We dined out this weekend. Great food; “blah” service. Our server was polite, but everything she said came out as if scripted, inauthentic. She greeted all our comments with one word: “fantastic”. I finally figured out why this bothered me — she had no empathy.  At one point she asked about the salad. I told her the salad wasn’t that great but the wine was very good. To this, she replied: (you guessed it) “fantastic,” and offered to just take the salad away — no apology, no acknowledgment, no options offered. I guess that scenario wasn’t on her script.

So I am again writing about empathy – an essential skill if you have anything at all to do with a customer – and this means all of us! 

Why is empathy so important?  Because no matter how brilliant, tech savvy or knowledgeable your staff is, if they cannot empathize, the customer feels they don’t care. No matter how you manage to impress your customers … if your staff doesn’t really care about them, your customers won’t care about you, or whether or not you are still in business next year. When your employees fail to empathize with customers, you miss a huge opportunity to build right relationship.

Especially in call centers, medical offices, spas — places where expectations are high and people feel vulnerable … we must train staff to convey to the customer that they understand them and truly care to resolve their issues.

Here’s what empathy is like: affinity; appreciation; compassion; insight; rapport; warmth; insight; comprehension.

Here’s what empathy is NOT: apathy; misunderstanding; unfeelingness.

At times, call center reps tell me they can’t “do” Empathy. That it’s just not who they are. This amazes me. So I ask them, “Who in your life do you love and appreciate? Suppose they call you to tell you an awful thing has happened to them with your product or service. Would you be able to feel badly for them and tell them so?  Sure you would!”  Everyone has the ability to empathize. It’s just easier not to. It’s easier to rely on the script so you don’t have to involve yourself. But until you do just that, the customer perceives your service as inauthentic, unfeeling, uncaring.

When handling strong emotion or angry customers empathy is key. Unless we convey to our customer that we completely get what’s going on and we feel for them in an authentic way they will never feel satisfied. To be heard, respected is a basic need. Nothing else but empathy can immediately deflate a hurt ego, defuse anger and be a release valve in highly charged situations. Empathy is not a “nice-to-have;” it is a must in building strong customer relations.

Have you experienced empathy or lack thereof in customer service?