Does empathy influence customer service?

Does empathy influence customer service?

MyCustomer highlights the link between corporate empathy and business impact. In this article I am going to discuss if today’s businesses are catering to their customers’ psychological needs, and how this impacts both customer relationships and business performance.

Empathy - the ability to sense another person’s emotions - gives you the ability to add human meaning to interactions with your customers and it is more important than ever in the current climate of uncertainty and anxiety. Empathy is also an important character trait for customer service staff to have and enables them to established rapport with the customer and to deescalate stressful situations.

Most people feel that being treated with empathy is important, but for many businesses, it still seems that making a place for compassion is optional, or just a good talking point for public consumption with little quantifiable bottom-line impact.

It is my belief that those organizations that allow customers to feel heard and valued will build longer-lasting, more valuable customer relationships for the future – recovering faster from the coronavirus crisis and taking market share from their less empathetic competitors.

That said, the ultimate expression of empathy is in taking action – actions that reflect the needs and ‘want’ of each individual customer. But empathy is just one aspect of how customers choose and evaluate an experience. It is also a part of broader emotional intelligence and should be based on operational reality too.

Whilst there is no single method for enhancing empathy within an organization, it must always be led from the top and engage employees at every level – never forget that employees are people too, with their own needs and want and it is the employees who are the ambassadors of your brand to the customer.

Measuring empathy (or rather its business impact) is not easy and many organizations find themselves frustrated in their ability to link cause and effect. However, it is possible and one thing my research has proven to me is that being empathetic towards your customers makes good business sense and the research bears this out.

Businesses, and their customer service agents, that fail to understand the emotional state and needs of their customers are less likely to deliver a ‘satisfying’ customer experience, which can result in lower revenues, avoidable losses, and damage to the reputation of the company. Furthermore, consumers have figured out that they still have plenty of choice in a competitive world where wider adoption of mobile or digital channels has removed some of the ability for brands to differentiate themselves from their competition.

There was one finding (among many) in the research that particularly caught my eye: treating a customer with compassion results in higher levels of satisfaction, even if you cannot resolve their query. Putting it another way, empathy allows your business to deliver a positive customer experience, even if the resolution is negative.

However, perhaps one of the biggest challenges that large-scale organizations face is how to introduce individuality and authenticity in environments that have historically been inflexible or where the cultural norms are counter to the desired ideals. Most businesses are designed to scale efficiently and deliver growth to shareholders; and that often demands uniformity.

Nonetheless, there is a growing recognition of the importance of empathy in customer service – a quick internet search on “empathy in customer service” returns over 30 million hits. This reflects a trend that started some time ago, although the impact of covid-19 has certainly accelerated that trend.

 ‘Empathetic business’ may well be the next competitive battleground, but it will require more than just clever technology or process optimization, it will also require a transformation in the way that businesses motivate and enable their employees to deliver the great experiences that customers now expect and demand.

Delivery empathy in customer service is no longer a ‘nice to have’, it is a ‘must-have’ for your business; when your customers are treated with compassion, it builds loyalty that translates into greater lifetime value through increasing tenure and revenues and lowering costs. However, when customers are experiencing a gap between what they want and what they receive, an opportunity exists for a competitor to step in and fill the hole. Closing this ‘empathy gap’ is therefore an urgent business need. Disruptors, especially those smaller, nimbler organizations, often achieve success by meeting a need that established organizations have overlooked.

About Peter Dorrington

Peter is an expert in using a combination of data and behavioral sciences to both better predict customer/employee behavior, and to quantify the impact on the bottom line. Now an Independent Consultant, Peter's focus is on delivering affordable, high-quality consulting advice to organizations that want to transform their Experience Management strategy & practices.