Every customer contacts support for one underlying reason: they want to feel better. It’s easy to get caught up in what is happening to the customer, what their complaint is, and what the customer is asking for. It’s more difficult to step back and make sure you understand how the customer is feeling and what they actually need in order to feel better.
Most support reps focus on what the customer is experiencing in the moment, be it a billing error, a system bug, or receipt of an incorrect shipment. It’s easy to understand, and usually requires a fairly straightforward to fix.
But: understanding the customer’s situation and working to improve it isn’t enough to create brand loyalty.
What happens to your customers doesn’t matter that much when it comes to customer experience success. How the customer feels about your brand IS customer experience success.
Understanding and addressing what is happening in the customer’s life around the problem they are experiencing helps you determine and address how the customer feels about your brand.
You have to go beyond the customer’s inability to login to your system, for example. How do they feel about this problem? Are they panicked because they need to login to meet a looming deadline? Are they frustrated because this has happened to them before? Do they feel cheated because they’re paying for a service they can’t use?
Below, we outline a two-step process for determining a customer’s feelings around their problem and demonstrating empathy paired with suggestions on how to use technology like live chat software and help desk software to make this process easier and more efficient.
Step one: Elicit a customer’s emotions
A simple way to go about determining customer emotions is adding a question about how a customer is feeling to your initial customer support live chat, online form, or email prompt.
Take a look at this Kayako-powered live chat:
Kayoko live chat example (Source)
The customer’s situation: Dr. Jones wants to know how to view cancelled appointments in PracticeStudio’s appointment scheduler.
The automatic system response: “Please wait, an operator will be with you shortly. Your request is important to us. Please wait, an operator will be with you shortly.”
How technology can help
Instead of wasting a customer’s time by repeating the same sentence, why not prompt the customer to tell the operator how they’re feeling?
Change your live chat software system’s auto-reply to something like: “Thank you for waiting, an operator will be with you [time estimate]. While you wait, feel free to tell us a how you’re feeling about this situation and why fixing it matters to you.”
It’s important to clearly indicate that offering this information is optional. You don’t want customers to feel like they have to talk about their feelings in order to receive help.
Another option is including an emotions chart that allows customers to identify their emotional state with just one click.
Sample emotion chart (Source)
When a customer describes their emotions, it has an added benefit of slowing their brain down and allowing their mental state to transition from primarily emotional to a more rational, language-oriented status.
Not only will you gain a better understanding of a customer’s emotional state, they may even become calmer once given a chance to describe their feelings.
Step 2: Demonstrate empathy
In the Working with Upset Customers course on Lynda.com (subscription required), customer service expert Jeff Toister says that customer service reps must demonstrate to customers that they understand how they’re feeling.
“Psychologists call this validation. It makes the customer feel okay for feeling the way they do. Failure to validate a customer’s negative emotions can make them feel even worse.”
When you respond to a customer online via live chat, forum, ticketing software, or email, begin by acknowledging your customer’s feelings. Repeat the customer’s feelings back to them in your own words with an assurance that how they’re feeling is reasonable and understandable.
In April, we looked at 7 Ridiculous Real-Life Customer Conversations. These examples can help illustrate what not to do. Take one conversation that happened on Facebook.
The customer’s post: “This is b@#$t. I waited ten minutes for my food at [name omitted] today before I stomped out without getting a refund. What kind of customer service is that?? Talk about a B.S.. Fast Food joint.”
The restaurant rep’s response: “We’re sorry you had a bad experience, [name omitted]. Unfortunately, we’re not technically a fast food place. Our customers typically wait 15 minutes, because that’s how long it takes to cook our fresh dough. The wait is simply for your safety, sir.”
Notice that the rep only responded to the customer’s situation, acknowledging that the customer experienced something negative and apologizing for it. The rep then immediately explains why the customer is at fault for their bad experience with the brand. Never does the rep acknowledge, understand, or validate the customer’s emotion.
How technology can help
One main benefit of the technological barrier is that it gives you the space to take a moment to collect yourself when feeling defensive. Of course, it’s unreasonable for a customer to base a complaint on something that you have never promised or marketed yourself to be.
If you take a moment to put yourself in the customer’s shoes, however, you may realize that they didn’t realize your restaurant isn’t a fast food joint. What you want to avoid is saying that a customer should have known something, implying that they wouldn’t be complaining if they did.
In this example, the rep should have responded with something like: “You waited for ten minutes at a restaurant you expected to be faster than that. That sounds really frustrating. I totally understand why that would make you angry. I’d be angry too. I’m really sorry that happened to you. I’d be more than happy to refund your meal.”
The four elements of empathy (Source)
Then—and only then—should you consider explaining your side of the story. But, only do so if you are attempting to retain the customer and want them to have all the facts for future visits. Avoid taking a defensive posture on behalf of your brand.
Another simple tech tip to convey empathy is the use of emoticons in online customer service. A Penn State University study found that online reps who regularly employed emoticons experienced happier customers.
Understanding and validating customer emotions is far more important to customer experience success than fixing their situation. In some ways, technology makes this task more difficult.
Online, it’s harder to read emotions because you lack tone of voice, gestures, and facial expressions to give you clues. It’s harder to convey empathy and understanding for the same reasons.
The key to online customer service success is using technology to its full potential. Build queries about a customer’s emotional state into your system. Generate a list of commonly used emoticons that you’ve found help diffuse a tense situation. Approach situations from a place of emotional validation, not explanation.
Software can make many of these tasks easier. Many live chat software systems allow you to set up custom auto-responses. In Capterra’s live chat software directory, you can compare systems by feature, price, and more. Most help desk software suites automate manual tasks such as ticket routing to give you more time to empathize during customer conversations. Check out our help desk software directory to start your software search.