The Importance of Empathy in an AI-Driven World

Gladly Team

Read Time

4 minute read

Meet Maddie Friend, Staff Technical Support Manager at Gladly. As her last name would suggest, Maddie focuses on building strong and personalized relationships with the Gladly customers she interacts with, using her natural inclinations to power the future of service. Today’s consumers increasingly expect brand experiences tailored to their unique needs and preferences. As a result, many businesses are grappling with extending skills like Maddie’s to ensure every customer receives the best possible service.

Now enter the world of generative AI, where robust analysis and computation capabilities assist in solving essential customer needs, accelerating response rates, and lowering average handle time. This powerful automation tool has taken hold of our imaginations, and it promises exciting opportunities for any brand looking to scale personalized customer experiences.

As many businesses embrace emerging technology as a means to double down on efforts to drive personalization, the human touch is still as valuable as it’s ever been. There’s an increasing trend of training customer service agents in emotional intelligence to understand a customer’s emotional needs, demonstrating empathy and compassion in the process — something technology can’t be relied upon to deliver.

We talked to Maddie about the importance of maintaining the human touch to deliver meaningful, personalized customer experiences in a world powered by AI and automation. Here’s what she had to say.

Why do personalization and emotional intelligence matter in an AI-forward world?

This is a both/and scenario. Without human personalization, there is no AI. Emotional intelligence — or sometimes called soft skills — is what makes customer service agents great.

Customers are smart; they know when they want a quick AI self-service response, such as when tracking an order or placing a return, and they know when they need to talk to an experienced support professional — someone who can give specific advice on fit, help with a complicated multi-pronged inquiry, or even provide guidance on best use cases.

How have you cultivated personalization and empathy in your communication with customers?

It helps to remember that I’m one of them. Having been on both sides of the customer service curtain, so to speak, it really guides how I interact with people. As a customer, I know I want thoughtful, efficient, and innovative service — I strive to provide that. It’s not just a check-the-box mentality. Even with straightforward inquiries, I try to give a value add. These don’t need (and perhaps shouldn’t be) upsells for support questions. Instead, I try for something quick that makes their day better: a shared wish of Monday good luck, downloading a report for them instead of having them do it, or connecting about something special with their company.

The Importance of Listening with Empathy

Take this Gladly Connect learning course to learn what listening with empathy means, why it’s important, what gets in the way of it, and how to listen with more empathy.

In our recent Hero Experience research, 47% of agents ranked customer engagement as a primary motivator. How do you believe this fuels personalization?

Agents care about customers! They don’t want to treat them as tickets just to check off, just as customers don’t want to be a case number. Agents want to share their knowledge and help people. They’re not here to nickel and dime; they’re here to smooth out bumps, take mistakes and make them right, and then use that knowledge to build a better retail ecosystem.

How have you internalized the customer support interactions in day-to-day life? Have these interactions improved the support you provide your customers?

Customer support is a hard job. It’s reactive, predicated on someone having a problem. That’s okay — it keeps it interesting! I always try to assume positive intent. As ecommerce has burgeoned and gone through growing pains, many customers expect impersonal help stretching out for weeks. We like to surprise and delight them, changing the narrative and status quo on what should be.

“The customer is always right” seems like an ancient motto in the service world. Is it still valid today, and how has the idea impacted your perspective on utilizing emotional intelligence to encourage customer loyalty?

The customer is not always right. It’s okay to say that! If a customer has an unreasonable request (such as unwarranted free items) or is cruel to team members, that is not okay. We can support customers through de-escalation and supportive service, but it is never okay for customers to abuse agents.

Now let’s say your company messed up. The customer knows it, you know it — but you’re unsure about sharing that. It’s much better to acknowledge, accept, and rectify it. The customer might be right about the scenario, but as a trained professional, you know the best way to provide value while rectifying the issue.

It’s important that agents recognize their own needs and apply empathy to themselves. What recommendations do you have for maintaining this priority?

Many people use the metaphor of putting on the airplane mask first. I like to think of pre-emptive steps before we’re in a crisis situation and the plane is falling. Situations like that lead to agent burnout — it’s a challenging profession where you often work with people upset or unable to self-serve.

So, I return to a metaphor I learned from a mentor: Self-care is group care. Managing your own needs — including setting healthy boundaries, communicating with your managers and teams, and knowing when to ask for help — helps cultivate a strong sense of workplace identity. The 2023 Hero Experience Report shows that most agents want to stay in this field. They are skilled professionals with a valuable skill set in an ever-impersonal world. Turning that empathy on themselves only builds a better experience for themselves, their customers, and their employers.


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The Wrap-Up

Generative AI is transforming the customer experience landscape with faster response times and greater efficiencies. Yet, the importance of the human touch — exemplified by individuals like Maddie Friend — remains vital. As businesses combine the power of technology with empathy and understanding, they craft quick and compassionate experiences, blending a customer’s unique needs with optimal care.