Empathy is one of those fun buzzwords that often gets tossed around in training sessions on customer service teams. Typically, management spends around fifteen minutes encouraging reps to be empathetic then spends the rest of the session explaining how a help desk works.
To be fair, I'd probably need a few sessions to relearn how to use a help desk. But, that doesn't mean it's easy to define empathy or describe what it looks like in customer service.
Fortunately, the HubSpot Support Team places a lot of focus on this skill and trains its team to be empathetic towards customers regardless of the situation. HubSpot support reps always try to put the customer first and prioritize customer goals over personal convenience.
So, we went ahead and asked the HubSpot Support Team how they show empathy to customers. Below are a few tips they came up with that you can use with your customer service team.
Showing Empathy in Support
1. Genuinely Relate With the Customer.
Some think empathy means feeling outwardly remorseful for a problem or frantically apologizing over an issue. While that type of reaction certainly shows care for the customer's situation, it doesn't demonstrate empathy and isn't very effective in meeting customer needs.
Empathy is the ability to interpret emotions and understand why someone is feeling the way that they do. By understanding that, you can authentically relate to the customer's situation, no matter how unique it is.
There's typically a small detail or event in every support case that creates common ground between both parties. Once that brief emotional connection is made, support reps and customers are more likely to work collaboratively on the issue. Rather than pushing a forced apology, this approach helps you truly relate to the customer's situation.
2. Actively listen to the customer.
The first step to understanding a customer's problem is to actively listen to them. Active listening means that you're not only listening to what the person has to say, but you're also showing that you understand them by repeating their words in your responses and asking relevant follow-up questions.
The best way to practice active listening is to truly focus on what the other person is saying. Don't worry about coming up with a response to their question or which troubleshooting steps you're going to take. Instead, listen to every detail that the customer brings up and pay attention to their tone and body language to determine how they feel about the situation.
Not only does this approach provide you with a better understanding of the problem, but it also ensures customers don't have to repeat their responses. This can be a major point of friction, too, as one study found that 75% of customers say they get frustrated when a company asks them to repeat their issue.
3. Take Time to Make the Interaction Memorable.
Customer service jobs are typically fast-paced. Reps have daily goals to meet and managers are constantly monitoring team metrics. This focus on quantitative performance often encourages reps to prioritize speed and efficiency over quality and care. Customer satisfaction starts to suffer because reps aren't putting the customer's needs over their own.
Support teams should always put the customer first. It's more important than meeting a daily quota because it leads to greater customer retention. Retention is extremely valuable for a business because it costs much more to acquire a new customer than it does to retain an existing one.
And, if you make the interaction memorable, people are more likely to share their experiences with others. Nearly 49% of consumers say they'd share an experience on social media or write a review after having a positive interaction with a brand.
4. Use Collaborative Language to Align With the Customer.
Sometimes it's not what you say to a customer that matters, it's how you say it. The language and phrasing you use when interacting with customers play a major role in how they'll react to your response. Even if you're providing sound advice, the customer can easily misinterpret it if it's positioned the wrong way.
If you need to explain a complicated solution or walk a customer through a series of troubleshooting steps, it's important to prioritize collaborative language. Use pronouns like “we” or “us” instead of “I” or “you” as this will make the customer feel like you're working together on the problem.
Everyone has been on the customer side of a support interaction at one time or another, and everyone knows what a poor support experience feels like. Aligning with the customer by using collaborative language is a great way to avoid these incidences and recenter the focus back on the customer's issue.
5. Personalize Your Customer Approach.
Every customer request is different and should be treated as such if you want to provide a delightful experience. Personalizing your approach to match the needs and characteristics of your customers will help you create a unique experience during every service interaction.
You need empathy for this skill because you have to read the customer and determine how they're feeling at the moment. Knowing how to appropriately respond to one's emotions and body language is crucial when demonstrating empathy. For example, a customer might be in the mood to laugh at a joke one day, when the next day the same customer might have a more urgent issue and doesn't have time for humor.
Even when a customer has a very common issue that you've solved a thousand times before, you should approach it the same way you would with a more complicated roadblock. Walk the customer through each troubleshooting step, answer any questions along the way, and make sure they can solve the problem themselves if they need to in the future.
As a more tenured rep, it can be tempting to skip the explanation and jump right to the answer, but it's important to explain your work because it personalizes the experience and makes the customer feel more comfortable with the solution.
6. Present Workarounds When Necessary.
In customer support, the best solution is a long-term one that leads to customer success. However, if you've worked in customer service, you know that's not always possible. Sometimes the best option is a short-term fix that holds the customer over until a long-term resolution is found.
Workarounds like these demonstrate empathy because they present a complete understanding of the problem. While your intent is to provide a 1:1 solution, if you understand the customer's goal, you can find alternatives that will still meet their needs even if a direct solution isn't available.
When a new feature or service does provide an ideal answer to the customer's problem, you should reach out and notify them about the update. This follow-up is important because it shows that you remember and care about your customers and that you're invested in their success.