Updated: Aug 21, 2020
Customer Support can make or break a company, but that doesn’t mean it has to be complicated. My philosophy is simple: lead with empathy.
I was standing alone managing the front desk at work when a woman I didn’t recognize came up to me. She was new and needed a key to her office. We had a miscommunication on exactly which key she needed and she grew increasingly frustrated. The issue was resolved but I could tell she was still irritated. I gave her the benefit of the doubt that she was overwhelmed, it was her first day at a new job after all and she wasn’t accustomed to co-working spaces. Over the next few weeks, I paid extra attention to her. I helped set up her printing, recommended good lunch spots, and simply just said hi to her when she entered the building. It was clear that during our first interaction she had been having an off day and I wasn’t going to hold that against her.
After a month, she became a regular on our main floor. She sat next to our central desk to eat her lunch and chat with our team and would even answer questions about our building to visitors. A little empathy had gone a long way. We didn’t just get a customer, we got a promoter. But then something special happened. One day, she pulled me aside and said “Shira, I owe you an apology. On my first day here, I was incredibly rude to you. I was nervous and I didn’t get what this whole co-working space concept was. I get it now and I understand how much you do to run our building. I’m sorry.”
I was speechless. While many people think customer support is a thankless job, that’s not the way I’ve experienced it. People often say “thank you”, but what they don’t often say is “I’m sorry.” Now of course, I hadn’t put energy into this relationship for an apology. As far as I was concerned the incident was water under the bridge, and I already knew I had converted her to a loyal member of our community. But because we had a relationship, she wanted to officially make amends.
This customer support success didn’t cost our company money, it didn’t require extra hours from my team, it just required empathy.
Even in customer service roles where employees don’t have a month to develop a relationship, there are always opportunities to be empathetic and to build a rapport with a customer. A few years ago, I was in an Uber on the way to the airport. I had left plenty of time to get to the airport (I am definitely in the “arrive two hours early for a flight” camp), but our car was stuck outside the Holland Tunnel in bumper to bumper traffic, we hadn’t moved in over an hour and there was no way to turn around. I called United to see if they could change my flight which they did...for free. “Honey, traffic isn’t your fault,” said the customer service agent. When I hung up the phone, my Uber driver cheered “Praise God! I was so worried you would miss your flight. This is amazing news!” The call was quick and the drive (while not as short as I had hoped, was still only a few hours), and yet I felt that the United agent approached me with empathy and that my Uber driver and I had built a relationship.
As customer service professionals, we struggle to quantify our work. How do you capture empathy in a metric? Of course there are net promoter scores and service level agreements, which are extremely important, but they alone do not make a great customer experience. Customer Support should be simple, accessible, and transparent. Every conversation should be driven by the company’s purpose and should balance these traditional customer service methods with the brand’s authentic voice. The Customer Support team should treat customer feedback like a gift and should share that gift with the rest of the organization. But most importantly, customer support should be guided by empathy.