Customers want to feel understood and heard, and this requires empathy.
People with strong empathic abilities are better at establishing long-term customer relationships. But the problem is empathy can be a difficult skill to teach. Since it’s an emotional subject, it can be challenging to find hands-on learning activities, and you don’t want training to feel too forced or heavy handed.
But first, it’s important to understand why empathy is so critical for your business.
Empathy Drives Customer Satisfaction And Loyalty
Employee empathy has a direct effect on both customer satisfaction and customer loyalty. And customer satisfaction and loyalty directly translate to greater sales.
Look at these statistics:
- 66% of US consumers spend more when they feel loyal
- 55% recommend brands when they feel loyal
The catch is that people don’t feel empathy from a company. They feel it from the individual people on the front line. Just one bad experience with one employee can cause them to abandon you for a competitor. Not just that, it can also result in negative reviews that can easily go viral. Most people remember this ‘oldie but goodie’ about United breaking a guitar.
Around 90% of people rely on online reviews to help them make purchasing decisions. So just one bad review can negatively impact your bottom line. Bad customer reviews don’t always have to do with your customer service, and sometimes they’re beyond your control. But, your customer service team does have control over how they respond to bad reviews.
And it turns out that resolving a complaint can be just as effective as preventing it in the first place. In fact, responding to negative feedback in an empathetic manned can mean a boost in loyalty and brand image. The bottom line is that empathy not only enhances good customer experiences but can also rescue bad ones.
Here are ten ways you can help your customer service team hone their empathy skills.
1. Active Listening Sessions
Improvisation exercises like customer role playing can help employees hone a number of skills that help convey empathy.
One of the most significant skills related to empathy is active listening. Active listening is all about building rapport and trust by demonstrating that you’re paying attention. It shows that we care about what the other person is saying.
You can team employees up in pairs and have them role play a customer service scenario – one can be a customer with a complaint or special request, and the other can be the employee, listening.
This will help them practice some of the steps of active listening, including the following:
- Restating and summarizing – repeating what you think they said in your own words
- Using encouragement prompts and giving feedback
- Asking for more information
- Validating their point of view
2. Defending Ridiculous Requests
Understanding someone else’s point of view is an important component of showing empathy. Sometimes we may feel that a customer’s request sounds ridiculous, but it’s important to handle the situation in a professional and caring manner, no matter what the customer wants.
You might not be able to fulfill the request, but you don’t want the customer going away and venting about their “horrible” experience all over the internet. To practice viewing even the most outrageous requests from the customer’s perspective, have your team role play.
Pair up partners, and ask one person to recall (or make up) a ridiculous customer request.
The second person then has to try to justify this request. Their job is to try to imagine a scenario where the request might make sense, and talk about how it could potentially be solved.
3. Experimenting With Empathetic Language
The words we use matter. Key words and phrases act like triggers to show that we’re listening and that we want to help. Have your team practice using some of the following language with each other.
The use of leading and reflective questions can help support active listening. They show that you care and that you’re interested in knowing more.
Leading questions are to find out more about a subject. One example is, “What happened then?”
These questions help reflect what you believe you’ve heard while probing for more information. Here is an example: “It sounds like you were able to put the product together and turn it on, but that you heard a strange noise while it was on?”
Words Of Urgency
Incorporating words of urgency can convey that a customer’s inquiry or complaint is important to you. They show that you want to help resolve their problem quickly and efficiently.
Here are some examples conveying urgency and a sense of action:
- “I appreciate you bringing this to our attention; we will deal with it immediately.”
- “I can see where the problem is…”
- “What I’m currently doing to help is…”
- “This should be fixed by the end of the day.”
Making a commitment at the end of a conversation can help leave a final impression that you care about their experience and feelings. Here are four examples:
- “I’ll contact you as soon as we have an update.”
- “I will be in touch shortly.”
- “Please let me know if you have any further questions.”
- “Feel free to reach out if you need anything else.”
4. Playing Empathy Bingo
Playing bingo with empathetic statements can help increase our awareness of the language we’re using. We can then use that awareness to incorporate more of these phrases into our conversations with customers.
You can use the bingo card shown above or have your team create their own. Give each person a card, and have them play bingo with the statements on it.
Each time they hear or use one of the statements, they get to cross it off. The first person to get a straight line wins. Of course, the phrases have to be used authentically with a customer, and not just to win the game!
5. Practicing Polite Eavesdropping
For this activity, you will ask your customer service team to eavesdrop on strangers. Their task is to go into public and discreetly listen in on someone else’s conversation.
After they’ve all had a chance to do this, gather them back together to discuss their experiences. Ask them to describe the conversation they overheard, including:
- the emotions involved
- the perspective of each person
- how well the people communicated (did they appear to be listening, did they talk over each other, were they distracted, etc.)
Since your employees aren’t participating in the conversation, it’s a great chance for them to practice their listening and observation skills.
6. Playing The Jargon Game
It’s easy to use jargon without even realizing it. Often, it’s such a large part of our company culture that we don’t even realize we’re using it. But just because this jargon is second nature to you, it doesn’t mean your customers understand it. And listening to terms they don’t understand can confuse and irritate them.
Sticking to simple, understandable terms leads to better communication.
If jargon is rampant in your company, introduce challenges for employees so they don’t use jargon frequently. For example, introduce a game where everyone starts out with five tokens, and anytime someone catches someone else using jargon, they get to take one of their tokens. Whoever has the most tokens at the end wins a prize.
7. Debating “The Dress”
This activity is designed to demonstrate that even simple things can be perceived differently by different people. Doing this can help people open up to and consider other people’s perspectives.
How to do this activity:
Show your customer service team a picture of “The Dress” and ask them what color it is:
- blue and black
- white and gold
Chances are that the group will be split with some people in each camp. Some people may even be able to see it both ways. After people select their answer, ask them to discuss it further, with the following questions.
- How did you feel about people who saw the same colors as you?
- How did you feel about people who saw the other colors?
- Ask them to discuss what can happen to relationships when people put themselves in opposing teams over something.
- Then ask them to think of a situation when someone saw a situation differently to them—
- How did it make them feel?
- Were they convinced the other person was wrong?
- Looking back, do they still feel this way?
8. Playing Stuck In Quicksand
When you’re trying to be empathetic, you need to consider the other person’s situation from their own perspective. We all view things and react to things differently. This exercise is to help your team identify the differences between empathetic, sympathetic, or apathetic responses.
How to do it:
- Show your team the diagram above and ask them to imagine they’ve come across a person stuck in quicksand.
- Then describe what apathy, sympathy, and empathy are in this situation.
Apathy is standing back, not caring, and leaving the person stuck in the quicksand.
Sympathy is acknowledging the other person’s situation, but not considering it from their point of view, or considering how to help them. A sympathetic response to quicksand is telling the person that you’ll help them, then leaping into the quicksand and getting yourself stuck instead.
Empathy is being able to relate to the person’s situation and thinking about what could be helpful for them in their position. For the person in quicksand, this means thinking about how to carefully pull them out while keeping yourself safe.
- Next, ask your team to discuss a scenario where empathy for a customer was required.
- Ask them what the empathetic, sympathetic, and apathetic responses to that scenario might be
- Have them consider the impacts of each response
9. Imagining Time Regained
Products and services don’t always turn out as intended. Most customers understand this. Maybe they selected the wrong size, or a product just wasn’t what they thought it would be.
Customers understand this isn’t your fault. But they still don’t enjoy taking time out of their schedules to go through the return process. This activity asks your customer service team to imagine they’re a customer trying to return a product or have a problem fixed.
Have them imagine the whole process from the time the problem is first discovered until it’s resolved. They should consider all the steps involved and how long each one takes.
For example: Did they have to wait on hold for 30 minutes? Did they have to make two trips into the store? Maybe they had to skip lunch in order to make the return during business hours?
Now, have them imagine what they could do with the time lost if it hadn’t been required for the return. Having your team imagine what that time means to customers will help them understand its value. And this extra level of care will lead to them being more empathetic.
10. Sharing About Yourself
Sharing personal stories with our teammates can make us feel more seen and understood by them. In return, we’re likely to be more empathetic towards them. This can also spill over into being more empathetic towards our customers. Both of these sharing sessions can help boost your team’s empathy:
- Have a group session where you discuss some typical customer complaints. Then ask your team if any of them can share a similar situation they’ve gone through. Ask them to include all of the details that made it difficult or frustrating. This will help everyone better understand customer experiences.
- Start your regular meetings with a request that everyone share one good and one bad experience from their past week, both professionally and personally.
Empathy is a critical skill for relationship building on a personal and professional level. Thankfully, it’s a skill that can be learned and improved on with a little practice. Conveying empathy towards your customers increases both their satisfaction and long-term loyalty. And this translates directly into greater customer sales.
Plus, customers that feel valued are more likely to refer your business to their friends and family. On the other hand, customers with poor service experiences are likely to leave bad reviews. These ten simple exercises will boost empathy in your customer service team. Because we all can afford to be a little more empathetic.