathy:
- Affective empathy: The ability to sense someone else’s emotions. Similar to how you and a best friend can communicate through just a look, affective empathy is when you can understand someone’s emotions without saying a word.
- Cognitive empathy: The ability to identify and understand someone else’s emotions. In other words, cognitive empathy is the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes.
Why Practice Customer Empathy?
Empathy is an important trait not just for customer service professionals, but for everyone in your organization. Even for product development professionals and C-suite executives, empathy can help you better anticipate and meet customer needs. By practicing empathy, your business will benefit from:
- Having a better understanding of your customers. According to Salesforce, more than three quarters of customers expect companies to understand their needs and expectations.
- Dealing with conflicts easily. Misunderstanding is the cause of 90 percent of conflict. Practicing empathy, then, can help you better resolve conflict.
- Predicting customers’ problems. A study by Google found that the company’s best new ideas came from associates who exhibited skills like empathy.
How Do You Show Empathy to a Customer?
During hiring and training, it’s important to ensure your associates understand how to be empathetic toward customers. Here’s how you can best express this emotion.
Customers want to feel heard. Be a good listener by giving the customer your undivided attention. Allow them to “get it all out” and vent without interruption before offering a solution. When offering a solution, incorporate their exact language to show that you were listening and to avoid any miscommunication.
Making direct eye contact with a customer shows that their problems are worthy of your attention. In fact, research shows that eye contact can make you more socially aware and empathetic and can help build an emotional connection.
Smiling will not only help you look nice and welcoming, but it can also help make your voice sound warm and friendly. This is especially helpful for associates practicing empathy over the phone.
Make it your problem
“That’s somebody else’s problem” is a phrase that should not be a part of your vocabulary. Don’t deflect issues to other associates or departments without any explanations or follow-ups. See customer issues all the way through to resolution.
Never talk down to a customer. Even if it feels like the customer is overreacting, understand that it's not personal. Remember your manners, maintain a level head, and be patient.
Use positive language to help gain the customer’s confidence. You can begin by assuring the customer that you are taking ownership of the problem. Use phrases like, “Okay, we can fix this…” or “I’m happy to look into this issue with you further.”
Empathy is often confused with sympathy, which is when you feel bad for someone, rather than making it your problem. For example, instead of saying “That must be frustrating,” try saying, “I understand how frustrating that is.”
Put Yourself in the Customer’s Shoes
Empathy is a trait that shouldn’t be overlooked when evaluating your customer experience. When you partner with IntelliShop, our customer experience solutions can help you measure everything from the friendliness of your associates to the effectiveness of your training programs.
Our mystery shopping programs are designed to give you an honest, in-depth look at your business through the eyes of your customers. Meanwhile, our voice of the customer tools can provide the customer feedback you need to understand your customers’ evolving needs and expectations. We’ll then present our findings to you in a detailed, actionable InSite™ report to create a strategy that focuses on improving your customer experience. Contact IntelliShop today to request a consultation.