Empathy goes a long way when dealing with a person or, in the case of this post, a customer. I think that this might be one of the better tools in a customer service representative’s box to disarm a customer (if they are angry) or satisfy a customer (if they are purely inquisitive). To display empathy means that you ‘get’ where they are coming from.
Case in point…
I recently stayed at a major hotel chain in New York City. The hotel itself was great, the food was great, the décor… you get the idea. Everything about the hotel except for the front of house staff (specifically, the desk clerks) was great. The desk clerks (and that’s plural, because more than one on more than one occasion) were rude. You might think that I’m just complaining for the sake of complaining, but when the front desk is just about the first and then the last you see of a hotel, it makes an impression on a guest.
On more than one occasion, I and other people I was travelling with had to interact with the desk clerks. The responses and interactions were cold, impersonal, and rude. Little to no eye contact; few words above what was required; assumed understanding of curt instructions. This was painful!
You know what would have worked here? Empathy. Instead of telling me “No.” to my request, how about something like, “I can sure understand where you’re coming from, but I’m sorry to say that we don’t permit that. We had an incident that caused us to have to stop that. Can I maybe ask why you want to do ___? Maybe there’s something else I can do instead of what you’re asking me.” You putting you in my shoes is what I’m asking for. Even if you still told me no, I now know more than I did before, I know why you can’t, you offered me an alternative, and you genuinely cared! (or, at least it appeared that you did). This isn’t rocket science – this is what you learn in a negotiations class or any other sort of customer engagement and involvement.
This hotel chain aside, look at the issue more broadly. Wouldn’t it be great instead of hearing “No”, you got an explanation as to why? Wouldn’t it be great if it seemed like you were the only customer that mattered at the moment, and they were going above and beyond to help you out? They can. You can. It’s not costing you anymore real money to engage with the person and understand a little, to make them think like they’ve been where you’ve been before.
Are you empathetic to your customers? Are you doing what you can to understand where they are coming from? Are you offering up responses that make them think you care? If you aren’t, why not?