January 18, 2011

Customers Want Empathy!

Customers want what they want. When they can not get what they want, they at least want to feel like they have talked to a real person who cares and not a programmed machine.  It seems that lately, companies are spending time training their customer service personnel to memorize a script for different situations. Customer service personnel are trained in programmed responses. It appears that you are pushing a “button” which triggers the customer service representative to quote policy, procedures, and rules. Say something else and another “button” is pushed and the customer service person says “I’m sorry” without feeling because they have practiced it.

Here is a recent example:
We were on a cruise and booked a shore excursion to go scuba diving. The ship’s scuba diving trip was full so we booked our own arrangements. Unfortunately the ship could not pull up to a pier so we had to “tender” into port. The ship decided to give first tender boarding preference to those customers who booked shore excursions through them and advised everyone else to go to a location for a “pass” which indicated when we could get off. Upon arriving at the appointed time for our “pass” we were told that they would not be ready for another 30 minutes. Being frustrated about the possibility of missing our dive I went to talk to the front desk personnel. First I got the programmed response that the next time we should book through them. When I explained we tried and they were booked I received the lecture that arrival times were estimated and we should not assume we could get off at the posted time. Now I was really frustrated. I did not want a lecture, I wanted someone to care.

Empathy is what everyone wants…to speak to a caring person who can identify with our problem and understand what it feels like to be in that situation. When you show empathy you can “see” the situation through the eyes of the customer. The customer then feels cared for and valued.

How to deliver empathy to customers:
Hire People Who Care About Other People: Identify candidates who genuinely like people and care about their feelings.
Emphasize Listening Skills: Train customer contact people to truly hear and listen to the concerns of customers.
Practice Empathy: Provide sample situations for customer contact personnel to practice thinking about “How I would feel in this situation.”
Speak with Caring and Concern: It is not enough to have empathy, your customer contact personnel must convey their caring and concern through their voice and body language.

Intellectually, most customers understand there will be rules and procedures, but emotionally they also need someone who cares about the impact they have on their specific situation.

P.S.  Yes, we made our scuba dive on time and it was terrific!

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