Empathy in the age of customer experience
How effective empathy statements enhance customer service and elevate your business
Empathy in the age of customer experience
Empathy probably isn’t something that most people associate with business success. Customer loyalty. Competitive differentiation. Revenue growth. These are core business strategies with benefits companies readily understand. But empathy is key to a positive customer experience. Today’s consumers have indicated that they will pay a 16% premium for a great customer experience.1 Additionally, 85% of business buyers and 79% of consumers believe customer experience is as important as a company’s products or services.2 So what does this mean for contact centers? Empathy can make or break your customer experience and impact your bottom line.
Empathy statements in action: The contact centerTo understand how empathy statements can significantly improve customer experiences, let’s look at two different contact center interactions:
- A customer calls in to order a pair of shoes and tells the agent that it’s actually her third pair of that style, just in a different color. The caller shares that she wears them every chance she gets because she really, really loves those shoes!
- A customer calls in to complain that the shoes he received were missing laces and were the wrong size. Also, they didn’t arrive on the promised delivery date, so he couldn’t wear them to his daughter’s wedding… which was a very big deal.
Empathy statements create opportunities for agentsIn the first scenario, the agent has the perfect opening to mirror the customer’s enthusiasm and gather insights about what made this a positive purchase experience: “I’m so glad to hear that. We love learning that our customers are happy. What do you like most about the shoes?” Rather than proceeding straight to taking the customer’s order, this empathetic approach quickly helps your business better understand product strengths and customer preferences, while creating opportunities to upsell and cross-sell other products. A simple empathy statement is a win-win: The customer feels heard and understood (and maybe even flattered because the agent asked about her fashion sense), and the company gains valuable feedback and customer intelligence. In the second scenario, the agent has an opportunity to turn a potentially contentious situation into a positive interaction, where the customer is heard and acknowledged: “I’m sorry you’ve had to deal with this. If I were in your position, I’d be upset too. I’m glad you’re giving us the opportunity to make this right.” By recognizing the seriousness of the customer’s situation and providing assurance that the company will make every effort to resolve the issue, the agent diffuses what could have been a disastrous call—and leaves the customer satisfied with the end result.
Empathy statements set the stage for positive, productive customer interactionsExpressing empathy is a way to convey that you understand what another person is going through. In a contact center environment, providing agents with empathy statements is key to setting the stage for a positive and productive customer interaction. In a recent survey, 68% of customers expect brands to demonstrate empathy, yet only of 37% customers say brands generally demonstrate empathy.2 At the same time, 71% of customers have made purchase decisions based on the quality of customer service.2 That means agents have a huge opportunity to use every customer interaction to impact the company’s bottom line—and empathy statements can help. The most effective empathy statements communicate that an agent understands the customer’s concerns and feelings, and that he or she is committed to helping the customer throughout the process, whether that’s resolving their problem, processing their order, or reaching another desired outcome. Beyond simply acknowledging what the customer said, effective empathy statements demonstrate that the agent truly understands the impact the experience has had on the customer—positive or negative. Empathy statements help agents build rapport, let the customer know the agent is focused on understanding the customer’s reason for calling, and position the agent as someone vested in (and accountable for) seeing them through the process.
em·pa·thy noun The ability to understand and share the feelings of another
How to create effective empathy statementsThe most effective empathy statements:
- Convey authenticity. They mirror the words, as well as the sentiment and tone of the customer. True empathy can’t be expressed with canned statements that put agents in a position to “check the box” or repeat scripted dialog. Empathy is collaborative and requires give and take. Agents should speak naturally and with professionalism (but not overly formal), and their personality should shine through the discussion. One-on-one coaching for agents can help develop this skill.
- Actively assess the situation and demonstrate that the agent wants to learn the reason for the customer’s call so that they can provide help with efficiency and accuracy.Examples: “How can I help you today?” “Can you tell me a little more about it, please?” “Can you take me through your experience?” “What can I do for you to make your experience better?”
- Clarify the situation to ensure that the agent and the customer are on the same page. This demonstrates that the agent is listening and committed to working with the customer toward the same goal.Examples: “I want to make sure that I understand what you’re telling me. I’m hearing that…” “If I am understanding correctly…” “So, what I’m hearing you say is…” ”Let me know if I’m getting this right…”
- Acknowledge the customer’s feelings and the impact that doing business with your company has had on them, whether that is positive or negative.Examples: “I understand how frustrating it can be…” “I’m sorry you’ve had to deal with this…” “I’ve also experienced this issue recently…” “It sounds like you’re really excited about…”
- Assure the customer that the agent will work with them to take care of the issue, and that the company values its customers and is committed to ensuring a positive customer experience.Examples: “I will help you get this resolved.” “Thank you very much for bringing this to our attention.” “I would feel the same way in this situation.” “I appreciate your patience, now let me help fix this.”
- Are brief but impactful, allowing the agent to move on to the solution that addresses the reason for the customer’s call.
- PwC, Experience is Everything, Here’s How to Get it Right, 2018.
- Salesforce, The State of the Connected Customer, Fourth Edition, 2020.