Is Empathy the Secret to Incredible Customer Service?

August 22, 2013  |  Posted by in Customer Service

While employees certainly need to be versed in their company’s policies, there are times when going above and beyond for the customer requires acting on empathy. The rules are in place for a reason, but businesses that give their staff the ability to occasionally bend them when necessary are likely to reap the benefits in terms of client loyalty. Given excellent customer service training as a foundation, any professional can tune into others’ emotions and create memorable experiences.

In an article for MoneyWatch, Michael Hess gave an excellent example of the power of empathy in customer service in an interaction he had with fast food restaurant Wolfgang Puck Express. Hess recalled a recent incident in which his young son, who was flying home from summer camp alone, called to say he was hungry and out of money. Hess tried to help the boy find a restaurant that would take his credit card number over the phone without much luck – until he phoned the airport’s Wolfgang Puck Express.

When Hess called asking if he could pay for his son’s food over the phone, the associate on the other line told him there was no way to do so. Just when Hess thought he’d hit another roadblock, the employee added that the restaurant would provide a meal to the child on the house. Though Hess insisted he pay, the staff member simply asked that Hess lend a favor to someone else instead.

Hess noted that what helped the eatery successfully take advantage of this opportunity to provide great customer service was the staff member’s determination to find an answer other than “no.” While it would have been simple to just deny Hess’ request, Wolfgang Puck Express acted with empathy instead, and this led to an impactful encounter.

Rediscover empathy
Walter Chen, co-creator of performance management tool iDoneThis, wrote on the Blog that empathy is among the most important lost arts in customer service today, and this applies to all industries. Chen pointed out that when a company makes developing this quality a priority, its staff members are more likely to notice distress in others and offer help. This can also be rewarding for employees, as assisting clients in times of need may be gratifying on a more intrinsic level. When professionals reach out to others and solve their problems by listening, they feel good about what they do, and this will spur them to keep working hard.

Emotional intelligence can be developed. If companies supply their employees with customer service training that focuses on the critical role the human element plays in wowing clients, leaders can enable a culture of truly extraordinary, client-centric performance.

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