Respond to Customers with Genuine Empathy

Responding with Empathy: 20 Ways to Show Stressed Out Customers You Care

These are difficult times, and our anxious customers need us more than ever. Some of them  need help with a simple task, like “How do I add a new driver to my auto insurance policy?” Others need help solving a problem: “Why was I charged twice for inflight WiFi?” 

All of our customers need our empathy. They need us to infuse our emails, chats, and social media responses with words that demonstrate we understand what they are feeling, we see things from their point of view, and we care.

How Do People Respond Without Empathy?

We’ve all received no-empathy responses from customer service agents, and these communications are painful and infuriating to read. When we ask them to waive a $15 late fee because we were in the hospital and couldn’t access online banking, CSRs without empathy respond, “There are no exceptions to our late fee policy.” When we tell them we’re confused because the Reservations Department said we could have a late checkout, but the hotel’s front desk staff said late checkout would be impossible,  CSRs without empathy respond, “The Reservations Department was wrong to promise you a late checkout.” When CSRs respond without empathy, they convey that dealing with customers’ feelings is not their interest and not their job.

Related article: 7 Ways to Easily Boost Customer Service Empathy

Why Don’t Frontline Customer Service Agents Show Empathy? 

Most people who do the stressful work of answering customers’ questions and responding to their complaints every day do, indeed, feel a great deal of empathy for customers. But for a variety of reasons, their willingness or capacity to express empathy can dry up. Here’s why some customer service agents fail to respond with empathy:

Agents Think Empathy is Optional (or Even Risky) 

Some customer service agents may be hesitant to express empathy because they believe it implies they agree with the customer’s complaint. If, for example, a customer complains “Your company has sent me another incorrect invoice this month,” a CSR may be reluctant to respond with empathy and say, “It must be a hassle to feel you must check our invoices for errors…” However, a carefully worded empathy statement is not the same as agreeing with the content of the customer’s complaint. Instead, empathy is an act of acknowledging the customer’s perspective.

They’re Afraid Empathy Will Slow Down The Interaction 

If your contact center’s calls-or-emails-per-hour expectation is too strict, agents won’t find time to express empathy. Empathy takes time, and expressions of empathy show the customer that the agent is responding to them as an individual. It’s true; when customer service agents give customers empathy, those customers may stay on the phone or the chat a bit longer. It feels good to be acknowledged as a person! But while that one empathy-included interaction may take a bit longer, it will prevent repeat contacts on the same topic. Empathy saves time overall by reducing the number of contacts overall.

Their Company’s Legal Department Insists That Allowing CSRs to Express Empathy Increases Legal Risk 

If, for example, a customer complains that a vitamin tablet gave them an itchy rash, the Legal Department may be highly motivated to prevent responses that agree with this complaint. After all, the itchy rash could be from the poison ivy the customer touched while gardening. It probably has nothing to do with the vitamin tablet. But it is possible to express empathy without incurring risk, and the best customer support teams know how to do it. In this case, saying “That rash sounds uncomfortable” recognizes the customer’s condition without saying, admitting, or implying that the vitamin tablet caused it. Empathy doesn’t always increase legal risk, but no-empathy responses from customer service agents always harm a company’s rapport with customers.

They’re Stressed And Overworked 

Empathy requires poise, wordcraft, and humanity. When customer service agents are overworked, they simply can’t muster up empathy in the moment. Even the most empathy-willing agents will struggle to show empathy when they’re drowning in phone calls, emails, chats, and tweets. When they’re overburdened, agents may simply lose their capacity to feel empathy at all.

Responding with Empathy: 20 Ways to Show Stressed Out Customers You Care

To make empathizing easier, I’ve pulled together a list of a total of 20 ways to empathize with customers. Please adapt these empathy statements so they work with your company’s products or services. Please share them with your team of customer service agents to make their jobs just a bit easier and their customers a bit happier. 

10 Empathy Statements You Can Copy And Paste 

  1. I would be upset too.
  2. I realize how complicated it is to …
  3. I can imagine how frustrating that would be.
  4. That would be disappointing, especially when [paraphrase the customer’s perspective or efforts] …
  5. We want to understand what happened just as much as you do.
  6. I can see why that made you angry.
  7. This situation is unacceptable to us, too.
  8. If I were in your situation, I would feel exactly the same way you do.
  9. As a [insert parent, traveler, baseball fan, hay fever sufferer, etc.] myself, I understand why you contacted us today!
  10. If I were in your situation, I would be asking the same questions you are.

Related Article: 31 Empathy Statements to Improve Your Customer Service Today

Four Indirect Empathy Statements To Use When You Can’t Fully Agree With The Customer’s Perspective

Sometimes it’s difficult to empathize because the customer’s emotions are waaaay  over the top or their complaint is just plain wrong. In these situations, you may want to offer indirect empathy that focuses on the customer’s behavior, such as following up, instead of the accuracy of their complaint. 

11.  I can understand why you have followed up on this issue.
12.  I do realize that the [insert task name] process can be time-consuming.
13.  It certainly makes sense that you contacted me again to ask about this.|
14.  I’m so glad you let us know about this.

Five Short-And-Sweet Empathy Statements To Use In Social Media

15.  Oh no!
16.  That’s not right!
17.  That’s not what we like to hear!
18.  We’ve let you down, and we never want to do that.
19.  Yikes! That’s not how we want our customers to feel.

One Additional Strategy For Writing With Empathy

20. Reuse the customer’s own words.

If a customer complains that the adapter video cable they bought from your company was flimsy, use the word flimsy in your response. You’ll demonstrate that you’ve read the complaint carefully and your reuse of the customer’s words shows empathy for their perspective. 

While sincere empathy comes from the heart, practical expressions of empathy in customer support and service situations can come right from this article. To make their jobs easier, please share this list with the customer service heroes on your team. 

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