If there was ever a time to lead with compassion and empathy, it’s now. We’ve all been through the wringer and the impact of the past couple of years is palpable. Short-tempers, extremely demanding customers, and discontented employees seem to be some of the lingering effects of the pandemic.
It’s why it’s even more important that we strive to use each interaction as an opportunity to be a bright light in someone’s day and to lift each other up. This means remembering to lead with compassion before diving into your task or transaction.
Sometimes, we get so focused on whatever procedures we have to do to complete a task or business transaction with a customer or co-worker that we forget to first make a human connection. For example, several years ago I was in a car accident. The insurance company rep on the other end of the phone was just so focused on getting the information but seemingly with no empathy at all for the traumatic experience that I had just had, as well as my feeling of concerns for the other driver involved. I understand she was only trying to do his job but it felt cold and insensitive.
The same thing could be the case for people with whom you interact. We’re all feeling a high level of stress and have been longing for human connection. This is especially important when you’re interacting with someone who’s fearful due to a health scare, upset about something, or just having a hard time. If you first remember to lead with compassion, you’re letting the other person know that you hear them, you understand how it’s really difficult for them, and you’re sorry they’re having this experience. Make the human connection first and THEN, gently walk them through the process or steps that need to be taken to help them.
When a person believes that you really care about their situation or problem, no matter how many times you’ve heard it before, you are on your way to creating a satisfied customer.
Here are three practical steps to lead with compassion.
The very first step to providing exceptional customer service laced with compassion is listening – empathic listening. Empathy is not necessarily a long process, sometimes it only takes a moment to really understand what our clients are experiencing and, other times, several minutes of listening.
Empathic listening is especially important when dealing with a customer who is irritated, angry, or emotionally upset. Just before you zoom into work mode to fix the situation, take time to really listen to them —their fears, grievances, frustration. When customers are emotional, it’s difficult for them to act rationally. So, just listen first. Let them know you hear them.
Speak the language of empathy
Listening is just one side of the coin, the other side is responding with empathetic words or phrases. Compassionate listening combined with phrases like “I can understand why you might feel that way.” Or “I would feel that way too if I were in your situation.” go a long way to make people feel heard.
Here are some other examples:
- “I can feel how frustrated you feel.”
- “Now I see what bothers you.”
- That must have been so difficult.
- “I understand the urgency of the situation.”
- “I would also feel very bad if that happened to me.”
(Note: we also did a blog post on other customer-service friendly words and phrases. You can find that here.)
Then, do the task
Once, you’ve carefully listened to whatever the customer has to say, empathized with them, then you can now go ahead to offer assistance, or ask questions, or present any paperwork required. As a customer service person, you are empathetic when you listen to the hidden meaning of what the customer is saying, when you recognize the emotion, and when you offer assistance.
The bottom line is that we all need a little empathy and compassion – especially now. In customer service circles there is a quote that says, “They don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” (Often attributed to Theodore Roosevelt). When you lead with compassion, you’re letting people know you care.
Donna Cutting is the author of 501 Ways to Roll Out the Red Carpet for Your Customers (Career Press, 2015) and the forthcoming “Employees First! Inspire, Engage, and Focus on the HEART of Your Organization. (Career Press, 2022) She works with mission-driven leaders to help them create cultures of happy, caring people who deliver red carpet customer service. (Photo by treadshots.com)