6 steps to show empathy in customer service 

6 steps to show empathy in customer service 

14th June 2024

6 steps to show empathy in customer service 

14th June 2024

Being skilled in demonstrating empathy opens the door to positive collaboration with customers which could otherwise be closed if we missed the opportunity. It starts to lay the important foundations for building customer satisfaction by showing that we care, can be relied on and trusted and are committed to finding solutions to customers’ issues. 


Empathy is high on the customer service training agenda 

In our conversations with our customers, helping service givers to demonstrate empathy is high on the customer service training agenda. A helpful definition of empathy in business is ‘the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to the feelings, thoughts and experiences of another.’ Interestingly, many definitions include ‘being able to vicariously experience the feelings, thoughts and experiences of another.’ We would suggest that in most cases, this adds unnecessary pressure to service givers, preventing them from doing what most customers really want which is to be heard and to find a solution and help to resolve the issue. 


Enhancing the overall customer experience 

So, the ability to understand and share the feelings of another is a critical component of excellent customer service. When businesses demonstrate empathy, they build stronger relationships with their customers, foster loyalty and enhance the overall customer experience.  

What is most needed in business is to couple an appreciation of the impact of an experience on a customer with the ability to take action to help to move the situation forward. Demonstrating that we have carefully listened to the customer and that we are committed to help, through what we say and do, results in the customer feeling heard, empathised with and, most importantly, helped. 


Compassion – a vital ingredient 

There are several ways to effectively demonstrate empathy to customers. If we head to the dictionary again, what we really need to do is add compassion to our definition of empathy to make it effective in driving customer satisfaction and building trust. While empathy allows us to demonstrate an understanding of how a situation affects another person, compassion adds the ‘desire to alleviate the person’s distress’*, to help. 

The steps to demonstrate empathy coupled with action are straightforward, however they require a customer-centric culture as a foundation. The drumbeat of this customer centric organisation focuses on listening carefully to customers, finding solutions, offering options and alternatives to customers and empowering service givers to take ownership and responsibility for making a difference. With this in place, here are the essential steps to demonstrate empathy and build on the customer satisfaction that this will generate. 


The 6 essential steps 

1 – Be on high alert for customer feedback however it might come into the organisation and listen carefully to what customers are saying to us. To take every opportunity to empathise with our customers, our antennae need to be up so we are really paying attention to any feedback that customers give us that might require us to show them that we care about how they view our services. Being sensitive to the customer to allow them to express their thoughts and experience is important as some customers really do need to tell their story and be heard. Giving appropriate time and being skilled to help the customer move on can be facilitated by step 2. 

2 – Let the customer know we can appreciate the impact the situation is having on them, using appropriate language which could vary significantly, for example from a care situation where someone is unwell or injured, to situations where customers have been inconvenienced or financially impacted. In our customer studies, we have heard excellent examples of this, ranging from “Oh you poor thing, you have been in the wars today,” to “I am so sorry to hear this. It must have been very hard for you” or “I can hear the impact this has had on you and your family.” Very different, however the same result; a demonstration appropriate to the situation of the impact or how it affected the other person. 

3 – Be action focused with the end goal of assisting the customer, moving swiftly to action clearly stating the best way that we can help. For example, ‘the best way I can help sort this out now is for me to…’, or ‘let me get straight to helping you…’, or ‘some options that we could look at to help resolve this situation quickly could be…’, or ‘how I can help you best now would be for me to ask you some questions, would that be OK?’. 

4 – Ask questions to understand fully the customers’ perspective. Effective questioning skills are so important in customer service as we know, and at times when a customer is in distress, complaining or dissatisfied, our questioning skills are critical. It is especially helpful at an appropriate point in the conversation to find out how the customer would like the situation to be moved forward or resolved by asking what is most important to them. 

5 – Use positive, solution-focused language. In situations where customers are distressed or dissatisfied, it is even more important to choose words and phrases very carefully, with a focus on what is possible and what can be done rather than communicating roadblocks or what is not possible first. Of course, being clear on what is and what is not possible is essential. The skill is to say what is possible first, follow up with anything disappointing and then reiterate what can be done. This is a simple three step process to keep the customer working with us and hearing our commitment and empathy to their situation. 

6 – Always follow through with the actions agreed. Fostering this culture of taking ownership and responsibility with empowerment is a significant tipping point for the team’s confidence in the solutions we can offer customers. This confidence will bolster our ability to use the strategies above and show empathy for customers in the situations they share with us. 

Being able to demonstrate empathy by listening carefully to customers and appreciating the impact a situation has on them, then appropriately moving to action to help is a powerful tool for any organisation aiming to provide exceptional customer service. 

Please get in touch to find out how MGI’s proven Mindset, Language & Actions Toolkit can equip your teams with the skills they need to show empathy in their everyday customer service

*Merriam-Webster Dictionary 


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