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Article 13 min read

What is customer empathy? Tips and importance

Customer empathy is the ability to see things from the customer’s perspective. Walking a mile in your buyers’ shoes can have big-time business value.

著者: Tara Ramroop, Staff Writer

更新日: May 7, 2024

Customer empathy is more than a buzzword. It’s a critical differentiator in an increasingly competitive business landscape as well as an essential tool for people in customer-facing roles. Any company that’s committed to customer-centricity should practice customer empathy consistently—the results will speak for themselves.

What is customer empathy?

Customer empathy is the ability to see things from the customer’s perspective. Empathy in customer service means that you can put yourself in buyers’ shoes and understand their pain points. As a business, it is the ability to understand what a consumer experiences when they use your products or services.

Whether a customer’s experience is good, bad, or somewhere in between, empathy helps build trust and an emotional connection between that customer and the company. It can help a support agent deal with an angry customer, for example. But empathy isn’t just important for customer-facing jobs or when customer emotions run high. Rather, practicing customer empathy is necessary for all roles across an organization.

Being truly customer-centric means encouraging everyone in the company, from product managers to content marketers, to think about everything they do from a consumer’s point of view. Building customer empathy throughout a business can lead to better products, a superior customer experience, and greater customer satisfaction.

Why empathy is important in customer service

Customer empathy can help define a company’s products or services and its approach to marketing, training, or industry leadership. This can be a good thing. The products or services a company provides must effectively solve customers’ problems—otherwise, customers will leave for competitors who understand them better (in other words, competitors who have more empathy for the customer experience).

The line is also blurred between what customers want transactionally and what they expect as human beings in a big, confusing world. Companies are now expected to act as agents of change.

More and more consumers—especially Millennials and Zoomers—want to funnel their dollars into socially responsible companies. And according to McKinsey, “leading organizations are reorienting their customer-experience efforts to meet their customers’ primary needs, such as safety, security, and everyday convenience.” Through empathy, businesses are attempting to build a foundation for long-term emotional connections with their customers.

Leading organizations are reorienting their customer-experience efforts to meet their customers’ primary needs, such as safety, security, and everyday convenience.

Both indicate that empathy at large—for the environment, for a diverse customer base, and for the people within a company’s own walls—is another business imperative.

Customer support is often the first team we think of when customer empathy comes up. Empathy can be used to improve many stressful situations, for example:

  • Navigating a confusing phone tree in the wake of an emergency room visit or a stolen credit card

  • Clicking through an online help center that provides little in the way of help

  • Standing among delayed passengers at an airport gate, refreshing the airline app for updates, and demanding answers from harried staff

We all know these experiences, having lived through them or similar ones as consumers. But even the best training and technology can’t prevent these too-familiar situations. This is where customer empathy comes into play.

The mere act of acknowledging that we’ve had comparable experiences is the first step in cultivating a sense of customer empathy. Remembering what it is like in those moments helps a customer service representative see problems as opportunities to repair the customer relationship in both the short- and long-term.

The mere act of acknowledging that we’ve had comparable experiences is the first step in cultivating a sense of customer empathy.

Many of the most important customer service skills that managers look for are also empathy-building skills. These soft skills are essential for support teams to deliver top-notch customer experiences.

Tips for building customer empathy

Quote from Donna Haddigan, Senior Director of Client Support at Talkspace

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We’ve heard the stories of companies going above and beyond to show customer appreciation. A New Hampshire arcade moved a pinball machine outside so a longtime customer with a heart condition could play without risking exposure to COVID-19. Trader Joe’s employees sang and danced to calm a crying toddler in the checkout line.

While those stories are heartwarming, customer empathy ultimately comes down to the actions a company takes every day to ensure each customer feels heard, understood, and valued. Here are a few ways to build customer empathy.

  • Make support easy to reach

  • Provide fast resolutions

  • Act on customer feedback

  • Build relationships through personalization

  • Support causes that customers care about

  • Focus on the human touch

  • Provide empathy training

  • Invest in the employee experience

Free customer experience guide

Find out how to create great customer experiences that will lead to loyal customers, improved word-of-mouth promotion, and increased revenue.

Empathy statements for customer service

Empathy statements are one way for support agents and associates to build trust with consumers.

Communicating with empathy helps inform and calm customers, which is especially important in challenging times. For instance, during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Edelman’s Trust Barometer report found that 83 percent of people expected brands to “issue public statements expressing empathy and support.”

Empathetic statements demonstrate that:

  • The support agent understands the problem and what the customer might be thinking and feeling as a result.

  • The agent is willing and able to help the customer reach a resolution.

Here are some examples of empathy statements:

  • “I’m sorry you’ve experienced this.”

  • “This has happened to me, too.”

  • “That’s so frustrating.”

  • “I’m here and ready to help.”

There are many ways to personalize your empathy statements. For example, an agent for a meal-kit company might mention how many meals the customer received and thank them for being a new customer or for being a loyal customer.

Below is an actual empathy statement from a meal subscription company. It did the trick by affirming the customer’s frustration and offering to dive in and help.

I am so sorry to hear your Box has not yet arrived! That would be incredibly frustrating and disappointing, and I deeply apologize for this. It would be my pleasure to assist you today!

The takeaways from this experience: Don’t mess with people’s dinner, and don’t forget to empathize.

That’s customer empathy as a solution. Now, let’s think about customer empathy as a feature of a team and a company.

Customer empathy examples

Modern mission statements or company stories often explain what didn’t exist before—be it in software or baby food—and how the founders took matters into their own hands to fill the gap or solve the problem. Learn more from founders and CEOs whose entire business plans include a heavy helping of customer empathy.

Hatch

Hatch founder and CEO Ariane Goldman wanted new and expectant mothers to feel beautiful and sexy. As a mom herself, she was all too familiar with the frumpy maternity clothes often found in stores, and she was tired of it. So, she started crafting chic, elevated clothing that women could wear before, during, and after pregnancy. At the 2020 National Retail Federation Big Show, Goldman explained that she was driven by her passion to create a support structure around the entire pregnancy experience.

Allbirds

Allbirds, a company that makes sustainable shoes and clothing, recently went all-in on supporting a cause that its customers also felt strongly about: helping healthcare workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Through its “We’re Better Together” campaign, the company introduced a buy-one-give-one program, which offered consumers a way to give back to the healthcare community. Customers could buy a pair of Allbirds’ popular Wool Runners for $60 (they normally cost $95) and donate a second pair to a medical worker. Allbirds donated shoes directly as well.

The campaign enabled Allbirds to not only demonstrate its customer-aligned values but also to get consumers actively involved in the charitable mission.

Lush

Bath, body, and haircare company Lush knows its customers care deeply about how the products they buy are created. So, the company released a series of “How It’s Made” videos to give consumers a behind-the-scenes look at how its products are sourced and manufactured.

Lush’s transparency is a great example of how to build customer trust through authenticity and empathy.

Zalando

Zalando understood that many of its customers were struggling with isolation and loneliness during the height of the pandemic. To demonstrate empathy, the shoe and fashion store launched its “We Will Hug Again” campaign. It offered hope during a challenging time and reassured customers that things would get better someday.

Through this campaign, Zalando empathetically and effectively used the best symbol of human connection and solidarity that exists: a hug.

Understanding the power of customer empathy

Everyone wants to be understood and heard, especially in times of uncertainty. Making customer empathy a key component of your customer service will help create positive experiences and build trust in your brand.

Acknowledge the fact that your customers might be going through difficult times, and instill this notion in your agents to establish a foundation for empathetic interactions. As a company, you have the ability and opportunity to brighten up someone’s day by treating them with compassion and respect. Understanding the impact of customer empathy will set you apart from the competition, strengthen your connections with customers, and ultimately boost your bottom line.

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