Sympathy involves identifying with, and even taking on that person’s emotions, while empathy means you acknowledge and affirm a customer’s emotional state.
The Power of Empathy
Responding to your customers with sympathy is like wallowing in the customers’ misfortune but now there are two victims rather than just one. It makes it far too easy to get too emotionally involved, which in the end may prohibit you from obtaining your end result.
But by not showing some type of an emotional connection, your customer may feel that you can’t identify with them or don’t care about the problem they are having. Enter empathy.
The trick is to be emotionally aware and sensitive without becoming emotionally involved. It’s the “walk a mile in their shoes” approach, which in return makes your customer feel valued and cared for.
Empathy can have a dramatic impact on every aspect of our lives. Take the story of Claiborne Paul Ellis for example…
Claiborne was born into a poor white family in Durham, North Carolina, in 1927. Finding it hard to make ends meet working in a garage and believing African Americans were the cause of all his troubles, he followed his father’s footsteps and joined the Ku Klux Klan, eventually rising to the top position of Exalted Cyclops of his local KKK branch.
In 1971 he was invited—as a prominent local citizen—to a 10-day community meeting to tackle racial tensions in schools, and was chosen to head a steering committee with Ann Atwater, a black activist he despised. But working with her exploded his prejudices about African Americans.
He saw that she shared the same problems of poverty as his own. “I was beginning to look at a black person, shake hands with him, and see him as a human being,” he recalled of his experience on the committee. “It was almost like bein’ born again.” On the final night of the meeting, he stood in front of a thousand people and tore up his Klan membership card.
Ellis later became a labor organiser for a union whose membership was 70 percent African American. He and Ann remained friends for the rest of their lives.
There may be no better example of the power of empathy to overcome a difficult situation.
A Lasting Connection
The key to customer retention is the relationship you build with them. Empathy and understanding can be a powerful tool in building a relationship with each of your customers.
When you display a level of empathy you are remaining professional but caring at the same time. It makes your customer feel important and understood without losing total control of your customer service guidelines.
Neither empathy nor sympathy is something that a machine can produce. It’s the direct connection between two people, and it remains highly important when you’re dealing with customer service issues.
Taking that extra step to empathize with your customers creates a foundational balance that demonstrates your organization can be trusted to handle a customer’s complaint or problem.
“When you show deep empathy toward others, their defensive energy goes down, and positive energy replaces it. That’s when you can get more creative in solving problems.”
– Stephen Covey