The Best Advice I’ve Ever Heard For Getting Customer Service Reps to Convey Empathy

Smiling Telephone Operator

Two years ago I was working with a company to help their customer service representatives convey empathy to customers. The intended outcome of the training was for employees to speak to customers with care, concern, and compassion.

Achieving empathy in the customer experience is a bit like walking a tightrope. Too much empathy can result in longer talk times and inappropriate sharing between customer service representatives and clients. Not enough understanding and reps can sound cold and uncaring.

You have to find the right balance in empathy. Or else you fall off the rope, and the customer experience is negatively impacted.

I asked my client how she saw appropriate empathy in her company. And here’s what she said.

It’s like when you go to a funeral you have 3 sets of people. In the front row you have immediate family. They are grieving and trying to console one another. There are tears, tissues, hugs; tremendous pain.

In the back pews of the church you have co-workers, neighbors and friends. These people are not as close to the deceased and their grief and emotion is different. They are not as connected.

And in the middle of the church you have Aunt Sally. Aunt Sally is a member of the family, yet her grief is different. She’s not inconsolable. Rather, she’s the one handing the immediate family members a Kleenex or the one who will give a hug. She’s not distant and unconnected, like those on the back pews, yet she’s not up close and personal with her emotion like immediate family members.

I want our people to be Aunt Sally. Right there in the middle.

My client is brilliant. Yes, that is exactly the goal of empathy in the customer experience. This is the best advice I have ever heard for getting customer service representatives to convey empathy – appropriate empathy.

Customer Service Representatives must not be too up-close and personal with customers, yet being distant and aloof results in a poor customer experience. They must be like Aunt Sally: connected, warm, approachable, personable and friendly.

Now you can give your employees the soft skills training they need so they can instinctively put themselves in your customer’s shoes and respond with more empathy, concern, and friendliness. 

I discuss my client’s Aunt Sally approach in this short YouTube video


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