How to Train Your Call Center Agents to Exercise Empathy

Call Center | 5 minute read

Emotional intelligence has always been a hot topic in the customer service world. As contact centers across the world continue to recover and adapt from the aftershock of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s become clear that empathy isn’t just a trend customer support teams need to embrace – it needs to be part of your operational foundations.

Over the lockdown period, the public turned to their phone lines looking for human support, but instead found contact centers overwhelmed and in disarray, with little time to exercise the comfort and care that today’s consumers want. CX leaders were in agreement – empathy is a huge part of achieving call center success.

The question is, can call centers improve agents’ emotional intelligence through training and employee engagement strategies? Read on to find out.

What does empathy look like in a call center environment?

If you’ve ever been frustrated after a customer service experience from not feeling heard, you know how much an experience like that can erode your trust in a brand. And you’re not alone – 89% of customers say they have switched brands after a single poor customer service experience.

On the other hand, an agent who understands you and follows through on resolving your issue in a timely manner can make you a lifelong customer. A customer service agent trained to use empathy in their interactions has the power to develop a relationship with you even over the phone.

All it takes is one bad customer service experience to lose a customer. Fostering a culture built on #empathy helps prevent this in your call center. #CX #CustomerService Click To Tweet

Why is empathy so important in customer service?

DID YOU KNOW?

US businesses lose $1.7 trillion a year due to poor customer support.

Empathy is a key tool in your call center agents’ toolbox that helps them to truly connect with your customers, leading to a more pleasant customer experience and fewer angry customers stressing out your agents.

Here are just a few reasons why empathy is so impactful in customer service:

It shows you sincerely want to help them.

Yes, your agents are paid to be there. But customers should never feel like their problems are a burden. Empathy in a call center is one way of showing your company truly cares about them as a person, and not just the money that they are paying for your product/service.

It allows you to understand their perspective.

Feeling heard and understood helps to bridge the gap between customer versus call center agent. It can be challenging to build a connection with someone you have never spoken with before – being able to stand in their shoes can help your agents find ways to build trust.

It humanizes the interaction.

Contact center work doesn’t involve a lot of face to face customer meetings, so it’s important to make sure their experience feels like an authentic conversation – not a Q&A with a bot. You can reduce customer frustration significantly by talking to them like a person, and not just an account number.

Train your agents’ empathy skills with these 5 tips:

1. Evaluate the scenario before responding.

When it comes to customer interactions, there are no one-size-fits-all solutions. Agents should exercise intuition for each unique interaction, rather than blindly following a script.

For example, if a customer starts the call enraged about long hold times, it’s better to let them vent while validating their frustrations (‘I hear you, and I’m so sorry you had to deal with that…’). Teach your agents to anticipate the customer’s emotional responses before taking back control and bringing the conversation back on track.

TIP:

Long hold times are one of the biggest sources of customer frustration. Call-back technology is a simple solution when your contact center is overwhelmed with high call volumes.

2. Always consider the customer perspective.

Agents who are able to balance their role and responsibilities with the perspective of the customer will have a better chance of developing a solution that suits both parties involve. They may even exhibit a greater sense of ownership towards each issue, and can better advocate for their customer’s needs to find a resolution.

3. Be an active listener.

By asking clarifying questions during customer interactions, your agents show customers that they are engaged and present in the conversation while gathering a full scope of the challenge at hand. Doing this at the beginning of the interaction will minimize small mistakes in the process down the line as well.

4. Practice empathy skills through role playing.

Training in a classroom is one thing, but it all comes down to how your agents exercise these skills during real customer interactions. Role playing is a highly effective way to get your agents comfortable with these new skills. Practice tense interactions with angry “customers” and give them a safe space to make mistakes and learn.

Useful empathy statements for call center agents.

An “us” vs. “them” mindset can be toxic in a call center environment. Teaching customer service agents to use empathy phrases helps get everyone on the same page. Since your agents cannot use body language to communicate, it’s best to focus on tone of voice and key phrases they can use to keep their customers positively engaged.

First contact – evaluating the issue:

  • “I appreciate you bringing this to our attention.”
  • “I’m sorry to hear that you’re experiencing this.”

The above phrases are doing a few things all at once. It’s personalizing the conversation through “I” statements, by showing the customer that your agent is aligned with them, while also affirming that the customer was right to reach out about this.

Mid-interaction – clarifying details:

  • “Just so that I’m sure I understand, I’m hearing that…”
  • “I can definitely understand how frustrating this is, so let’s…”
  • Use acknowledging noises/short phrases: “mmhmm”, “okay”, or “I see.”

Reiterating the issue back to the customer ensures that everyone is on the same page. Once confirmed, your agents can proceed confidently with putting together a plan to resolve their challenge. Using acknowledging words and phrases also helps empower the customer and reassure them that the agent is fully engaged.

Final steps – wrapping up the interaction:

  • “Leave this with me.”
  • “We will get this resolved for you.”

If the issue can not be resolved immediately, reassuring the customer that the agent has their back will give them a sense of ease. Letting the customer “handoff” the issue to the agent shows ownership and alleviates their stress. Make sure you follow through – otherwise all that work to build that trust will be lost.

A Guide to Contact Center Agent Engagement

Guide to Agent Engagement
DOWNLOAD NOW
Fonolo Resource cover image

A Guide to Contact Center Agent Engagement

DOWNLOAD NOW