You care what customers think — such as whether they consider your firm a place they want to bring their business. 

But do you care what customers feel? 

You should, because having a good read on customer emotions will have a big bearing on what customers think and do as well.

This is why empathy is so important across every industry, and why it has to be the cornerstone of your customer service strategy

Take financial services as an example. Lots of banks and insurance companies offer a wide range of products and services, from checking accounts to coverage for their home and automobile. Their rates might be in line with competitors. They might be digitally-savvy firms with the ability to connect across email, chat and even social. 

From the customer’s perspective, though, what’s truly important is how they’ll be treated when they come to the financial institution for help. 

Making decisions about money can be stressful and anxiety producing. Customers want to feel confident in their choices, and you can help by providing a service that takes into account what they may be going through in a particular moment. 

This can become more challenging for organizations when they’re trying to boost empathy as a whole. An individual bank teller or insurance agent might have a highly developed sense of what’s known as affective empathy, where they get a tingling or other sensation in response to talking to a customer in person. 

What organizations need, however, is better cognitive empathy, which is an ability to identify an emotion even if it’s through a digital customer experience. 

Here’s how you begin to cultivate that skill, whether you’re on the front lines or leading and coaching a team behind the scenes: 

1. Talk like a customer

Start by thinking about the opposite of empathy — when you’ve been in a situation where someone clearly seems disconnected to your emotional state. 

When we’re children, for instance, we might fall down and cry. A nearby adult may not immediately show as much concern as our parent. That’s okay, because we have our parents to provide the empathetic response. 

In business situations a company employee may be the only other party on the scene. So when customers feel like the employee isn’t recognizing how they feel, they can get even more upset. 

You can help bridge this gap by training service agents and other members of the team to use statements that convey that sense of empathy.

Examples here include “I understand how frustrating it is when . . .” or “I realize how complicated this can be.”

When customers hear this, they know the agent or employee is trying to put themselves in their situation, and they appreciate it. 

2. Provide enough room for emotions to be released

Many businesses are understandably eager to reduce call times in their contact centres and get more service issues resolved, but empathy is never achieved by rushing customers. 

It can take time for customers to feel comfortable enough to convey how they feel. Sometimes they won’t be sure how best to articulate their feelings. And feelings can be complicated, which means they need time to have a company hear them out. 

Make sure you take the time to listen, and where necessary offer additional feedback mechanisms. This could include a survey, an email address for customers to share more details in writing or simply routing them to someone who can give them the extra attention they need. 

3. Commit to emotional outcomes

You can tell a customer you’re going to help them change their account settings. Or you can tell them you’re going to make the process of making changes to their account settings easier for them so they can get on with their busy day. 

Notice the difference? It’s the same in telling a customer something as simple as, “We want you to be happy with this service, and we’re going to keep working on improving it until you can’t wait to share the inside secret with your friends.”

These kinds of statements not only treat the customer like a human being, but treat a positive emotion as a goal or target, beyond simply resolving the issue. 

Making empathy an ongoing process

One of the other best ways to demonstrate empathy is by following up after an issue has been resolved. 

Think about when you share bad news with a friend about an upcoming medical appointment. What does it feel like when they call the day after the appointment to see how it went?

Companies can do something similar using a variety of digital tools. They can also do a more formal check-in through feedback surveys that don’t simply touch upon product or service issues but emotional moments of the customer journey. 

Don’t simply look at empathy as a way to calm customers down, or to prevent them from leaving your company for a competitor. 

When you show empathy to customers, they open up in powerful ways. They share more information about their wants and needs because, in showing that you care, they can trust that you actually want to know. 

This provides incredible opportunities to improve your existing products and services and introduce new ones. You can also fine-tune the experience you provide in ways that are more certain to resonate with your customers. 

You call empathy a secret weapon, but this isn’t a battle. Think of empathy as a smart investment that can offer a wealth of knowledge instead.