Delivering empathetic conversations is a key driver of brand perception. Research from 2015 shows, “The top 10 companies in the Global Empathy Index 2015 increased in value more than twice as much as the bottom 10 and generated 50% more earnings.”
As the co-founder and CEO of a company focused on developing top-performing customer-facing teams, I know that empathy leads to a better customer experience. A study found that companies earning $1 billion annually could gain $775 million more over three years by modestly improving the experience they deliver to customers.
The Importance Of Empathy
According to Freshdesk, “Empathy is the ability to have a human interaction with a customer where you intentionally put yourself in the customer’s shoes to understand their issue and find the best possible solution.” Studies show that empathy drives brand perception, with about 70% of consumers preferring human interaction for personalized empathetic experiences. But empathy is not always second nature to human beings, including contact center agents. Some agents struggle to deliver service with empathy by applying critical soft skills that allow customers to feel heard and understood.
The 70-20-10 model shows that people learn 10% from studying formal learning materials, 20% from listening—such as interacting with co-workers and managers—and the remaining 70% from hands-on practice. People have been mastering complex skills through hands-on learning since the beginning of time, ranging from athletes practicing before competing, musicians mastering an instrument through repetition, and pilots learning how to fly a plane in a flight simulator before flying a real plane for the first time.
In my experience, the most effective way contact center agents can master empathy today is by practicing real-life call scenarios before talking with live customers. The tendency for many agents is to jump directly into problem-solving without first acknowledging the customer’s hardship. Through soft skill practice, agents can internalize and deliver personalized empathetic customer experiences at scale.
I have seen first-hand how leading brands transform CSAT and NPS scores from agents practicing soft skills such as acknowledging with empathy, removing isolation and responding with compassion. Following are some soft skill examples that agents can incorporate into their own DNA with practice.
Acknowledge the customer.
- “I’m so sorry you are having difficulty…”
- “I’m sorry to hear that you broke your leg. I can only imagine how hard that must be for you.”
- “I apologize, Ms. Smith. I can only imagine how frustrating that must be.”
Remove the customer’s feeling of isolation.
- “The good news is we have helped many customers in your difficult situation get to a much better place, and I’m confident we can do the same for you.”
Reassure the customer.
- “You have called the right person, Ms. Smith.”
- “I can certainly help you with that.
Transition the conversation to problem resolution.
- “Are you okay if I ask you a few questions to learn more about your needs?”
When Empathetic Customer Experiences Matter Most
Covid-19 presented a major challenge for managers and agents, as contact centers were flooded with calls from people dealing with upsetting situations. Empathy quickly became the contact center leader’s top priority as the entire world was experiencing trying times. Training leaders asked agents to put themselves in their customer’s shoes, and knowing the power of hands-on learning, they quickly initiated virtual role-plays and side-by-sides to strengthen agent soft skills. The lessons learned from contact center leaders and trainers adapting their response to pandemic-induced stress and anxiety is that the age-old discipline of practice works to help people quickly master new soft skills.
However, their experience also reaffirmed the common problems that come from practicing with another human being: that it is difficult to scale and can be awkward for many people. With training approaches like AI conversation simulation and in-house and external training programs, agents are mastering empathetic engagements through hands-on experiential learning before interacting with live customers. (Disclosure: My company provides AI conversation simulation.)
It’s important to practice, make mistakes and build confidence in a safe environment without the live customer risk. Make sure your training program offers empathy skills training as part of the core curriculum. Virtually every customer interaction is now recorded and available on-demand—listen to these recordings to identify good and bad examples of customer empathy.
Learning to consistently deliver empathetic customer experiences is at the heart of delivering service with a smile. With practice and focus, agents can learn to be empathetic just as they learn other skills. And organizations deploying leading methods helping agents master complex soft skills at scale can transform their CSAT and NPS performance.
The original article appeared on Forbes.
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As an experienced contact center leader, Brian understands how today’s automation is leaving agents with the most demanding problems to solve. Brian is the Cofounder & CEO of Zenarate, the world leader in developing confident top-performing agents through AI simulation training, live call analysis, and personalized simulation coaching.