4 Steps to Move Toward Real Empathy in Your Customer Service

There's been a lot of talk about empathy in customer service today. Empathy is about listening to and understanding customers and treating them with care and respect. That has obviously been in the forefront recently, as fear, stress, and uncertainty have impacted both customers and employees.

However, for all the talk about empathy, simply integrating channels and ticking the empathy training checkbox are not enough. To truly walk the empathy walk, customer service needs to make not just cosmetic changes but organizational ones to ensure empathy is more than a passing notion.

Here are four steps you can take to make empathy matter in your contact center:

1. Incentivize empathy.

Who&'s on your leaderboard for empathy today? While most of us believe empathy is important, agents who are only measured on call time resolution and limiting escalations are being told a transactional mindset, not an empathy-driven one, is the best way to do their jobs. Incorporating metrics that measure not just efficiency but listening, understanding, and relating to customers are critical if agents are expected to believe empathy is important. Beyond average handle time and first call resolutions, agents should be measured and rewarded, not penalized, for taking time to listen and going off script when needed to understand and relate to customers.

2. Measure interactions.

How do you measure interactions for empathy? First, service operations need call monitoring at scale that assesses how well agents are listening. This can be accomplished with sentiment analysis, or even simpler metrics, such as how long it takes an agent to speed through the "I'm sorry you're having a problem" part of the script, or how consistently they complete calls with the open "Is there anything else I can help you with today?" instead of closed "Thank you for calling." language. Second, post-interaction customer surveys need to be offered to every customer and reflect the goal of empathy, asking not just about resolution of issues but about how customers felt about their interaction and why.

3. Route calls based on more than timing.

Some agents connect better with some types of customers than others. It's time to recognize those differences and ensure call routing reflects not just service or product expertise but the need for customers to connect with someone who talks and listens in a way to which they can relate. This is not about profiling. Instead, it's about understanding both agent and customer preferences and routing calls accordingly. For agents, this can be as simple as a giving self-assessment about areas such as their level of patience, willingness to make small talk, and level of desire to solve complex problems, and including attitudinal-based routing along with skill and other routing rules.

4. Treat agents with empathy.

A better agent experience makes for a better customer experience, and empathy for agents goes a long way. Greater scheduling flexibility, offering opportunities for training and career advancement that go beyond the contact center, and call monitoring that addresses agent fatigue and wellness are a few steps call center leaders are taking today to deliver a more empathetic employee environment. On a broader operational level, providing agents with modern tools and integrations that reduce chair swivels, and collaboration capabilities that help them both connect with other agents and get help when needed are key steps.

It's not surprising that organizations are talking more about customer service empathy today. As we all talk about empathy, an integrated view across customers and channels is only the first step. Embracing empathy in customer service interactions must go beyond the technology and the lip service to ensure both agents and customers get the empathy they need to drive greater agent and customer loyalty.

Rebecca Wettemann is CEO and principal of Valoir.