There are many strategies companies use to improve the customer experience, from smart technology to introducing new services designed to help consumers save time on everyday activities. While each of these can have a positive impact on the overall consumer experience, few things are more important than customer service that offers a sense of empathy.
As Don McCarty, CEO of Infusion for Health explains, “Empathy can be the ultimate differentiator in your organization’s ability to provide great service to its clients. It is the key to understanding your clients and their unique wants, needs and challenges. And when you approach them in a way that reflects that understanding, it can become a true game-changer for you and them.”
Defining Empathy and Its Benefits
Empathy is generally defined as the ability to understand and share another person’s feelings. “That ability to understand and develop an affinity with someone is crucial in everyday life,” McCarty explains.
“Empathy is how we develop lasting connections with those around us. And while it’s not something we typically think of in a customer service experience, displaying empathy when a customer is having a problem or going through a hard time can have a dramatic influence on the entire tone of that experience.”
This is perhaps part of the reason why a University of Southern California study found that over one-third of all ads appeal to customers’ emotions — to create that powerful sense of connection. But in customer service, empathy can go even deeper.
McCarty offers this example of empathy in action: “At our company, we work with medical patients who are dealing with chronic conditions. Receiving medically necessary infusions can be an emotionally and physically challenging experience, so we decided to make empathy a core part of what we offer. We do this by ensuring that each of our employees is kind and professional when interacting with patients, and try to go the extra mile to make it as comfortable as possible with clean private rooms, snacks, entertainment and other perks to turn this into a positive experience for them.”
When the organization displays empathy, customers feel like their concerns are being heard and taken seriously, and that the company is doing everything in its power to help them, regardless of the situation.
Displaying empathy as part of the customer experience can also serve as a powerful positive differentiating factor for a brand. A PwC study reported that 64 percent of consumers in the United States felt that companies had “lost touch with the human element of customer experience.”
A company’s ability to demonstrate empathy can provide the connection that many consumers still deeply desire, even in a digital age. This can make all the difference in keeping customers coming back in the long run.
Making Empathy a Core Part of Your Customer Experience
Successfully developing an empathetic culture begins internally.
Notably, empathy has been cited as the most important leadership skill in business surveys, helping drive cooperation, engagement, innovation, inclusivity and more. Leadership must set the example in defining what empathy looks like by displaying it to their coworkers.
Of course, empathy must also become a core part of the business’s mission — a stated point of emphasis in how it treats its customers. Empathy in customer service can also be taught through coaching, seminars, online trainings and incentives such as public recognition or performance bonuses. For example, the Apple Genius training manual included an entire section on empathy.
The key is ensuring that employees understand how to demonstrate empathy to customers, and then give them a reason for doing so, even when facing challenging customer circumstances.
“The key to empathy is listening—truly listening to what the customer is saying and feeling. This ensures that you actually understand your customers and their needs,” McCarty says.
“When you listen to what they want or need to have a better experience, you are better equipped to treat them with the dignity and care they deserve. It ensures that you respond appropriately to their needs so that every interaction is positive.”
Empathy can be an especially powerful tool when a customer is having a negative experience with a brand. Even when dealing with a difficult customer who challenges an employee’s explanations or solutions, practicing empathy can help customer service professionals understand the customer’s perspective, remain calm and respond appropriately in a way that helps address their concerns.
Unleash the Power of Empathy
While training your team to effectively implement empathy as part of each client interaction can take some time, it is well worth the effort. This is something McCarty has seen in his own company’s work.
“By expressing empathy to the patients we work with, they feel valued and respected. They know that we understand what they are going through and are trying to create as positive of an experience for them as possible. That makes all the difference for their outlook on their treatment, which ultimately creates better outcomes as well. That experience can’t be replicated or replaced.”
As you unleash the power of empathy in your own operations — no matter what type of products or services you offer — you can achieve similar positive results.