Customer Service Skills: 7 Ways to Improve Your Empathy

customer service skills

Empathy is one of the core customer service skills. In fact, it’s one of the five principles of IT customer service success. Your leadership team may have talked about the importance of empathy for your customers. You’ve probably read many articles about the importance of empathy, but how can you improve your empathy?

Empathy is your ability to understand and share the feelings of another person. It’s about putting yourself in the other person’s position and imagining what you would want if you were them. There’s more to it, however, than just thinking about what you would want if you were them. You must consider what they want and need, based on their life experiences, influences, and beliefs. In other words, you must think about how they want and need to be treated in the moment, not just how you would want to be treated if you were them. As Brené Brown says, to fully empathize you must make a connection with the other person, it’s feeling with people.

Seven Ways to Improve Customer Service Skills Through Empathy

Don’t Judge

Sometimes, what you don’t do is as important as what you do. There is certainly a time and place for judging, but it’s not when you want to show empathy to another person. Their experience and their feelings about it are not something for you to judge. Accept that the other person has had different experiences from you and has different feelings from you. Your role in empathizing is not to evaluate their feelings. Your role is to accept the way the other person feels and to validate their feelings, even if you disagree with them.

Just Listen

Listen to the other person with the goal of understanding them. Again, you don’t have to agree with them. You simply listen. If you speak at all, it’s to acknowledge what they’re saying. You might ask questions to gain clarity on what happened or how they’re feeling. If you choose to ask questions, do so as a student, not as a prosecutor.

Imagine Their Perspective

Often, in teaching empathy, we talk about the importance of putting yourself in the other person’s position. That recalls the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” A better way to look at this is using the Platinum Rule, “Do unto others as they would have you do unto them.” In other words, the other person may not want the same thing as you. Think, for example, about a technical support session. You might prefer the support technician to just get to work to solve the problem. You might not want any small talk. Someone else, however, might want a more personal touch including a little chit-chat. To be fully empathetic, imagine the other person’s perspective. You can do that by mirroring their actions. If they initiate small talk, be prepared to respond accordingly. That’s a great example of customer service skills in action.

Remember Your Experiences

While being fully empathetic involves imagining the other person’s perspective, you must still recall your own experiences. Think of the times when you were frustrated, nervous, or scared. Recall how you felt at those times. Think about what helped you return to a more normal feeling. Think, also, about what wouldn’t have helped. Doing so may help you understand what the other person is feeling and provide some insights into words and actions you can use, bearing in mind that what worked for you may not necessarily be right for the other person.

Be Curious

Be curious about others. Try to learn about people who are different from you. Talk to new people. Engage in small talk while waiting in line. (Some people say they don’t have any use for small talk, but small talk is the prelude to big talk.) What are some of the life experiences of people who differ from you by language, dialect, heritage, economic status, race, gender, religion, or anything else. As before, don’t judge. Listen and learn.

Caring About the Other Person

Have compassion for others. That’s one of the most basic of customer service skills. Compassion is when you notice someone hurting and want to help. Be careful about making your compassion conditional on your judgment of the other person. Think instead about how you can make the other person’s experience a little bit better. Think about how you can make the world a little bit better. It doesn’t need to be big; it could be something as small as picking up a piece of trash.

Connecting: One Human-to-Another

Work on building relationships. Relationships can be intimate and deep, such as a marriage. They can also be brief and shallow such as when you provide technical support to an end-user. Regardless, work to ensure that the other person in the relationship is having a good experience, that you’re affecting them in a positive way. Connect with others one human to another.

Master Your Customer Service Skills

Your ability to master customer service skills is based on both technical competence and the ways in which you build relationships. Use these 7 ways to improve your empathy to help build more satisfying and fulfilling relationships with both your customers and your coworkers.

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