Empathy is the greatest asset

When people complain that they hate contact centres, it is usually a lack of empathy that they are complaining about. If I think about the times that I have had to call on the customer service function of a company, the difference between a good and bad service is usually obvious.

There was the insurance company I called to arrange a policy. They were helpful on the phone and sent me several text messages during the process of arranging the insurance, so I was always aware of progress. Then there was the time I arranged a mortgage and the building society sent several emails and text messages while the mortgage was being processed – helping me to understand the present situation and preventing me from endlessly calling them for an update.

Then of course, there is the other side of the coin. I called my bank recently to ask for some pre-paid envelopes so I could deposit cheques into the account and I was told I don’t have the right account. After thirty years of banking with them and never being told this before, I questioned why they wanted me to physically go to a branch to deposit a cheque.

Nobody could answer the question and so a relatively trivial incident planted the idea of switching bank in my mind.

I needed to return an item bought at a department store recently. The contact centre experience was positive and I was told that it would be no problem. The experience inside the store was extremely negative – they made it as hard as possible for me to receive any help, which not only highlighted the mismatch between the store experience and the contact centre, but led me to question ever shopping there again.

In all these examples, it is empathy for the customer that is the key. If agents can think beyond a narrow scripted response and do what is right for the customer then not only can customers be retained, but a negative can be turned into a positive – with customers pleased about how they were helped.

It may well require that agents need to go off-piste, but if the occasional agent goes too far off-piste is that worse than sticking to the script and losing endless customers through a lack of empathy?

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2 Responses to Empathy is the greatest asset

  1. Pingback: Can callers always become fans? | Teleperformance UK

  2. call guy says:

    I agree, I think what is needed is a willingness within the industry for call-centre managers to empower agents. Most agents are committed to the ideal of good customer service, the problem is often a rule-based organisational and management culture which dis-empowers agents and in the process also bringing them into conflict with the customer – Take it from me, listening to the same complaint hundreds of times knowing you have no power to improve things wears empathy pretty thin. I’d love to be able to go off-piste more often – in fact I think some of my best work in terms of customer service is done when I do break the rules which allows me to then become human again!

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