Bingo, dumb charades, and toasting: 10 fun games to boost empathy in your customer service team
If you set a daily Google Alert for the word “empathy,” your inbox will soon be inundated by blogs and thought leadership posts. Over the past few years, "empathy" has become one of those topics where everyone is an expert but nobody is a master. All this to say, empathy is quickly becoming yet another shallow rhetoric in the business world. I’m not denying empathy’s role in business relationships—the hype around growing empathy in customer service is well-deserved. But most of what you hear is a theoretical yoga babble —a conceptual all-the-thunder-but-no-rain charade. If you are really serious about injecting empathy into your customer service staff, you should make specific and tangible moves towards training your workforce to embrace empathy as part of their work culture. You should make them exercise empathy, not just talk about it. Below, I have compiled a list of 10 fun ideas that your customer service teams can play to develop an empathetic outlook towards your customers. 1. Conduct mock empathy drills If you can conduct mock fire drills to prepare your office staff against an imaginative inferno, you can definitely run mock empathy drills. Divide your contact center teams into groups of 2–5 and give them a service prompt. Remember the famous What Would You Do? show on ABC network? Create mock emergency customer situations like in that show and see how your customer service staff react to them. Here are a few examples of how to come up with service prompts: “You receive an angry call from Sarah, a customer, who’s threatening to sue your company for cheating her of $25 in payment.”
“You have 10 hate mails from Murray, who claims to be a member of a Neo-Nazi group, threatening you of dire consequences if you don’t give him a refund within 24 hours.”
“Colin, a 10-year-old customer from Burlington, has sent you a heartfelt greeting card thanking you for sending him a free $10 gift card on Christmas.” Come up with mock situations like these and let your service teams react to their respective prompts in the most empathetic manner possible. Celebrate the best ideas and discuss them with the entire team to encourage such behavior. 2. Teach the merits of language mirroring Nothing beats teaching your customer support teams empathy than telling them to mirror the customer language. Mimicry, mirroring the body language of opponents, and imitation is a technique that is common in the animal kingdom . It’s also one of the most effective empathy skills that you can apply not only in customer service departments but in dating, parenting, and business communication. This game needs role-playing between two or more contact center representatives. Let one agent take up the role of an irate customer, either on the phone or in person, and assign another agent to handle the confrontation in an empathetic way. Ask them to mirror their body language, their tone and voice, and other non-verbal cues to compare the different reactions. They might not always get it right, but that’s the whole point of this exercise. Keep doing it over and over during your weekly breakout sessions and you will start seeing improved results. 3. Play empathy bingo I bet your contact center reps are going to love this one. First, you will need a bingo expert to get the basics of preparing bingo cards right. Next, you spend some time creating as many bingo cards as the number of service reps in your team. Now, assign (~say, 20 or 40) empathy statements to numbers across the bingo cards. Your service reps can cross out the number mapped to the respective empathy statement every time they use it with a customer. The rule is, they can’t use the sentence to win the game. They have to use it meaningfully in a real context. The first agent to complete their cards in a straight row—either across the vertical row or horizontal column—wins. Award them with a handsome prize and repeat the game with the rest of the team. The empathy bingo game can help your customer service teams increase their awareness of the empathetic language. The more they use it in their day to day job, the more it becomes an internalized habit they can practice without any effort. 4. Roleplay with the "steelman argument" Steel-manning is the opposite of straw-manning. Let me define both concepts. Straw-manning is a form of argument that seeks to discredit your opponent by pointing out things that are irrelevant to the main debate. (e.g., " I don’t support that politician because he advocates anti-immigration which shows that he supports racism .") Steel-manning , on the other hand, is deliberately taking the position of your opponent to seek merits in the argument they are making. For a deeper understanding between straw-manning and steel-manning fallacies, read this article . It has good examples that explain both the concepts in simple terms. Steelmanning makes us see things from their point of view. In other words, it teaches us to be empathetic. Here’s how to do it. Divide your teams into smaller groups of two and let them choose a side on divisive topics such as Friends vs The Big Bang Theory , Bruce Lee vs Chuck Norris, books vs TV, Stanley Cup vs Superbowl, and so on. Once they choose a side, make them switch the topics and argue in favor of their opponents’ topic. Notice how I have topics that are light-hearted and non-political? That’s because you should always distance your workplace culture from political and faith-based arguments. It does more harm than good. 5. Get everyone to become like Benjamin Franklin In psychology, there’s a phenomenon called The Benjamin Franklin Effect . It’s derived from a tactic that Benjamin Franklin used on his rivals to win their trust and empathy. Here’s what happened. In his journal, Franklin explains that to resolve a rivalry with a fellow legislator, Franklin asked to borrow a book from the rival who was known to have a good collection of rare books. The rival, stunned by this unexpected gesture from an opponent, lent Franklin the book because he was flattered by the request. This incident helped them bury the hatchet and become lifelong friends. Ask your service reps to practice this technique during arguments with colleagues, friends, and family members and encourage them to share their learnings. Also, discuss the possibilities of how they can apply this technique to handle angry and disgruntled customers. 6. Show sappy movies This one is easy. Every Friday (or the day of the week that works for you), showcase a movie or TV series that encourages empathy among the viewers. Maybe call it a "sappy movie hour" because most of these movies are inevitably tear-jerkers. Here’s a quick list to get you started: E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982) The Green Mile (1999) Freaky Friday (2003) What Would You Do? (2008) Inside Out (2015) This Is Us (2016) At the end of each session, gather around in groups to discuss the main takeaways, or share stories from their own lives, to ensure your service team understands the point behind the exercise. 7. Volunteer with a charity One of the best ways to teach empathy in your contact center agent is by letting them volunteer with a charity for a noble cause. Volunteering changes people and the lives of people being served. It’s also practical advice from Dr. Rick Goodman, an American motivational speaker and author. In his book, The Solutions Oriented Leader , Dr. Goodman writes: Align your company with a cause. Allow your employees to feel like they are adding value to the world; that they—and your company—are part of something bigger, and something good. In case you are wondering, there is a direct correlation between selfless charity and being empathetic to others. One cannot exist without the other. It’s an eye-opener like no other. In the picture: Lowe’s customer service teams volunteer with Habitat for Humanity International to build hundreds of homes across the U.S. Since 2003, Lowe’s has contributed millions of dollars and countless hours of volunteer support to Habitat for Humanity. Once your support team is moved to take up a charitable role outside of work, they will most likely become more self-aware about solving customer problems with a mindful approach. 8. Toast customers Lately, roasting has become a pop culture trend. Experts are divided on whether it's cyberbullying by any other name or a self-induced practice to expand one’s tolerance level. Thankfully, there’s another trend that doesn’t get as much hype but it should, i.e., — toasting . Instead of insulting people, toasting encourages people to build each other up and see the best in them. Introduce the same in your customer service teams. Organize an open-mic session where each of your customer support agents is required to do a 5-minute talk on their favorite customers and why they are their favorites. 9. Encourage random acts of kindness This has to be a stealth mode game where the identities of the participants are never to be disclosed. That’s the only way you can get the message across about the importance of altruism. Here’s how you do it. Write everyone’s names in “raffle tickets,” shuffle them and put them in a jar, and let everyone pick one ticket from a jar. If they draw their own name out, let them pick another name. Now, each person is supposed to do a random act of kindness for the person whose name they won in the lottery. This is similar to the Secret Santa gift culture, but a bit more extreme. In this game, the Santas are not supposed to just gift their babies but do something deeply thoughtful such as handwrite an appreciation note, order them their favorite food, or write 30 good things about them for the next 30 days.
The recipient’s role is to share their experiences with the whole team telling everyone what they learned from the exercise. 10. Dumb charades You must have played dumb charades a million times growing up. For the sake of teaching empathy in customer service teams, you have to tweak the rules of the game by just a little. The basic rules remain the same—divide your teams into smaller groups of 2-4 and give them turns to prepare their ideas. But instead of movie names of songs, this game of dumb charades requires a player to act out an imaginary situation that a customer is going through. Maybe their order went missing or was never delivered. Perhaps they broke the product after a few days of use. Or, they just want an exchange. Let them act these scenes out and make the rival teams guess the problem. Here's a video between Ellen and Steve Carell to inspire you: If they are able to guess a situation correctly, make them give a response in the same manner. The team that pulls off both the acts correctly for the most number of times—wins. NOTE: I have written an abridged version of this blog for one of my client companies, ContactPoint360. You can read that blog by clicking here .