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The key to excellent customer service, no matter what industry you work in, is empathy. Anyone who has ever worked in customer service understands the value of a positive tone and a helpful attitude—and anyone who has ever worked in customer service also knows that being kind isn’t always easy.
Some customers are angry, upset, or frustrated when they call, and in the moment, may take these emotions out on the customer service representative. But an upset customer wants what everyone wants—to be listened to and understood. And when customer service reps have a high degree of empathy, customers don’t just feel listened to—they really are.
It can take some practice getting good at applying empathy in a customer service situation, and building a customer centric culture that emphasizes those values. Luckily, there are a number of tried-and-true exercises favored by some of the top companies across the planet which help bolster our ability to feel with our customers. Below, we’ve included a list of some of our favorites.
Empathy vs. Sympathy in Customer Service
Before we get into the exercises, let’s talk about the difference between empathy and sympathy. The two terms are often used interchangeably, but they are not in fact the same thing.
Sympathy means that an individual intellectually understands the feelings of another person. They might feel concern or pity for the other, but they do not identify with their feelings of hurt or frustration. When we apply sympathy to a customer service situation, we risk misunderstanding the feelings of the customer, and subsequently making the situation worse.
Empathy means that an individual identifies with the feelings of another and can truly understand their hurt or frustration on an emotional level. They might not have had the exact same experience as the other person, but they may have had one similar enough that they are able to feel with them. In a customer service situation, this is incredibly useful. Empathy allows us to put ourselves in an upset customer’s shoes and help them as we would like to be helped.
Empathy Exercises for Customer Service
Would You Rather…?
This exercise is one many already know from childhood. The premise is that an asker will pose two silly or uncomfortable questions (work appropriate, of course!): “would you rather only eat hot dogs or ice cream for the rest of your life?” And the group answers. It can be fun to compare responses and hear the logic behind everyone’s responses.
In the customer service version, the point is to think about how uncomfortable some customers are with the idea of calling a customer service line. The facilitator can pose a question such as, “Would you rather call our department, or…”
– get stung by a bee?
– stand on your head for two hours?
– come to work wearing no deodorant?
By engaging in this light-hearted exercise, a customer service team can learn to examine the way that they’re showing up for their customers, and they gain motivation to help a call to their department be a good one.
Managing Difficult Requests
Sometimes customers may demand more than we can give them. However even if we can’t fulfill these more challenging requests, we want to make sure that they feel listened to and taken care of. This exercise helps service representatives practice looking at a situation from the customer’s point of view, even during a difficult interaction.
The group should split up into pairs, and each pair should take turns performing their scene. One person in each pair will recall or invent a difficult customer request. The second person will then defend that request, putting it in the context of an invented scenario that makes what seemed like an overreaching request sound reasonable. This helps build empathy skills by reinforcing an understanding that, even if we think a request is ridiculous, the customer probably doesn’t, and deserves our attention and our help.
This classic improv game helps to instill empathy skills by facilitating active listening and enthusiasm for collaboration. It uses the 5 principles of improvisational theatre to encourage teamwork and creativity, namely:
– Don’t deny
– Don’t ask open ended questions
– You don’t have to be funny
– You can make yourself look good by making your partner look good
– Tell a story
This exercise can work with a large group, or just between two individuals. Each person will tell exactly one sentence of a story, and then pass it on to the next person, who will tell the next sentence in the story. Of course, the narrative will be ridiculous and the story might take many unexpected twists and turns along the way, but you’ll be doing it right as long as you start each sentence with “yes, and…” and build off the previous one.
“Yes, and…” helps build empathy skills through the practice of active listening and being able to follow what someone else is saying.
Last Thoughts: Empathy Exercises for Customer Service
Empathy is a skill which is vital to customer service. It shows your customer that their opinions and emotions are valid and respected, at a time when they may be experiencing high levels of frustration, and just want to be heard.
It’s the brands that can treat their customers with empathy and understanding that will stand apart from the competition, and be able to build the relationships with customers that keep them coming back time and again.
Gladly is a customer service platform for digitally-focused B2C companies who want to maximize the lifetime value of their customers. Unlike the legacy approach to customer service software, which is designed around a ticket or case to enable workflows, Gladly enables radically personal customer service centered around people to sustain customer loyalty and drive more revenue.
The world’s most innovative consumer companies like Godiva, JOANN, and TUMI use Gladly to create lasting customer relationships, not one-off experiences.