The Key Habits for Great Customer Service: Empathy and Reassurance

Written by Daniel Williams on Tuesday, January 31st 2017

Technical support technicianFor technical support technicians, sometimes the challenge isn't so much diagnosing the issue as it is effective communication with the customer/user/Aunt Bessie. As people who (usually!) understand the systems we are working with, miscommunication issues when working with other people can be frustrating for user and technician alike.

While the following won't make every single interaction a positive one, it's amazing the degree to which these two habits can transform a frustrating and unproductive troubleshooting session into a successful problem resolution. It's not magic, but sometimes it feels like it.

 

Habit 1: Empathy

Easily the more important of the two, empathy is communicating to the other party that you can relate to the way they feel. Before diving in to the how and the why of empathy, let's consider for a moment some positive and negative interactions that we've likely all had.

First, the bad. I think we can all remember a time when we had a frustrating customer service interaction. Did you feel like the person on the other end of the phone/desk cared about your problem? Chances are you didn't. In fact, the number one complaint faced by many customer service departments is "I felt like the agent/technician/etc. didn't care about my problem."

Empathy, is the habit of communicating to the other person that you understand how they feel. This is the single biggest way to communicate to a customer that you care.

So how do we communicate empathy? Does that mean I have to be emotionally engaged in any and every ticket and interaction that I have throughout the day? Not necessarily. It can be exhausting for an introvert (as many people in technical positions tend to be) to commit themselves emotionally, and doubly so doing it consistently. Moreover, you don't necessarily want your surgeon to feel your pain: you want them to be totally focused on performing surgery. With that said, there are certain things that we can say that will equate to "good bedside manner."

Communicate understanding for their circumstances. What are they not able to do because of their problem?

"We rely so much on email for communication. We need to get you back up so you can communicate with your clients and colleagues."

If possible, describe how you have felt in similar situations.

"I remember when my hard drive failed, it had all my family pictures on it from the last ten years. I hated feeling like I was going to lose all that history."

 

Habit 2: Reassurance

Empathy alone is sometimes enough to turn a bad interaction into a productive one. But it usually needs to be followed by its sibling: reassurance. Empathy can simply lead to despair that the problem is not solvable. As the technician, we usually know that the problem is solvable, and so simply communicating this is the beginning of reassurance. But the combination of the two is more than the sum of its parts.

"I remember how I felt when my hard drive failed with all my family photos on it," and "I'm going to do everything in my power to make sure we recover all the data we can," are both good things to say by themselves. But together, they communicate to the user that their problem matters, and that you can be trusted to fix it.

Let's think back now to your most positive customer service experience: some of mine were cases where my issue wasn't even resolved, but where I knew (or felt) that the agent had legitimately done everything in their power to resolve it. I felt that I wasn't a number, but that the agent had made me a priority.

Whether those agents had any interest in my issue I may never know. But they communicated that they understood the problem I had, how I was feeling, and that they were going to do everything they could to fix it.

These two habits aren't always enough to foster positive support interactions — after all, we still need to resolve the issue at hand and provide functional service to the customer. But they are always a great place to start.

Posted By: Global Service Center System Analyst Daniel Williams

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