You need a ton of skills to be a successful customer service professional. To advocate for and help people, day in and day out, you need patience, a tremendous amount of product knowledge, and one other key trait:
When you get caught up in the daily grind of working in customer service, it's easy to forget the purpose of your role: to help. A customer service rep's goal is to help customers solve problems with their business and achieve success.
With this in mind, reps should strive to empathize with and relate to the customers they come across because each has a unique problem that needs to be solved.
Want to help show customers that you're on their side — and not trying to rush them off the phone? Keep reading to learn more about what empathy means to your business, why it’s important, and the common phrases and situations that show it.
What is empathy in customer service?
Empathy in customer service is the practice of listening and understanding customer needs beyond the surface level. It requires a level of emotional intelligence to pick up on what customers aren't saying and demonstrate that you care.
Why is empathy in customer service important?
After all, customers don’t want to feel like they’re being ignored or brushed off; they want to know they’re supporting a business that supports them back.
According to PwC, 64% of U.S. consumers and 59% of all consumers feel companies have lost touch with the human element of customer experience. The companies that recognize these staggering numbers see the value in upholding humanized experiences and understand that human connection plays a vital role in customer decision-making.
A tool to help customer service reps deliver exemplary service is HubSpot’s Service Hub. Our customer service software enables companies to prioritize the customer experience with an easy and connected platform that delivers authentic service.
Customer service software that helps you deepen customer relationships and drive team efficiency is the type of reliability and rapport customers are looking for in a business.
In addition to these tools, we had our world-class support team provide you with handy phrases reps can use in both emails and calls to demonstrate empathy.
Empathy Phrases For Customer Service Reps
1. "I hear you."
While other reps might move on to the next part of their script, pausing the conversation to let a customer know that you hear them and that you understand their feelings can build rapport and show empathy.
Pair this phrase with "how can I help?" for maximum effectiveness. By asking how you can help you can get a clear picture of the user's specific pains and start to strategize. This allows you to move the conversation forward as you start to build a solution to these problems.
2. "Thanks for that suggestion. I certainly see how this could be useful."
Sometimes, your product or service falls short of what a specific customer is hoping to accomplish. In these scenarios, it's important to acknowledge that their feedback is heard and valued, then point them in the right direction for a workaround. If an alternative solution isn't possible, try to provide a community forum or feedback form where they can submit their idea.
3. "I'm sorry to hear that."
You don't need to be in the wrong to say you're sorry. "I'm sorry to hear that" makes it clear that you empathize with the customer's pain and offers them the chance to vent if they feel the need.
4. "Wow — you've overcome a ton of adversity."
Recognizing that the customer has already overcome a significant amount of difficulty can help them feel re-energized. They've battled and having someone else observe this fact can improve their mindset as they look to tackle the next challenge.
5. "I appreciate that feedback."
While customer service reps need to be mindful of what they say, customers don’t. Customers can speak freely about your products, services, and brand as a whole. And, sometimes it isn’t pretty.
Rather than contesting the customer, sometimes it’s better to let them vent and thank them for their feedback. Remember, most of the time the customer isn’t angry with the rep; they’re angry with the situation. Thanking them for supplying feedback redirects the frustration back towards the problem, instead of the rep.
6. "I understand how 'x' is preventing you from accomplishing 'y.'"
When a customer is frustrated with a problem, it's natural for support reps to say, "I understand." However, this doesn't acknowledge that you understand the problem. Rather, it shows that you're focusing on the customer's emotional response.
Instead of saying "I understand your issue, and I am going to go investigate that," be more specific and highlight why the customer's problem is preventing them from achieving their goals.
Say something like, "I understand this issue is impacting your campaign's timing. I want to make sure I give you the best answer, so I am going to conduct some tests and get back to you as soon as I have more information."
By being more specific, you're showing the customer that you're listening and have a game plan to solve for them.
7. "I completely agree with you."
Sometimes when customers are upset, the best thing a rep can do is validate their feelings. After all, it feels good when someone tells us we’re right, especially when we’re frustrated or angry.
Telling a customer that you agree with them doesn’t place your business in a negative light. In reality, it positions your brand as a company that listens to customer feedback and is actively looking for ways to improve your product or service. If your product clearly has a flaw or is falling short of expectations, your team should seek a solution rather than ignoring it or hoping that it goes away.
8. "We can work through this together."
Using collaborative words like "we" takes the problem off of the customer's shoulders and builds confidence that you're working towards a resolution. It also empowers the customer to contribute to the troubleshooting effort and add color and context to the situation.
9. "That sounds extremely challenging."
The first step to overcoming a difficult task is to acknowledge that it's challenging. Once we wrap our heads around the fact that we need help, we're more likely to find a solution. By letting your customer know that what they're going through is challenging, you can enable them to realize that they may need assistance.
10. "I hear you and I want you to be successful."
Sometimes when a case doesn't go as planned, it can feel like it's the rep vs. the customer. In reality, the customer is frustrated with the problem, but it's the rep who needs to de-escalate the tension. Telling the customer you want them to be successful reminds them that it's you and the customer vs. the problem.
It's important to keep in mind your tone and sincerity. You need to be genuine and avoid "false empathy" if you want to resolve a friction-filled case.
11. Say nothing — just listen.
Sometimes the most impactful form of communication is silence. Research has shown that listening with empathy is the most effective way to process someone's perspective. Besides providing the customer a shoulder to lean on, listening also helps customer service reps gain a better understanding of how to better serve and help that customer.
Using these phrases when speaking to customers in tough situations is how you make a positive impact they’ll remember and appreciate. Let’s discuss different scenarios where empathic service is beneficial.
Examples of Empathy in Customer Service
Meeting the needs of a customer in a crisis.
Global crises affect people on a huge scale.
For example, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, people’s daily lives were unbalanced or shaken up with the uncertainty of public health. The happening heightened people’s feelings of stress and anxiety, and in turn high-quality customer care became a more important factor to customers by almost 60%.
When stressful events like public health crises, natural disasters, political conflict, or other worldwide events are at the forefront of news, take that into consideration when communicating with customers. You never know how these events could be affecting them.
2. Understanding a customer’s frustration regarding a situation of high importance.
Oftentimes customers can find themselves distraught and rushing for a solution from service reps when something goes wrong at the wrong time. An example of this situation is a B2B customer distraught over strict deadlines for business work, where multiple people depend on them to deliver something that’s gone wrong.
Business can get tough, but your customer service team can use empathic listening and phrasing to let them know how important their need is, and that it will be resolved to the best of their ability.
3. Offering an exception to a valuable or loyal customer.
Your customers are human beings that have to worry about more than just paying for your product or service. That usually isn’t an area of contention, until problems arise.
For example, if one of your loyal customers has an accident or illness that demands their full attention or costly financial obligation, customer service reps should work with their team to see if they can temporarily relieve that customer of additional stress.
Exceptions like delaying payment or offering discounts for isolated instances is a level of empathic service that your customer will remember for time to come, so when they’re back on their feet, they’ll feel grateful for what your team has done.
Make Your Customer Service More Empathic
The core of every customer service rep's job is to be helpful, and the best reps strive to help people solve pain points and turn weaknesses into strengths. By using these phrases on calls with customers, customer service reps can better solve problems and build rapport to help those customers get better outcomes from their product or service again and again.
Editor's note: This article was originally published in April 2020 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.