smiling woman working in a call center
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Empathy is often cited as the top skill contact center professionals need to succeed. Empathy helps them understand the many issues customers face, from delivery problems, product not meeting expectations, billing issues and more. The skill comes naturally for some, but others need to learn it. But what is the best way to teach it?

Below are five recommendations for the best ways to teach empathy.

1. Use Flexible Teaching Methods

“People vary in the way they process information. Some people learn best with visuals, others respond to logic or data, and others are more experiential learners,” said Dylan Max, head of growth marketing at Netomi. “Because customer empathy needs to have buy-in across many departments to be effective, it is crucial to be flexible in the way you teach.”

So Max uses different teaching methods with different departments:

  • Logic: The company’s engineering and marketing teams tend to rely on data, so data and trends are critical when teaching these teams about empathy, Max said. “We might run a few variations of advertisements that touch on different solutions or pain points. Using a data-driven approach, we can extrapolate that the better-performing ads have more powerful messaging that resonates with a higher percentage of our customers. In this instance, a higher click through rate might be the preferred metric to test. It's crucial that we reach some level of statistical significance before determining that one message is "better" than the other.”
  • Experiential: The sales and customer service teams talk to our customers on a daily basis. In some cases, people from those teams might respond better to story-telling, Max said. “Teams re-listen to their calls to reinforce positive interactions as well as to learn how they can do better.”

Related Article: Empathy at Scale: The Secret to Building Real Connections With Customers

2. Focus on the Persona

A number of exercises can help companies build deeper connections with customers, said Jesse Heredia, CEO of Ravecode Solutions.

He recommends reviewing the company’s ideal client persona/profile with employees, so they can get  to know their demographics, their likes and dislikes. This will help them be better prepared the next time they interact with customers, resulting in a "more personal conversation," said Heredia.

3. Teach Active Listening

In active listening sessions, managers role-play their teams and have them restate and summarize the conversation, Heredia said. “This act alone shows the customer that we are paying attention and that we care about helping them.”

By actively listening, support personnel are better able to ask reflective questions, said Arthur Linuma, president of ISBX. “Reflective questions start by demonstrating an understanding of the other person’s position and continue by expressing a desire to learn more."

Related Article: Can We Create Empathy in Others?

4. Demonstrate With Examples

“I've found that the best way to teach people this skill is to show them what good examples look like,” said Trevor Larson, CEO of Nectar. “I like to find call recordings of a few exemplary customer service conversations with customers displaying a range of different emotions, but especially ones featuring distraught or frustrated customers, because this is where empathy is most useful. You can do the same with chat transcripts as well.”

Larson explained that these case studies enable a manager to go point by point, illustrating how and where the employee used active listening and effectively did things like employ respectful lines of questioning, where they reassured the customer that they were committed to helping resolve the issues, how they established a sense of immediacy and importance and how they communicated that they had taken ownership of the customer's issue or query.

“These kinds of exercises form the basis of our customer service training, of which empathy-building and honing is a major part,” Larson said.

5. Treat the Customer as a Hero

To be empathetic, you have to find a way to separate the emotion from the situation, said Ian Sells, CEO and founder of RebateKey. He teaches his employees that an angry customer is angry for a reason, and their job is to figure out why.

“There are some situations where customers blow up at a minor inconvenience, but that's unavoidable,” Sells said. “But frustrated or unhappy customers have a justifiable reason for why they're reaching out for help, and you have to solve that problem to keep them happy. A big part of our business philosophy is creating a story around our customers. I tell our team constantly that we are not the hero of a customer's success story, they are the hero for finding us. Our customer service team has to help people feel good about their choice to work with us.”

Sells added: Customer empathy is hard to teach, but the best way to do it is through example. As a business leader, you have to be willing to get on the phone, talk to customers, solve their problems and let your employees watch you go through that process.

Related Article: Empathy Fuels Today's VoC Programs