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  • Writer's pictureManish Nepal

The Psychology of Empathy and Why It’s a Superpower

empathy in business

COVID-19 pandemic has changed the world forever.

Businesses have never felt the need for embedding so much empathy in each of their interactions with customers.

Right now, it’s especially important for businesses to be empathetic while engaging with customers who are battling financial hardships and lingering uncertainty.

But what does it mean to be empathetic? How can you embed empathy into your customer service?

In the context of business, empathy means putting yourself in your customers’ shoes to better understand their frustrations—so that you can help them out meaningfully.

Empathy should be a non-negotiable part of your customer service because it not only helps you offer a remarkable customer experience, but it eventually leads you to improve customer satisfaction, brand loyalty, and retention.

In today’s hyper-competitive business landscape, empathy can be one of the advantages that can help you outdo your competition.

Everything else—your product, features, and pricing—are table stakes that everyone else offers with barely distinguishable differences.

The Psychology of Empathy In Customer Service

When done well, empathy is a psychological hack that can help your brand keep your customers loyal for the long-term.

Being empathetic can make your customers stick to your brand, or come back for more business, even if they had a few bad experiences.

Let’s look at the concept known at the peak-end rule to understand how and why empathy in your customer service can be a game-changer for your brand.

If you look at most of your customers’ journeys, the majority of them follow a strikingly-similar sequence of events to become your customers.

easy customer journey map

In the traditional marketing-speak, customer service is usually towards the tail-end of this buying cycle.

The peak-end rule says that most people don’t judge their experience as a whole. Instead, they remember the most significant (the peak) and most recent (the end) part of their experiences.

Think about your last great vacation. If you are like most of us, you will likely remember the main highlights of your trip—they can be good or bad—and the few good moments that are most recent in your memory.

This is all because of the peak–end rule, which is a psychological bias that all of us have in us. It impacts how we remember our past events. Here’s how it looks.

peak end rule definition

And here’s how the peak-end rule benefits your customer service.

Even if a customer’s experience with your brand during the awareness or engagement stages were tepid (or even negative), they are going to be your fan if they had a great customer service experience—because it’s one of the last things that happen after they buy from you.

This is to say that injecting empathy into your customer service interactions can help you flip the script. It can help your detractors turn into promoters, your critics into your fans, or your haters into your huggers.

The Case of Empathy in Customer Service

In general psychology, there is a concept called basic human needs that explains the motivations behind human behavior.

Psychologist Abraham Maslow took it the step further and draft the Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, which includes things like:

  1. Physiological needs: food, water, and clothing.

  2. Safety needs: Physical safety, security, shelter, etc.

  3. Belongingness and love: Intimate relationships, friends, and society.

  4. Esteem needs: Respect, social status, sense of accomplishment, etc.

  5. Self-actualization needs: Achieving one's full potential, creativity, charity.

The thing with this list is, it gives us a glimpse into human behavior in all situations—politics, economics, and business.

And once you understand this theory, it’s easy for you to create an empathy-centric customer service.

Understanding your customers’ motivations can be your superpower to walk in their shoes and solve their problems in a way they want.

You can apply this theory to come up with a customer empathy map to understand what are your customers’ possible pain points, what keeps them up all night, what sparks their imagination, or what exactly do they want to accomplish by using a product or a service.

Without it, your customer service is only a lip-service.

You can still try your best to help your customers, but you would be missing an important navigational compass that tells you how to approach your customer problems or where to look for the right solutions.

Empathy in customer service is the missing part of the puzzle that completes your overall customer experience strategy.

Here are a few tips on how you can blend empathy into your customer service to maximize your business performance and improve your brand loyalty:

1. Improve Your Employee Experience

Employee experience (EX) has a direct influence on good customer service. It’s not some kind of theory in business but a cold, hard fact backed up by research.

In one of their industry-wide surveys, Gallup found out that businesses with highly engaged employees outperform their competition by 21% in productivity and 22% in profitability.

Practice empathy with your employees because keeping your employees happy eventually trickles down to happy and satisfied customers.

2. Make Your Customer Service Accessible

Many businesses don’t realize this, but not making their customer service easily discoverable and accessible is often a big source of frustration for most customers.

It could be because of the lack of manpower in their call center or lack of technological efficiency. But there are smart ways to circumnavigate these problems.

If you can’t hire additional agents to keep your customer service running, outsource it to the experts who can do it for you for a fraction of a cost.

This kind of partnership can come handy to your businesses during holidays and peak seasons when your contact center is flooded with customers' queries. You can’t blame it on staffing issues if your business is booming but customer service is struggling to keep up with the after-sales service.

3. Offer Self-Service Experience

This is an easy trick for you to cut down overheads in your customer service department and improve your CX strategy.

When you build self-service content for your customers—such as product guides, video tutorials, integration pages, how-to articles, etc.—you are essentially building an automated support touchpoint that runs on itself.

It’s an empathetic way for you to improve your customer experience because you don’t even have to face your customers. They can go through your self-service portal to find answers to their queries at their own pace, without any friction.

And if they need help or want to talk to a human agent, they always have the choice to get in touch with your customer support call center.

4. Measure The Right Metrics

The common metrics that most contact centers use these days to benchmark their agents’ performance are flawed.

While it’s a great approach, it doesn’t represent the overall quality of your brand’s customer service.

For instance, take the average ticket handling time as a metric. When you gauge your service staff based on this metric, they will start rushing through the customer interactions so that their average handle time looks good.

And trying to keep your ticket handling time in check just for the sake of speed means you are compromising on the quality of their CX—which is just the opposite of empathy.

Instead of blindly measuring metrics that are standard in your industry, identify the ones that are meaningful to your business.

5. Build a Feedback Loop with Customers

Your customers are your biggest source of data intelligence.

Your customers can tell you things that no other software in the world or even the greatest industry research report can tell you.

All you have to do is—ask.

Not all customers are vocal in telling you about their feelings in dealing with your brand.

In fact, research shows that close to 96% of unhappy customers don’t even complain about their bad customer experience. And most of them will quit doing business with your brand forever after one bad interaction.

The way to prevent these kinds of situations from occurring is to design a direct feedback loop with your customers. Conduct customer satisfaction surveys, organize focus group studies, and trigger exit surveys when they cancel their membership or subscription with your brand.

Make your customer service empathetic by applying those feedback into your CX strategy.

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