The Effortless Experience™ team here at Challenger often hears from senior leaders within customer service organizations that they want to develop their reps’ soft skills because, in their words, “we need our people to be more human and less robotic with our customers.” In essence, organizations want their reps to connect with customers and show more emotion during the service interaction. Certainly, this is something customers want too because those interactions with reps who never genuinely acknowledge their pain make them feel undervalued and underappreciated by the company.

Without emotion from the reps, too often this is what interactions sound like:

Rep: “Good afternoon, thank you for contacting Company X, how may I help you today?”

Customer: “Hi, I’m hoping you can help, my recent online order (a glass vase) just arrived and when I reached into the box I cut my hand because the vase broke in the delivery.”

Rep: “What’s your order number?”

If I’m the customer above (and yes this is a real interaction), I’m ending this conversation pretty quickly because they clearly do not care about me and likely will not help me.

So how can reps connect more with their customers?

One common way organizations encourage this more “human connection” is by asking reps to show empathy to customers. Everyone wants their reps to put him or herself in the customer’s shoes. However, improperly enforcing the use of empathy can cause reps to sometimes use scripting that sounds disingenuous because the customer’s context is not taken into account. This can be an unintended consequence of bad enforcement because reps will say certain phrases for performative reasons knowing it is safe to include it in the interaction. Although the whole point is to reduce the robotic nature of interactions, telling reps to show more empathy without properly teaching its use leads them to solely think about WHAT they are about to say to customers instead of HOW to personalize the interaction. Furthermore, with strict average handle time guidelines and rigid KPI scorecards at many organizations, reps fear being more human will open Pandora’s box and result in them losing control of the interaction.

Using inauthentic or empty statements like ‘I’m on your side,’ ‘I’m sorry,’ or ‘That must be frustrating’ to try to sound empathetic (without actually being empathetic or channeling the customer’s context) is how reps miss the mark. Without being able to understand where customers are coming from and see why they are frustrated, reps can come across as insincere. Customers are often primed to think that reps care more about policies than them as people, so they can be cynical about statements like “I hear you” or “I’m here to help you”. Reps should try to connect with what the customer is thinking or feeling and reflect that back (as they might if a friend or family member was calling). If empathy is not authentic, customers will see right through it.

On the other hand, without also understanding empathy’s boundaries (and that it means something different to everyone), empathy can be misused, and worse yet, over-used in customer interactions.

You may be wondering; how can you really take empathy too far?

Let’s take a look.

Rep: “Good afternoon, thank you for contacting Company X, how may I help you today?”

Customer: “Hi, I’m hoping you can help, my recent online order (a glass vase) just arrived and when I reached into the box I cut my hand because the vase broke in the delivery.”

Rep: “I am so happy you are contacting us about this. I am so sorry this happened to you. Is your hand alright? You must be in so much pain! I cannot believe the vase broke in the delivery process. You must be so annoyed with our company. What’s your order number?”

If I’m the customer above, I am annoyed. There is too much emotion from the rep, and I do not appreciate the rep trying to feel for me. I just want to say how I feel and explain what happened so they can send me a new one and fix their process to ensure this does not happen again.

When reps over-use empathy in interactions, it can sound patronizing to the customer and insincere and inauthentic. This is why getting empathy right is so important. It must be taught how and when to use it. Within our Effortless Experience™ Capabilities Builder program at Challenger, empathy is taught as one of five attributes of being an advocate for customers. Since empathy is not the only way to demonstrate advocacy, the way we teach it reduces risk that reps will over-use or use it improperly/insincerely. Our program helps provide some nuance that most organizations are missing today when they simply train their reps on “empathy”.

If you’d like to learn more about our Effortless Experience™ Capabilities Builder program, please contact us.

Casey Lindlaw

Casey Lindlaw

Casey Lindlaw is a Senior Client Manager for Challenger’s Effortless Experience™ team. In her role, Casey implements several tailored product offerings designed to help companies grow in their journeys to becoming low-effort service organizations.