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Customer
empathy: How do
you empathize
with a customer
to improve CX?

Author: Shane Schick

You may know how to provide products and services, but how do you empathize with a customer in order to be proactive and truly understand their needs?

As more organizations shift from simply supplying goods to creating an outstanding overall customer experience (CX), empathy in customer service has become a key building block, as it helps identify the emotions behind the everyday interactions of a business.

If a customer can't figure out how to complete an e-commerce transaction on a retailer's site, for instance, they might feel frustrated and give up. If working with a service agent to resolve a troubleshooting issue takes too long, they could get so angry they never do business with the company again. That's why it's essential organizations ask themselves, "How do you empathize with a customer?"

Sympathy vs. empathy

Simply expressing sympathy—recognizing that a customer may have had a negative experience—is not enough to make meaningful improvements.

Empathy, by contrast, is defined as both understanding and sharing the feelings of another person. It means taking the time to try and put yourself in the customer's place and change experiences accordingly.

When most interactions between companies and their customers were in person, employees might have developed empathy naturally by taking note of body language or other subtle cues.

Today, however, customers are mostly interacting across digital channels, which means companies have to be more intentional about building empathy across all levels of their team.

A company that empathizes with the uncertainty, fear or irritation that might come up in the course of buying or troubleshooting a product is in a better position to streamline the customer journey. That can lead to increased revenue as well as a boost in long-term customer loyalty.

So how do you empathize with a customer? One of the best practices is to map it out. But that leads to another question: What is a customer empathy map, exactly?

What is a customer empathy map?

Imagine someone who applies for a bank loan online. On the surface, the journey is simple: The customer researches a number of banking websites, chooses one, fills out a form and then waits to see if they are approved.

What might not be obvious is that the customer feels daunted by all the possible financial institutions to choose from. They may be nervous about their credit history as they fill out the application. The longer they wait for a response, the more anxious they become.

So, what is a customer empathy map going to achieve? Rather than respond sympathetically or with compassion, mapping customer empathy is a way of getting ahead of those emotional reactions by considering CX across multiple different areas.

At each point in the journey, for example, try to understand:

  • What the customer sees or hears: Does the website make it easy to understand what's involved in applying for a loan? If they call a contact center, what will agents tell them, and in what tone?
  • What the customer does: How many steps will a customer need to take to get what they want (like a loan)? How long will the process be? What kind of additional questions might they have to answer for themselves before they can confidently move forward? What will they likely do after they've interacted with the company?
  • What the customer thinks and feels: It's not just a question of whether customers are happy or satisfied. What kind of impression has the company made based on the experience that has been delivered? Does the customer feel confident about their choice, or are they worried? Do they feel their needs have been fully met, and that they have an easy way to offer more feedback or follow up? 

How do you empathize with a customer?

Next up: How do you empathize with a customer on a day-to-day basis? And how do you empathize with a customer when you have hundreds of them or more? Demonstrating customer empathy can be difficult to do at scale when you're serving large numbers of customers, but there are plenty of technologies available today that can help.

These include customer service applications that identify customer sentiment over phone calls, email, social media and other channels. Surveys are another simple but effective mechanism for informing a customer empathy map, as long as you ask the right questions.

Companies can also learn a lot about empathy by going through the exact same journeys as their customers. Senior executives should think about seeing what it's like to buy online from their own firm, for instance, or to sign up for a service their company offers. Mid-level managers and those on the front lines could do the same thing.

An empathetic approach might lead to new policies and changes in the way agents are trained so they are empowered to do what is necessary to solve problems or salvage an experience that went sour.

Remember that empathy works best when customers see you're practicing it. Marketing campaigns about changes in products, policies and digital experiences should all clearly communicate how you're trying to share their feelings.

Finally, think about tapping into the experience of third parties, such as a managed service provider who knows how empathy can be woven into the customer experience. If significantly enhancing CX feels daunting, they can probably empathize.

Discover how Verizon's end-to-end CX and contact center services can help you build brand-defining customer experiences and drive measurable results.