Customer Service is About Empathy

I stumbled upon two approaches to customer service today. One was written from the perspective of a consumer. An entrepreneur speaking to sales professionals on behalf of prospects, wrote the other. Each spoke to the critical nature of empathy, defined as “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.”


Customers are the lifeblood of business

Treat customers and prospects with loyalty and respect, even when things don’t begin well, or somehow go awry midstream. That is how to make them stay. Most customers won’t tell their stories, either the good ones or the other ones. In either case way, there’s a bottom-line impact; only four percent of dissatisfied customers ever complain. The remaining 96% walk away, and not quietly. A recent study by the White House Office of Consumer Affairs found that bad news travels fast; for every person that hears praise about your business, two will hear a bad customer service story.

Of TVs, Ghosts…

Let’s start with the customer perspective. Les Raff, writing at ChicagoNow, shares parallel scenarios in his article entitled “Customer Service-This is Why We Will Go Back to Abt, but Not to IKEA.” In the former case, a “ghost in the machine” prevented communication across his cable network. Several TV and Cable repair people attempted to resolve the problem that appeared connected to his recent acquisition of a new TV, but to no avail. Having purchased from a local retailer, in abject frustration Dr. and Mrs. Raff walked into the retailer’s location and explained the problem. He described a sales professional who “listened patiently and suggested a remedy.”
By empathizing with his customer’s problem, not only were they able to achieve a mutually successful resolution, but the salesperson additionally upsold while the buyers walked away with a great customer service success story. As Les describes it, “good service and smiles all around.”


…and that Flat Pack Place

In the latter scenario not too long after, the Raffs settled upon an IKEA bookshelf unit to address storage and organization in a new space. Having decided in favor of delivery and set up, imagine their dismay upon discovering that company policy prevented IKEA contractors from completing the install. Furthermore, when they requested that the unit be left behind so they could tackle the project themselves, we’re advised, “rules are we have to take these back to the store, where they will probably be thrown out.” Apparently, not one sale or service person at IKEA bothered to ask appropriate qualifying questions before delivery and installation. It’s been a few weeks, and neither has the situation been resolved NOR have they received a refund. Read the full article here.

He Just Doesn’t Understand Salespeople

Two hours later I found myself reading Gary Vaynerchuk’s account of the role of empathy in the sales process. Gary is CEO of full service digital agency Vaynermedia.  He invites us to undertake a conversation about the role of empathy in the sales cycle. He argues that empathy, the capacity to put oneself in the customer’s shoes, is a necessity. He challenges salespeople to deply empathy by having every decision they make be about or for the benefit of the customer. His explanation is simple,

They’re not stupid. They do understand something. That’s why they’ve chosen to do business with you. They don’t get it the way you want it, cause usually it’s for you. They get it the way they want it because they are thinking of themselves! So when you are trying to make a sale, consider what they actually need.


Empathy is Much Broader than Just Being Nice

His argument is so much broader than just being nice. Having empathetic conversations according to Gary might be the key to converting a lead into a close.

Do you really know their business? Do you really have any idea what this campaign means to them? Do you really know that if this ad doesn’t convert, the CMO is going to get fired? Or that the company will lose millions of dollars or that the five other companies the CEO is friends with will never do business with you? You have to be massively empathetic. You don’t know!!… And unless you are coming from a genuine place of wanting to help someone, you are going to lose.


So What??

Why does any of this matter? It matters because according to author Kristin Smaby, “Being Human is Good Business.” Customer feedback in her assessment is larger than “just sharing pain points. They’re actually teaching you how to make your product, service, and business better. Your customer service organization should be designed to efficiently communicate those issues.”
Jayson Boyers, writing for agrees.

“Though the concept of empathy might contradict the modern concept of a traditional workplace—competitive, cutthroat, and with employees climbing over each other to reach the top— the reality is that for business leaders to experience success, they need to not just see or hear the activity around them, but also relate to the people they serve.”


Customer Service, or Relating to the People We Serve

Remember our core belief, that customers are the lifeblood of business. If we believe that to be true, then we must invest in nurturing those relationships. Never forget, there is always somewhere else our customers could go. Don’t be fooled, no matter how unique or innovative your product or service, it is always the customer’s choice to at the very least, walk away and do without.
Fast Company magazine articulating, “Why Genuine Empathy is Good for Business” declares that feeling customer’s pains before they do is a core competency for a successful business. It is not the sole core competency. Jeff Booth writes,
“Just feeling customers’ pain isn’t enough. Too many entrepreneurs get this far only to slap a quick fix on an existing problem, masking the issue but never getting to its root. Real empathy requires going beyond the Band-Aid solution and investing in an actual cure. It’s rarely easy, and the process of getting at the core problem is sometimes costly and full of wrong starts, but it’s where true innovation comes from and can reap huge rewards.”

The Cost of Doing Customer Service Wrong

Genuine empathy requires an investment of time. Investing entails relationship and a desire for long-term engagement. Here’s where the metrics matter. What’s the difference between acquiring a new customer and maintaining an existing relationship? While there are no hard and fast numbers, according to one expert “most sources say the answer is that it costs between 4 and 10 times more to acquire a new customer than it does to keep an existing one. Some sources say the cost of acquiring a new customer is over 30 times that of keeping an existing one.”
Isn’t that a compelling reason to care deeply?

The Benefit of Doing Customer Service Right

Do you listen to your customers? Are you available to them as a resource and a sounding board? Does it matter to you where their businesses or lives are going? Do you want to be alongside them for the journey? Do you have structures and processes in place to turn your loyalists into evangelists?
Whether things are going well or just going, make it a practice to take full responsibility for your existing relationships, along with the ones you intend to cultivate. Know and live out your value proposition.
When things go wrong, Listen.
When things go wrong, Take Ownership.
When things go wrong, Fix Them.

Be Obsessive about Genuine Gratitude

Finally, be obsessive about genuine gratitude. Say “thank you,” because you can never say “thank you” enough. Adding these simple steps to your sales and customer service process may not prevent mistakes from happening, but will go a long way in establishing credibility and confidence in your business.
Remember, “Being Human is Good Business
“Customer service, by definition, is about serving people; it should be genuine, personalized, and compassionate—or, simply put, human. For most organizations, customer service is an afterthought. And since servicing customers is primarily viewed as a cost center, customers are often treated as a liability. Yet, customers are a valuable resource: their feedback is integral to shaping your product and building your brand… A human-centric customer service model revolves around people. Every component of the solution is humanized, acknowledging that customers and agents are real people with daily life struggles like the rest of us.”