The old saying is true: Customers will remember not what you said or what you did, but how you made them feel. This begins with empathy. Before you can apply empathy to your practice, it is important to understand how it differs from sympathy. These two words are often used interchangeably; however, they actually represent separate concepts.

Empathy is the ability to visualize a problem or need from the customer’s perspective. It involves understanding and acknowledging the customer’s feelings before attempting to resolve a problem.

Alternatively, sympathy occurs when an employee feels bad for the customer or takes pity on his or her situation, without fully solving the problem.

Empathy is achieved by active listening, and picking up on key factors such as tone of voice, body language, and volume. We can all agree that most customers are looking for a solution when they call our businesses. Before we can offer these options and a customized solution, we have to actively listen, thus showing our customers that we truly understand the extent of their concerns and needs. Once a customer feels that we “get it,” then he or she will be open to our solutions.

Empathy is tough to mess up; however, I try to avoid the phrase, “I know how you feel,” and the robotic CSR standby, “I understand, [Mr./Mrs. Customer].” I offer this phrase as an alternative: “I can see where that would be extremely [frustrating/annoying/irritating/frightening].”

Note that just about any adverb ending in the suffix “ing” will work. This insight into the customer’s situation will enable you to offer more customized options for your customer and will often give you a free pass on several objections.

To incorporate this successfully into your daily business, the practice needs to come from the top down. Start by building rapport with your front-line staff: Role-playing and team-building exercises help tremendously. Practice active listening when your employees come to you with concerns. Your use of empathy will be contagious! They will begin to mirror your examples, and it will transform not only your internal customer relationships, but those of your external customers as well.

Remember, in order to successfully achieve empathy, you have to have a connection with your customers and actively listen to get a better idea of their entire situation so that you can provide them with options that will fully address their wants and needs. Check out the member side of our website for additional clarification and practice techniques.

Publication date: 9/13/2017