Sympathy Versus Empathy: What Customers Really Want

Are the employees who answer your phones enthusiastic, professional, and caring? Customers calling in to speak with someone at a company will likely never speak with a charismatic marketing executive or CEO. That’s why the workers answering the phones should represent your company in a way that reflects the mission and core values of your organization.

Poor customer service costs businesses $62 billion every year. Anyone who’s ever worked in customer service knows that assisting customers is more of an art form than a science. Likewise, not everyone can work with customers.
How do you make sure that your employees are able to genuinely connect with the customer? You’ve got to recognize what the customer really wants: empathy.

What Is Empathy?

Customers calling in do so often because they have a problem. Representatives may naturally respond with sympathy, but that is not always the right play.

Many people get sympathy and empathy confused. However, a big difference exists between the two. Being sympathetic simply means you feel sorry for the other person, and that’s pretty much where the similarity ends.
In most cases, the customer calling in doesn’t want an employee to feel sorry for them. Instead, they want someone who can recognize their problem and find a suitable solution. That’s where empathy comes in.
Empathy is the ability to infer how the caller feels, to understand what their pain point is, and to show compassion by being patient and providing a resolution for the customer. This is simply being able to pause and think about how you’d feel if you were the one calling in with that same problem and how you’d like to be treated.

Why Is Empathy Important?

Empathy is the lifeblood of good customer service as it impacts customers at the most basic level — when they are vulnerable and want a solution. Customers can become upset when an employee incorrectly attempts to show empathy by simply apologizing for the inconvenience, as this is just acting upon sympathy alone.

When an employee neglects to find a solution for the caller, the customer might feel as though the representative doesn’t understand or care about their issue. The problem snowballs when frustrated customers go on to leave disparaging online reviews and spread negative feedback which can impact a company’s ability to attract new customers.
Empathy helps an employer really understand the various needs of the customer and affords the ability to communicate with deeper sincerity. As a result, customers who feel like the company cares will be more liable to remain a loyal customer and to refer the company to their friends.

How Do You Cultivate Empathy?

While some employees naturally show empathy, this shouldn’t be left to chance. Instead, proactively train your staff on the difference between sympathy and empathy and the importance of acting with empathy in customer service.

Create an empathy workshop in which employees virtually spend time in the customer’s shoes. Create case studies in which workers role-play with each other, taking turns being the customer.
Have them share with each other what their concerns were when they were the customer and answer a few questions like:
  • How did they feel?
  • Did they feel like the representative really understood their problem?
  • Would they call back based on the service they received?
Have employees take turns being both empathetic and sympathetic so that they really understand the difference.
Understanding what the customer really wants will often lead to higher customer satisfaction rates and a more loyal customer base.
At Professional Answering Service, we understand what the customer wants. We offer top-notch answering services. We believe in empowering and training our staff to be professional and helpful to every customer over the phone. If you need professional answering services, give us a call today.
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