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Empathy in customer service

Delivering Empathy to Improve CX

While Most Humans Understand Empathy, Training and Tools Can Help Agents Deliver Empathy More Consistently

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Providing a good customer experience is often dependent upon the ability of an organization and its representatives to provide efficient, timely, and personalized service to customers during each interaction. However, the ability to display empathy for customers and their situations has become as important or more important, particularly when customers encounter pain points, friction, or frustration.

Empathy is defined as the ability to recognize and acknowledge the emotions of others, thereby putting oneself into the position or situation of another to better understand what they are encountering or going through. Unlike sympathy, which is feeling sorry for what someone else is experiencing, empathy allows an individual to better connect with the core reason why another is feeling a certain way. From a CX perspective, demonstrating empathy with a customer and their situation can often reduce or eliminate friction and enmity in an interaction, and lead to better overall customer satisfaction and experiences, regardless of the industry.

There are generally three types of empathy an individual can experience, according to Daniel Goleman, a psychologist and author of the book Emotional Intelligence.

  • Cognitive empathy refers to when a person can understand what another person might be feeling or thinking, based on a situation or action. This type of empathy helps a customer representative to “put themselves in the shoes of the customer” when they are interacting.
  • Emotional empathy describes when someone can share another person’s feelings, which helps them develop an emotional connection with that person. Emotional empathy can be displayed in a CX situation by a customer representative verbalizing that they truly understand why a customer feels frustrated, such as “I can see why you are angry; I’d be angry too if I was charged for a $1,200 prescription without the company notifying me.”
  • Compassionate empathy will inspire or compel a person to act due to another person’s feelings. In a CX context, a customer representative will stay on the line to explain a situation when it has been escalated, to ensure that the next representative fully understands the situation, instead of simply transferring the call and hanging up.

When customer service agents or any organization’s representatives demonstrate high empathy levels, the result is increased customer satisfaction and loyalty, as well as improved financial performance. Harvard Business Review research suggests the top 10 most empathetic companies increased their monetary value more than twice as much as the bottom 10 companies and generated 50% more earnings.

While some people are naturally empathetic, it is important to ensure that all your company’s representatives can display empathy during customer interactions. Because every situation is unique, empathy training can be useful for both front-line, customer-facing relationships, as well as employee-to-employee relationships. Companies that provide empathy training include Business Training Works, Seek Company, Empathy Everywhere, and, among others. offers an immersive, scenario-based training platform that leverages speech recognition and conversational AI that gives trainees the opportunity to practice processes and procedures, such as interacting with individuals in the virtual world, enabling the opportunity to make mistakes and learn from them.

Even if an organization is not ready to invest in empathy training, other tools can be deployed to help customer service agents better understand the mindset of a customer, and then respond with the appropriate level and type of empathy. For example, sentiment analysis tools, such as those included in CX platforms from HubSpot, NICE, and InTouch Insight, are software that analyzes text and determines its emotional tone, can help customer service agents understand how to deal with a customer’s problem.

Other tools that can be helpful in ensuring that agents have enough information to provide appropriate levels of empathy are CRM platforms that can capture detailed customer journey information, or specific customer journey mapping tools, such as Churnzero, Freshworks, Glassbox, or Lucidspark. If a service agent can quickly see that a customer has tried to contact the company multiple times, and is not getting an issue resolved, the agent should be able to use that information to provide a more empathetic response, (e.g., “I am so sorry you have tried to contact us before by phone and email. I am sure that was frustrating, but I am here to help you now.”)

Ultimately, training representatives, agents, and employees to think about and act empathetically is an ongoing process, one that requires specific training, tools, and, most importantly, reinforcement. Reviewing past interactions—highlighting both the captured and missed opportunities—as well as sharing improved CX metrics can be helpful in demonstrating the added value in delivering more empathetic experiences.

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