Practicing empathy can help customer service teams improve their effectiveness, efficiency and creativity, build customer relationships and inspire loyalty.

When a customer engages with a product or service, they often expect a high-quality interaction, however, they understand that things don’t always go to plan. In these cases, the ability for your customer service team to show and feel empathy can be the difference between a good experience and a great one.

For the customer service agent, empathy means feeling what the customer feels and using this deeper level of understanding to find the most effective solution to a problem, or even help predict future problems. Practicing empathy can lead to greater creativity and efficiency in your customer service team and help create stronger customer relationships, engagement and loyalty.

Yet, developing empathy in a business setting can be easier said than done. Get a head start by trying these 4 exercises in your next staff meeting.


1. Account for your customers’ time


Imagine you’re a customer with a problem, and that you have to spend your time going back to the company to resolve it.

While the problem and the process for getting a problem fixed can be inconvenient, the common complaint is the time it took from already-busy schedules – the time spent on a call (especially on hold), writing an email or social media message, or visiting in-person.

Depending on the situation, a service interaction may be as short as a few minutes or take more than an hour.

If your could go back in time and avoid the service call, what would they do with those extra hours or minutes? Spend more time serving their own customers? Focus on prospects that could bring in new business? Maybe take a full hour-long lunch break?

Get team members to write down as many ideas as they can about what that time saving might look like to the customer. The exercise will reinforce why fast, quality service is so meaningful to customers, no matter where they work.


2. Play ‘Would you rather…’


At some point, you’ve probably played a version of the game ‘Would you rather’. As a kid, it might have sounded something like “Would you rather go to the moon in a rocket, or explore the ocean in a submarine?”.

In a customer service context, asking what your customers would rather do when it comes time to interact with your business can help you find sore points and work toward more positive customer experiences.  

The exercise might look something like this:

“Would you rather call our customer service department, or . . . “

  • Send an email to our general enquiries account (knowing you may have to wait up to days or weeks for a response)?

  • Make the trip into your nearest branch (with the possibility of waiting up to an hour or more to be seen)?

  • Engage with our social media support?

  • Use live chat for a quick response?

  • Listen to someone run their fingernails along a blackboard?

  • Clean the litter box – of a pet that isn’t your own?

Those last couple of points might get a few laughs, but if anyone prefers the chores, it says something about the experience you’re creating through your contact centre. Try repeating the exercise with your team using different scenarios at different time points to see how they feel they’re tracking and areas you can improve your customer service process.


3. Listen up


Great customer service involves a lot of thoughtful listening, no matter what channel is used. And listening can strain anyone’s patience.

In this exercise, ask for two volunteers to take the lead. One is the customer, and one is the agent. Let the ‘customer’ go through their problem and complaint as thoroughly as possible. The ‘agent’ should avoid trying to reduce call time or time to resolution – let the ‘customer’ really vent or go through as laborious an explanation as they’d like.

When they’re done, the ‘agent’ needs to try to report back on their issue as perfectly as possible – not just in the details, but in the tone of voice that reflects how the customer was feeling. The more each party sounds the same, the better. Ask the rest of the team to grade the performance and work together to improve.


4. Find common ground


When an agent confesses to a customer that they went through a similar difficulty in a different setting (like talking about waiting in a long lineup in a grocery store when a customer calls complains about being on hold, for instance), it humanises an otherwise distant encounter.

Have one member of your team share a typical customer complaint. Have another member try to think of a situation they’ve been through that is similar to the one they’ve just heard. Have them offer more details about why it was so trying, what they learned by going through it, and what they wish had happened differently.

Even if your organisation has a policy against having agents use personal comparative examples when they are speaking to customers, as an internal exercise it can tap into their innate abilities to connect with those who turn to them for help as individuals.

As you cultivate a more empathetic customer service team, customers will begin to realise you mean it when you say your company ‘cares’. And they’ll begin to reward that caring with more of their business.

To learn more about how you can transform your customer service approach, check out our State of the Connected Customer Research Report.