The Gist

  • Treat customers like humans, not voices. Although it can be easy to dehumanize a caller, remember a real person (who is relying on you for help) is on the other line.

  • Take it slow. A calming and tranquil aura can help diffuse a customer’s anger and frustration, and as a result, improve your company’s CSAT.

  • Push for empathy training. Equipping your agents with empathetic skills during the onboarding process helps streamline their effectiveness later.

From a consumer’s perspective, contact centers are notoriously blood-boiling and frustrating. Oftentimes, speaking to an agent is a tedious process filled with nonsensical back-and-forths with chatbots, department transfers and repeating your reason for calling. When you finally get to a human, your patience has likely run thin.

For this reason, empathy is a crucial skill contact center employees must master.

Even when a customer is angry, empathy both validates and pacifies their nerves; the worst thing an agent can do is act just as cold and robotically as the chatbots they’ve just shouted at. But empathy is more than just saying, “I understand your frustration.”

To better understand how to satisfy consumers, we talked with two CX experts and put together four essential tips to empower contact center employees to be more empathetic. 

Encourage Your Contact Center Agents to Slow Down

Dan Smitley, strategy and optimization leader at Call Design North America, advocates for a calm, streamlined approach to conducting service calls.

“In the contact center space, we often want to push for greater productivity and efficiency," he said. "We see the number of calls in queue or the calls we’ve abandoned and want to rush to the next interaction. But when we do that we stop thinking of our customers as people and often boil them down to problems to solve and move on from.” 

Verbal abuse is a common occurrence from angry callers, with “81% of call center workers saying they've dealt with such mistreatment, while 36% have experienced violent threats.”

Encouraging agents to slow down, listen to their customers’ needs and relate to them as humans instead of problems is key, according to Smitley. Prioritizing efficiency and the number of calls completed may only exacerbate a customer’s anger.

Related Article: Contact Center Technologies and Strategies to Keep Customers Cool

Implement Empathy Training in Contact Center

Not all people who claim they are empathetic are, in fact, empathetic.

Neal Topf, contact center expert and president at Callzilla, believes empathic employees should be filtered at the source in order to ensure they have the skills to manage difficult customers. Implementing empathy-based training for new or potential hires allows for a real-life observation of how your agents will perform on the phone.

Learning Opportunities

Topf suggests role-play and simulation exercises for candidates to prove their ability to generate and display empathy. These types of activities are becoming increasingly popular, both within and outside the contact center space; according to the State of Workplace Empathy study, 72% of employees rated their organization and leaders as more empathetic from 2020 to 2021.

Additionally, Forbes notes today’s customers have higher standards than ever before, with more than 60% willing to switch companies after one bad experience. On the other hand, 70% of customers whose problems are handled well are willing to return to the brand as a now-loyal customer.

This is why empathy training is crucial for customer retention and satisfaction. As Topf stated, “Those that can’t [be empathetic] shouldn’t be in the contact center.”

Related Article: What Is a Call Center? How They Work

Measure Empathy With AI, Speech/Text Analytics

With the rapid advancement of AI generation, leaders would be remiss not to utilize technology to define and identify empathy. According to Topf, conversational AI and speech/text analytics can be used to define and measure empathy, detect where it takes place and where it is missing within customer interactions.

One may not initially think to rely on a robot to understand empathy, but these technologies are becoming far more reliable than error-prone humans; they can evaluate interactions far more efficiently than the standard, single-digit percentage of interaction samples for which human QA teams are usually responsible. Although it may feel counterintuitive to rely on AI to bolster company empathy, it can often see what humans cannot, and as a result, improve customer experience.

Be a Role Model for Your Contact Center Agents

Be empathetic to your workers. “When we treat our employees with kindness and empathy we normalize empathy in the workplace,” Smitley said. “As leaders, we can show our employees what it looks like to connect with empathy around problems and challenges. This better prepares them to leverage those same skills with their customers.”

Business terms like profit, productivity and efficiency can be just as important as care, kindness and compassion. However, we can only implement these approaches if they’re mirrored in the work space. According to Smitely, the best way for that to happen is for leadership to literally lead the effort.