The ability to recognize and understand emotion in other people is important in building & sustaining relationships in business and interpersonal relationships. A brand’s opportunity to demonstrate that it really understands what its customers feel comes through its various customer service channels.
This makes it important for customer-facing employees in any organization to have the ability to demonstrate not just a high-level of professionalism & competence in their interactions with customers, but also, a high level of emotional intelligence – on which empathy has its roots.
Sadly most organizations do not engage employees in emotional intelligence training as much as they do on customer service. Even during recruitment, they focus mostly on IQ scores (from school results) and customer service skills that potential employees are able to exhibit during the recruitment process.
Businesses in the very near future would realize the importance of investing in 360o training that adequately equips customer-facing employees to effectively manage the emotional high & lows of their customers & prospects.
Until then, here are 5 tips on how you can improve your ability to empathize effectively –
#1. Pay Attention To Body Language
The ability to pay adequate attention to what customers say with their body is an important ability in developing empathy. Pay attention to the hand gestures, facial expressions, voice tone and the solemn silence from the customer, they offer a huge insight into what might be going deep down in their minds.
#2. Listen Actively
There is a big difference between hearing, listening & active listening, this boils down to the attitude of the listener towards the speaker;
- In hearing, you hear the words without actually processing it, because you are occupied with other thoughts (think background music or a long boring lecture).
- In listening, you are concentrating on what the speaker is trying to say and processing it as the information comes because the speaker has your attention.
- Active listening is a combination of listening and paying attention to body language, in active listening, you are not only listening, but also paying attention to the speaker’s body language.
The active listener does not just listen, but also analyzes the implications of the speaker’s body signals on the message & gives feedback to the speaker in order to elicit more information or demonstrate an understanding of the message being transmitted. (Read: Teach your staff to listen actively)
#3. Be Deliberately Curious About People
You need to revive your childhood curiosity in order to expand your world view, and better understand people outside your usual social circle. Talk to that stranger sitting next to you on the bus or plane, the dispatch man, that office cleaner, the security guard…even that weird neighbor who lives with 7 cats.
Such curiosity gives insight into what might be going on in their lives, which helps you see things from their perspective. You will be surprised what you’d learn from such conversations. As you practice this, with each unique person you gain a perspective on, your ability to empathize expands. All you require to do this is courage & the desire to learn more about the next person & what his life has been like.
#4. Try on Other People’s Moccasins
How can you understand how frustrating a bed-bug ridden bed can be if you have never slept on one?
Does your company sell shoes online? Order your own shoes from there.
Do you work in a call center? Call and see how it feels
Do you work in a hotel? Spend a night as guest
When you are able to walk in your own customers’ shoes, then you would gain a better perspective on what’s great and what’s not. This gives you a better understanding of what your customers’ experience, and improves your ability to empathize with them when the need arises.
#5. Read More Fiction
Read more fiction & watch movies, as you experience the lives of the characters and feel their fear, anxiety, and sadness through the novel pages and movie screens you are improving your empathy skills. That movie that brought you to tears, or novel that made you cheer at your favorite character’s feat – that was you empathizing. Keep practicing.
What the experts recommend
In addition to the tips above, I also reached out to a number of experts in the field of Emotional Intelligence, to share tips on how customer service professionals can improve on their empathy skills. Here is what they have to say;
I recommend that customer service reps put themselves in the shoes of the customer by making at least 10 complaint calls or in person returns, gauging their own emotional tendencies to various responses. Especially try calling companies that have poor customer service histories That’s the best way to learn to see the world through the eyes of others–a basic building block of empathy and emotional intelligence.
I’ll start with a quote from a well-known management and leadership expert:
“I no longer think that learning how to manage people, especially subordinates, is the most important for executives to learn. I am teaching above all else, how to manage oneself.” – Peter Drucker
In order to develop empathy, we have to start with ourselves. We have to connect with and manage our own emotions and thinking before we can understand others. Empathy is a result of great listening skills, which requires us to be present in the moment and truly listening intently to the other person. If we are distracted by our emotions or wandering thoughts, it’s impossible to listen. We end up listening for what we want to hear, worrying about what we are going to say next or waiting for our turn to talk. Start with a deep breath, let go of whatever external thoughts you are having and “arrive” in the conversation with a curious mindset.
Empathy is the emotional glue of influence, your job as a customer service professional is to publicly and personally demonstrate that you are committed to understanding your customers’ needs
Martyn also shared a quote from his book on mindfulness;
“Some years ago, Heinz Kohut one of Europe’s most influential psychoanalysis’s, suggested that at the psychological level people have two essential needs: to be understood and to be admired; however, the most fundamental need is to be understood. Empathy allows you to understand not just what people are facing and feeling, but also what they need from you. It’s what we all want from our most important relationships – to be understood.”
– The Mindfulness Book (DR Martyn Newman)
Customer service has evolved from being an optional service to becoming a key determinant in whether a customer remains loyal or not. Successful leaders and customer service professionals are competent in understanding emotions and responding appropriately. Empathy is an invaluable skill for any customer service/experience professional. Put these tips to practice & watch the quality of your interactions improve.
Want to measure your current empathy level? Check out this empathy quiz from UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center, they also give tips & recommendations based on your score.