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Playbook

The Most Important Customer Service Skill You’ll Ever Need

January 30, 2017

Empathy and customer service

As technology alters the customer experience—through messaging apps, chatbots, and more—what place does empathy have in improving customer service? People who are new to management, or to the workforce itself, will find this very human attribute to be central to excellent customer service.

Playbook asked Denise C. Webster, president of WM Consultants, Inc. in Atlanta, Georgia, and a course leader for AMA, about the need for empathy in customer service. Webster teaches the AMA seminar Customer Service Excellence: How to Win and Keep Customers.

Why is empathy such an important skill in customer service?

Denise Webster: Empathy is described as the ability to share someone else’s feelings. It tells the other person you care, you understand, you wish to share their perspective on the situation. You reach the “core” of the customer’s psyche. This drives you to the base level of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, wherein you observe a customer’s human reactions and behavior with innate curiosity. You step into their shoes and become “one.” The more comfortable people become, the more they open up and share. This enhances correctness and accuracy in feedback and processing in problem solving.

How does a manager’s or employee’s ability to empathize improve the customer experience?

DW: Once you can open up and share, you obtain needed information through the feedback of questions and answers. The customer is willing to relax and process information better, while the customer service professional (or guru) can ask the pertinent questions that lead toward troubleshooting or problem solving. You can solve problems quicker, with less stress on both sides.

How can new managers and entry-level employees develop their empathy?

DW: People must first totally understand themselves before they can properly help others. Taking training assessments and education profile tests can set a base standard for each of us. Emotional intelligence training is a great example. Once you establish your “base,” you have a foundation to work on growth both personal and professional.

How does empathy coexist with the digital-age tools of customer service?

DW: As we create interactions in the digital world, we distance ourselves from face-to-face or true “pure” communication with our customers. Companies flood people with data instead of speaking upfront, face-to-face to get information. Software is being developed to create a more natural, real-life world experience with customers instead of a page of raw data. Robot assistants are taking a lead in this world of digital face-to-face. Proactive systems are being created to collect data and feed it to these robots to give the customer as much of a “human interaction” experience as possible.

Nothing will ever beat the real-life face-to-face. However, in this world of high-volume work orders and customer calls, robots will be our second family members who help us solve problems with our products on 800 lines and in internal and external customer service departments. Whether a robot can be created to show a customer true “empathy” on a customer service issue, well, we shall see!

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American Management Association is a world leader in professional development, advancing the skills of individuals to drive business success. AMA’s approach to improving performance combines experiential learning—“learning through doing”—with opportunities for ongoing professional growth at every step of one’s career journey. AMA supports the goals of individuals and organizations through a complete range of products and services, including seminars, Webcasts and podcasts, conferences, corporate and government solutions, business books and research.

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