How Empathy Training Benefits Workplaces
What is Empathy Training?
There are a couple of different ways to understand empathy training. One is the strict textbook definition: empathy training is a way that companies help their customer-facing employees learn how to listen, connect, and respond to customers with compassion and understanding.
The other is a more human definition: empathy training helps customer-facing employees see their customers as human beings. That’s important for people who work in challenging environments, such as call centers, sales, collections, or fraud detection. They are working with a lot of people who are trying to solve problems, and it becomes easy to see customers simply as problems to be solved.
An empathy training program is conducted by running employees through simulated situations and helping them adjust their language and tone to be more warm, open, and understanding of what customers need. It gives them the language they need to demonstrate empathy to customers.
Empathy training makes it easier for employees to remember that they are dealing with people. This helps them do their jobs better, raises morale, decreases attrition, and elevates the reputation of their company.
Empathy vs. Sympathy
Sympathy and empathy are two different things. Sympathy is a more passive, inward feeling: you hear that something bad is happening and you feel bad about it. There’s nothing wrong with it, and sympathy is often a spur for action.
Empathy, on the other hand, is the active effort of putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. It is working to understand their problems and relate to them. That is, you are seeing someone else as a full and complete person, and that is a pathway toward understanding problems and treating them with compassion.
It’s easy to see why this is important. When someone talks to a customer service agent, they might want sympathy. But what they need is to have their problems solved.
Empathy Training in Practice
“Empathy” is somewhat easy to define, but organizations have trouble with empathy training. The reason why is pretty clear: it is hard to ask someone to care more about people. Or it seems hard to develop empathy. You might think that some people have emotional intelligence, and some don’t. But the problem doesn’t come from employees not caring. It comes from the structure of the job and the nature of their training.
Empathy training in practice is a pretty simple formula:
- Help employees understand all the straightforward aspects of their job
- Give them extra training in unexpected circumstances
Think of a customer calling about an unexpected late fee. The agent is trained on how to look up their account and explain to them why they got the fee (I.e., they were late in a payment). The training gives them the tools to use existing technology to solve the problem. Sounds easy!
But of course, it isn’t that easy. They are more likely to give reasons for why they didn’t, and might be upset, stressed, or even scared depending on their circumstances.
The employee could respond in a couple of ways. Imagine that the customer said they forgot to pay their bill because their mom was in the hospital for a few days and it was really stressful and they just didn’t remember. There are a few ways that the agent can respond.
- “The bill was still due, you have a late fee.”
- “Let me get a manager, you can talk to them.”
- “Oh, I am so sorry to hear that, and hope she is doing better. I know how stressful that can be. I am not able to change the fee on my own, but let me connect you with my manager, I think she’ll be able to give you the help you need.”
Now, obviously, the first one is a pretty terrible way to handle it. The interesting thing is that the second and third are, practically speaking, the exact same response. The employee doesn’t have the power to change the situation, so they are talking to someone who does.
But there is obviously a huge difference to the customer. In the first, the caller is rather impersonally being sent to someone else, where they may just have to start over. They are just someone who no one wants to deal with. In the second, they are human beings, and their problems are being heard and understood. Even if the employee themself can’t solve their problem, they are treating them like human beings.
There are people who are inherently empathetic. There are people who would be but have to work with hundreds of calls a week and are tired, and just stick to the script.
Empathy training helps them expand their script and make it more human.
The Benefits of Empathy Training
Empathy training has a lot of positive benefits for companies that employ it. These include:
- Reputation management.
Think of the customer above. If their problem is solved, they are relieved. If it is solved and they were treated well? They’ll feel better about the company. They won’t complain online, and might even leave positive reviews.
- More loyalty
A Harvard Business Review article says that the 10 most empathetic companies increased their value twice as much as the bottom 10 companies, generating generating 50% more earnings.
- Decreased attrition
No employee likes to have difficult interactions. By understanding how to employ empathy, they can have better calls. Not only that, but they interact better with other team members. This reduces stress and reduces employee turnover.
Happier customers. Happier employees. Better mental health. More organizational morale. Empathy skills training benefits everyone.
Empathy Training for Different Applications
Empathy training can be used in a variety of fields. This includes:
- Sales: Agents learn how to identify pain points and overcome objections
- Customer Service: Agents learn how to understand problems and offer solutions
- Fraud: Agents learn how to sensitively ask the right questions to certify identification
- Collections: Agents learn how to kindly work with people dealing with stressful situations
How Empathy Training Can Be Automated
Though the goal is to get employees to be more human, you don’t always need a human to run the training. Sophisticated AI coaching platforms can guide employees through complicated situations. The platform can employ a script where a “customer” throws challenging questions and emotional situations at them. This will mimic real-world examples and give the employee a chance to try new skills without the risk of upsetting a real customer.
Not only can the AI coaching platform offer the simulation, but it can guide the employee. It can detect tone and demonstrate where employees had a chance to be more empathetic. It can report both successes and show managers where employees need more direct guidance.
It’s how artificial intelligence can create real human empathy.