Deliver Service with More Empathy Today

The customer experience landscape today is awash with calls for more empathetic customer service: Understand your customers better and gain a 360-degree view so you can understand and personalize their experiences. Unfortunately, this approach, starting from the individual customer data, doesn't take into account the silos of information, multiple screens, and integration challenges most contact centers face today. We can probably all agree that customer service with empathy is important, but without knowing every aspect of every customer, how can you achieve empathy today?

The good news is there are steps you can take today to deliver service with more empathy without a major data integration effort. Rather than taking a bottom-up customer data approach, instead, take a top-down process approach, thinking about how you can make key interaction points more empathetic to customers.

Customers don't need you to pretend to feel their pain. Instead, they need you to show that you understand what they're experiencing and that you're being proactive in either acting or helping them to take action to resolve their problems. Here are simple steps you can take today to make processes and interactions more empathetic:

Make self-service better.

Now's the time to review and update your self-service capabilities. Improving self-service shows a better understanding of customer issues while reducing inbound calls and customer frustration. What are the top issues customers have for contacting you and how easy are their resolutions to find via simple text search on your Web site? Is Google better at delivering solutions to common customer issues than you are? Looking at rules-based or, even better, artificial intlligence-driven knowledge base tools that help both agents and customers quickly resolve issues will not only reduce calls to the contact center, it will help customers resolve issues themselves if they wish.

Be channel-authentic.

Customers interacting with your interactive voice response (IVR) system or automated bot should know they're not interacting with a human and that your goal is to get them the fastest resolution possible. Don't insult their intelligence by piping in typing in the background as the virtual agent searches for an answer, or pretend an automated bot is a real person. If your bot capabilities are limited, don't force customers down a decision tree. "Other" should always be an answer option, even if that leads customers out of the bot queue.

Give customers more and clearer channel options.

As customers become more comfortable with virtual interactions, integrating chat, co-browse, phone, and video lets customers choose which channel of interaction they want. You can always suggest a move to a better channel if the case warrants it. Your web site, contact center, and other customer interaction points should clearly present the options available to customers (including whether a chat is real or not) and the timeline for an expected response.

With IVR, give customers a clear path and an exit.

A key part of empathy is making customers feel that you're focused on helping them resolve their issues quickly. Rethink your IVR branching options (fewer choices are better) and delete the "Please listen carefully as our menu has changed" text. If you have more than four choices as the first step, you're doing something wrong. Beyond the first branch, you should begin giving customers an agent option. While this could result in a short-term uptick in calls routed to agents, it will pay off in customer satisfaction.

Give customers opportunities for feedback early and often.

Making customer feedback part of the overall process, encouraging them to vent, and welcoming criticism are all parts of empathetic service. Some of this can be accomplished with agent training ("Did you have any frustration in reaching me today?"), some with brief automated surveys. Asking for a mid-interaction pulse rating ("On a scale of 1-5, how has your service experience been so far?") and acknowledging the response goes a long way toward showing empathy.

The first step to providing more empathetic service isn't about having perfect data or even personalized service. It's about being proactive in solving customer issues and showing—not telling—your customers that your goal is to help them solve their issues as quickly as possible. Transparent, authentic interactions that give customers more visibility into how their problems will be solved let them drive the process, resulting in service with more empathy and greater customer satisfaction.

Rebecca Wettemann is CEO and principal at Valoir (, a technology industry analyst firm focused on the connection between people and technology in a modern digital workplace.