Using empathy in customer support is a crucial evolution in your businesses model in order for you to improve the customer experience and customer retention.

What Is Being Empathetic in Customer Support?

Nicholas PriceLast updated on January 2, 2024
9 min

Ready to build better conversations?

Simple to set up. Easy to use. Powerful integrations.

Get started

Great problem-solving skills and a little empathy in customer service go a long way toward turning frustrated customers into loyal customers and brand advocates. Customer support representatives expect to get a large number of calls from upset customers. When they can turn those negative emotions around, it’s a great day!

Whether your customer support representatives respond to customers in a positive or a negative way, how they handle customer calls is a reflection of your company and its culture.

In general, company culture flows from the top down. For that reason, it’s essential for your company’s leaders to promote empathy in their words and actions and to incorporate empathy into the company’s overall culture. A clear culture of empathy will naturally infiltrate throughout the rest of the organization.

Empathy helps customer support representatives to better understand your customers’ pain points. When empathy doesn’t come naturally, or if there seems to be a lack of empathy in your customer support call center, it’s a skill you can teach them. The right tools will help to point them in the right direction. First, let’s take a look at the role that empathy plays in customer service.

Quick links

The Role of Empathy in Customer Service

Empathy is a term that gets tossed around a fair bit, but what does it really mean? Empathy is a person’s ability to understand how someone else feels. Essentially, it’s being able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes.

Empathy comes more naturally for some people than for others. That’s a good point to consider when hiring for your call center. Your customer support representatives speak to lots of different kinds of people every day. It’s important for them to lead every call with empathy and to do their best to solve problems in a respectful manner, regardless of the emotions customers are projecting at them.

When tackling a problem, it takes many different perspectives to get the scope of the big picture. In a perfect world, your customer’s perspective will match the company’s perspective. As hard as you’re working to perfect your products, services, and support, things don’t always play out the way you expect them to. When they don’t, your customers may be the ones who bring problems to your attention.

Being empathetic doesn’t necessarily mean that you agree with your customers, and it doesn’t mean you can solve every problem in the exact way that customers expect. It just means you get it! Empathy in customer support means more than just getting it, though. It means having human interaction with a customer that shows that you’ve heard them and you’re willing to acknowledge their point of view.

Empathy vs. Sympathy

It’s also important to differentiate empathy from sympathy. Sympathy means feeling sorry for someone and that’s something that’s not effective in customer service at all.

As No Jitter points out, recent events the world over have caused people to have to deal with an unusual amount of fear and anxiety, and they’re craving empathy more than ever before.

The skill related to customer service empathy has to do with being aware of it and practicing it every day. Ultimately, demonstrating empathy makes customers happy and that leads to a good customer experience.

How Empathy Helps You Better Understand Your Customers

Occasionally, customers will call with a simple, random question. When they have to wait too long to get a basic answer to a common question, it can sour their attitude about your customer support call center pretty quickly. This has been the exact case this year with Vail Resorts call centers. A poor customer experience has caused friction for the brand throughout the winter season. As a result of this, the CEO of Vail Resorts, Rob Katz had to issue an apology:

“Weighing heavily on my mind is the frustration I have heard from too many pass holders and guests regarding their customer service experience with our call centers. If you are included amongst those who have been unable to reach a customer service agent for help, or encountered long call center or chat wait times, I want you to know we have heard you loud and clear…It is unacceptable, and I personally apologize to you for your experience.”

Regardless of what’s causing customers to be frustrated or angry, they’re more likely to be open to a reasonable resolution when they believe a customer support representative understands their perspective.

Using Empathy in Customer Support

Empathy helps you better understand your customers in two distinct ways:

  1. It invokes empathy from them.

  2. It helps customer support representatives predict their reactions.

If you look beyond a customer’s raw emotions, their fear usually isn’t too far behind them. What are they afraid of? They might be afraid you can’t, or won’t, solve their problem. Their fear might also stem from worry over having to pay more money to get their problem resolved. In spite of what might be driving their fear, an empathetic response and a willingness to explore possible solutions will help to allay their fears and to inspire trust. A lack of empathy will have the opposite effect — it will cause them to be skeptical about your willingness to help them.

To the second point, an empathetic response will help customer support representatives to get a pulse on their emotions, predict their reactions, and prepare to answer a few follow-up questions. The ensuing conversation will be easier, and the support representative will be better able to predict which of the possible solutions the customer will be the most receptive to.

The Importance of Customer Pain Points

When we’re talking about pain points, we’re talking about specific problems that your customers are experiencing. Pain points can surface at any point during the customer journey.

Lots of different things can happen that can cause customer pain points. It’s important to recognize that problems can, and often do, occur with one of your products or services. Those types of problems are typically fairly easy to correct.

Let’s take stock of some of the common pain points that are more difficult for companies to detect:

  • A mismatch between the customer’s tone and the support representative’s tone.

  • Apologies that are disingenuous.

  • An apology that’s too quick, too late, or doesn’t come at all.

  • Being sent from one individual or department to another and not getting help from any of them.

  • Either having difficulty getting to a human or getting stuck in a cycle of self-service questions without getting an answer to their question.

  • Customers who are unhappy even after they get their problems resolved because the process was just too cumbersome and painful.

Empathy plays a strong role in addressing customer pain points. Skilled customer support representatives know how to make customers feel that they’ve been heard and understood, and prove that the company is willing to go the extra mile to make things right.

Best Practices for Customer Support Empathy

If you’re looking for some specific ways to improve empathy at your company, get some inspiration from the following nine customer support empathy best practices:

1) Train call support representatives to throw out personal biases

For the sake of consistency, it’s essential to treat all customers the same. Train your support representatives not to make judgments based on race, gender, vocabulary, ethnicity, dialect, or anything else.

2) Maintain a positive attitude

This is easier said than done when things aren’t going well in a customer service representative’s personal life. Give your support representatives an opportunity to take mental and emotional breaks when times are tough at home or if they’ve had a few difficult calls in a row. That helps to put them in the right mindset to treat the last customer of the day just as professionally as the first one.

3) Be an active listener

Active listening is an important customer support skill. Give customers enough time to explain their issues and concerns. Allow them to vent a little so they can let off a little steam. Don’t jump to conclusions or offer up a solution before you’ve had a chance to hear them out.

4) Avoid making promises you can’t keep

When a customer is unhappy, it’s not  appropriate to tell them what they want to hear just to appease them. When you can’t solve a problem on the spot, let customers know that you’re looking for a solution and that someone will call them back within a certain time frame. Be sure to follow up!

5) Deal with language barriers patiently

When speaking with customers from a different culture or country, ask them to repeat words you don’t understand and be sure to explain things carefully. It also helps to ask them if they understand what you’re saying. When you lead with empathy,  customers who have strong accents or who have a different first language will appreciate your patience and willingness to understand them.

6) Be curious

When you ask curious questions, it gives customers more time to explain what’s driving the reason for their call. Don’t assume that you know what the issue is before they’ve had a chance to explain, even if it sounds like they’re going to present a common issue.

7) Be respectful, even if they’re not

When a customer is upset, it’s not the time to forget your manners. Use their name, say “excuse me” when you need to, and don’t forget to say “please” if you need to ask them to hold.

8) Don’t be afraid to admit mistakes

At times, it’s best to take the customer’s side. Remember, what they’re really looking for is for you to make it right. Be willing to consider one of their solutions if you can’t come up with one of your own.

9) Take time to connect with customers

Try to identify common interests to talk about or generate pleasant conversation in another way. Weather by Aircall is an app that was developed just for this purpose. The weather in the caller’s location comes up on the customer support representative’s screen, and that’s an easy topic for anyone to chat about.

Customer Service Empathy Checklist

We developed this handy checklist as a quick guide for ensuring you’re hitting all the marks of customer service empathy:

✔   Train your customer service representatives in how to lead with empathy

✔   Make empathy an important part of your company’s culture

✔   Use surveys to evaluate customer satisfaction

✔   Monitor your call center for signs of bias

✔   Train your customer service representatives in active listening skills

✔   Address customer support representatives who are having difficulty displaying empathy and positivity

✔   Ensure customer support representatives understand the difference between empathy and sympathy

✔   Be respectful

✔   Take the customer’s side when it’s appropriate

Why Aircall

You can achieve empathy in customer service by getting a little help from your cloud-based phone system. Aircall offers a host of metrics to help you evaluate the level of empathy that your call center is delivering at any point.

The following Aircall voice calling features will give you reports that will enlighten you regarding what your customers are experiencing on their end:

  • Average speed of answer

  • Average wait times

  • Number of missed calls

  • Average time to return a call

  • First call resolution

  • Customer call frequency

What’s more, Aircall works seamlessly with software integrations, and you can use a variety of apps to automate communications, which will serve to reinforce a sense of empathy long after phone calls end.

To wrap things up, your customer support representatives are facing a host of pain points every day. Some are easier to resolve than others. Whether the problems are large or small, simple or complex, by taking an empathetic approach to every call, your customers will know that you’re doing your very best. Most of the time, the effort you make to improve customer support empathy positively contributes to a good customer experience.

Join Clare Muscutt, Aircall, Front & Loom as we discuss the importance of humanizing the customer experience, including onboarding, support and account success.

Published on January 22, 2021.

Ready to build better conversations?

Aircall runs on the device you're using right now.