Showing empathy to customers takes more than words, it also takes imagination. It’s not enough to utter a few well meant clichés, hoping this will placate an upset or angry customer. People working in customer service need to make the mental stretch and try to imagine what it is like to travel in the customer’s shoes.
When a customer is aggrieved or has had a negative experience, the most important thing for them is to feel that their point of view has been heard and understood. The worst thing that can be done is to fob the customer off with a few pat expressions, or not take their grievance seriously at all. Even if all the right things are being said, a poor tone of voice can result in poor customer service. Therefore it’s important that the customer can feel genuine sympathy when they speak to a customer service representative.
The customer might not always be right. Indeed, sometimes the customer may be very much in the wrong. For example, a missed payment on a credit card may have put an account into arrears, resulting in a declined purchase at a busy store. An embarrassing situation is the unhappy result. Suddenly the customer calls in a rage, feeling humiliated. The job here is not to tell the customer that they are to blame for having missed making the payment on time, but to try to understand their emotions and respond to them. Often in this situation, where a late payment on an account has resulted in credit being abruptly cut off, the customer can feel belittled and reduced. These feelings need to be addressed, allowing the customer to feel like they have been heard and their negative experience understood.
It takes character on the part of the service provider to keep calm when confronted with an angry customer. The very human response is to be defensive, and return aggression with aggression. Employees need to train themselves to control their emotions, to take a step back, breathe deeply, and let the unhappy customer get everything off his or her chest.
The three main points to remember when serving an angry or upset customer are:
- listen quietly and carefully to their complaints, without interrupting at all;
- remain polite and show respect, no matter how hostile the customer becomes; and
- maintain a sympathetic and even tone of voice. Never raise your voice.
In most circumstances, a customer who is rude but only receives civility and understanding in return, will find it difficult to keep up their aggressive behaviour. It’s hard not to feel ill-mannered when you are continually being treated decently and with respect.
Empathy Statements for Customer Service Representatives
The following are helpful empathy statements that can be used to diffuse potentially explosive customer service situations.
- “We always appreciate customers who take the time to give us their feedback. I’ll pass what you’ve said onto our management team.”
- “Thanks for alerting us to the bad service you have received. What can I do to help fix the situation?”
- “I’m sorry you’ve had such a bad experience. I’d like to try and help.”
- “I can completely understand. If that happened to me I’d be really upset too. I can imagine how frustrating that must be.”
- “What’s happened to you is unacceptable and against company policy. Let me consult a supervisor to see if there is anything extra we can do to help.”
- “It’s perfectly understandable that you’re very upset about what’s happened.”
- “The same thing happened to me only recently, so I can see why you’re angry. It’s a terrible inconvenience. Let me try and see what I can do to rectify the problem.”
- “We don’t like to see our customers upset and inconvenienced. We always strive to create a positive customer experience.”
Working with angry or upset customers requires a high sensitivity to other people’s feelings, even when the customer is in the wrong. By not taking abuse personally, taking a step back mentally, and striving to understand why a customer feels humiliated or wronged, a dissatisfied customer can be turned into a satisfied one.