3 Focus Points for Empathic Customer Service

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
~ Maya Angelou

We are all customers. Whether in commerce or in the field of life, we are all subject to being sold new ideas, products, and services. As such, we all have a reservoir of experiences to draw upon when we, ourselves, are in the selling position. Why did you decide to buy into an idea, a product or service? Tapping into our core needs is the first step into uncovering the needs of others, your customers.

In the world of commerce, who hasn’t been miffed or wowed by a customer service experience? How did you feel? Would you return to a vendor who provided inadequate customer service? You may give them another chance, but in many cases, a hassle-free experience with a competitor is not too far away, and better worth your time and money.

Buying is, more often than not, an emotional experience. During the customer service exchange, there are subtleties that may register only on our subconscious level that direct our future behavior.
We are satisfied with companies that meet our needs, but we are loyal to those who exceed our expectations and make us feel good about doing business with them. These are the companies that give us a sense of safety and predictability. In a world of chaos and runaway technology, strong relationships matter in our business dealings, as well as in our personal lives.

3 Focus Areas for Empathic Customer Service

1.    Name Sharing

Most business professionals answer the phone using their first name. Not all customers provide their name immediately upon calling them. They are calling you first to serve a need or fix a problem, not to say, “Howdy do!”  If you think this is rude, consider that the customer valued you enough to make the call in the first place, and that the customer is always right. You are also presented with a gift: a customer caught up in their own issue and ripe for what you have to offer.

Many clients are eager to explain their situation to see if you are the right person to call. This is not the time to interrupt them just because you want their name for your records. Don’t kill their moment. They could be at the crux of explaining their problem. Emotion drives the buying process. Let them be. You will get their name soon enough.

Yes, it is important to get their name, but not at the expense of risking your relationship, which is what sales and service are all about. Be patient, let the consumer take the lead and be heard on their terms. Don’t break their momentum.

When they are ready to listen to you, that’s when you can take control and offer suggestions beyond what the customer had in mind. As Steve Jobs famously said, “People don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”

When clients call Venture Up for a team building event, we are first grateful they were motivated to call. We listen without interruption. We do not ask for detailed contact information until the end of the phone call when spirits are high and the client is eager to receive our detailed written response.

Getting contact information is much easier when a client sends a quick auto-signed email. In this way, your email address gets into their system, vs. a strange email address that may fall victim to a spam filter. If clients prefer to recite the details to you, listen well.

If you can pronounce someone’s name correctly on the first try, that’s great. But please don’t force customers to listen to a succession of fumbling attempts to pronounce their names, followed by “Did I get that right?” “Was that right?” (In my case, I always say, “Yes!” immediately to stop the inane back-and-forth in its tracks. If you say, “Good enough,” they keep trying.)

When you pronounce the name, say it slowly as best you can. Few of your customers will get in a contest over how you say their name, unless they’re French. Anyway, it’s not like you’re marrying into the family.

2. The ‘We” Pronoun

Have you ever heard a customers service agent say, “I have three people before you,” or “My staff is short today,” or “I have no IPhone chargers. I get my shipment Thursday” ? Using “I” and “me” creates a barrier, however subtle, between you and the customer.  In our personal lives, people who use “I” frequently tend to be self absorbed and put themselves before others. When customers are paying, they expect to come first. Customers are not friends, but guests.

The team player pronoun is “we”, whether you’re teaming up with colleagues, or teaming up with customers to solve problems or meet their needs.

3.  Keeping it Human
Human contact is never going out of style. In fact, it’s taken on a higher value in a world cluttered with technology and automated communication. Customers do not want to fill out forms or become entangled in an electronic phone prompt system or take “short” surveys with 20 questions.

When they connect with you, they want to be heard. They want you to automatically empathize with their situation. If you convey to them that you do, you’ve won them.
The last thing customers want to hear you say is, “Did you read the manual?” or “Did you check our web site? We already covered that in detail.” Translation: “Are you an idiot? Can’t you read?” Didn’t John Kerry lose that election by telling captive audiences, “I have a plan. Go see my website?”

Rather than insult and alienate a customer, consider that most customers have already seen your website before calling. They moved to the next step, the “buying phase” and gave you a call. Now they’d like some human input. Smart businesses focus on the interactive human experience in developing positive, loyal client relationships, and profits in the end.

Often, it is the human element that motivates a buyer to act, and if the customer is turned away, competitors are standing in line ready to close the sale.

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