Empathy in customer service is what makes people outstanding in their work and she has her hands on the wheel the whole way (p25, D Goleman). Lucky for us humans, empathy is competency and something that we can develop.
Developing a keen sense of empathy is not just helpful in our personal lives; it is a powerful tool that improves how we manage and deal in our customer service roles. Empathy, tightly coupled with self-awareness and continually-honed social skills, enables our claim managers to become exceptional in their roles.
The most effective and empathetic professionals can tune in to their body’s signals for emotion. This is an essential skill in any job where empathy matters. It is something that we need to practice with our own emotions, see it within ourselves, and then be enabled to provide it to our customers. And being empathic need not be onerous.
The next level: Caring
Empathy on its own isn’t enough to secure a customer’s trust and belief. We need that next level of care for our customers. This is where compassion comes in. Empathy and compassion go hand in hand, where compassion literally means to “suffer together”. Embracing compassion allows you to hold that feeling that arises when you are confronted with another’s suffering and feel motivated to relieve that suffering. While we don’t expect our claim managers to counsel, we encourage them to maintain healthy and helpful boundaries: compassion and empathy allow us to engage with customers to add this value. Operating out of a contrary position disconnects and separates.
What empathy is not…
You can communicate empathy by acknowledging a customer’s position, but you don’t necessarily need to agree. Leveraging phrases like “That must be really frustrating”, “I can see how this situation might be adding some stress” or “I’m really hearing how frustrated you are” can help communicate that, while you hear their concern and share a mutual understanding, you aren’t accepting it as fact. This shows that you understand how they feel and are not dismissing or shutting them down.
As we provide exceptional customer service, we also don’t need to get to the root cause of a customer’s emotional state or provide personal advice. This is not empathy, and it’s also not particularly helpful. And unless you are in a counselling call service role, neither is it your job. The best thing you can do is listen and signal that you understand that this situation might be difficult/ stressful/frustrating and then move efficiently onto understanding what’s behind the issue they may have (rather than their emotion) and resolving their product or service related query. Sometimes a slower, patient pace is needed, but at all times, you are guiding the call towards the most mutually beneficial position.
While empathy has long been considered a “soft skill”, it is far from soft. Empathy actually requires a robust inner strength, defined self-awareness and emotional maturity. Because empathy can be developed, it is helpful to remember that this titanium-like tool does need to be sharpened and maintained to be effective, but once you’ve got it, it’s an absolute weapon for your customer service toolbox.