As is the case in other human endeavors, we sometimes overlook the obvious.
One such instance here is that service employees who have direct contact with customers should empathize with customers. This is especially true of service channels or customer contact points designed to resolve customer complaints. In the context under discussion, empathy has the following ingredients:

  • Being friendly
  • Being aware of the customer’s feelings
  • Caring about the customer’s feelings
  • Caring about the customer and meeting his or her needs
  • Affirming that the customer’s concern or feeling is valid, in the case of problem resolution
  • Owning the problem

This is very different from the common practice of dealing with customers in the same way that a farm worker manages the movement of cattle.
How can the company get its employees to have (and show) empathy? One method is to show employees videos of service experiences (actual or mock) in which empathy is and is not expressed. A video, as opposed to a written description, is needed because a substantial portion of communication (by both employees and customers) is nonverbal: eye contact, tone of voice, facial expressions, and body language.

Notice that this has implications in the hiring process. While it is true that some employees can be trained to exhibit more empathy than they actually have, this is possible only up to a degree, and even that effect may be temporary. Consequently, the company needs to hire people who are predisposed to empathizing with customers. This reminds us of the saying,
“No type or amount of training can get a cat to bark; if you want barking, get a dog.”

The Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.


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