empathy in customer service

There’s no denying that the use of artificial intelligence (or AI) is quickly growing as a useful application for customer experience in the business world. In fact, Forrester reported that artificial intelligence will replace 16% of American jobs by the end of the decade (though we’d beg to differ).

On the bright side, for those worrying about job security, Narrative Science stated that 80% of executives believe that artificial intelligence will improve employee performance and create jobs. Implementing the use of AI in customer service can provide a more efficient strategy to get through associated customer-facing tasks.

That said, fully automated customer support is not going to happen anytime soon. There are still many improvements that are necessary for this to be even a remote possibility, and there are still many things artificial intelligence can’t handle without human intervention.

It all boils down to the simple fact that machines don’t think or feel the way human beings do. They don’t possess the same high-level logical reasoning, comprehension, and emotions innate to human beings.

In customer service, it’s not just about fixing problems—it’s about delivering a positive customer experience in each client interaction during the customer journey.

In order to solve a problem properly, you have to understand a customer’s feelings and their unique situation. And in order to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, you have to have empathy.

Why Empathy is Important to the Customer Experience

The Oxford dictionary defines “empathy” as the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. Empathy allows you to understand another person’s situation, motives, and even their feelings and emotions. Empathy empowers a customer service agent to deliver an excellent customer experience.

Marsha Collier, an educator specializing in technology and business, has been quoted saying:

“Customer service can’t always deliver solutions, but it can always deliver empathy.”

Customers seeking answers want to be understood by their customer service representative, and they feel even better if they feel they can connect with them. Customers want to be understood as individuals, not just as potential business sales.

Problem Solving vs. Empathetic-Based Solutions

There’s a difference between problem solving and providing empathetic-based solutions to customer service issues. When a customer raises a concern, some customer service representatives immediately come to a conclusion without fully understanding the situation or getting enough information. Problem solving can come off as providing a solution immediately based only on what was told. In contrast, empathetic-based solutions involve a rep who listens first, is fully present and comprehensive, reads deeper into the context of a problem, then ultimately proposes a  solution.

Empathetic-based solutions try to employ a wider and more open perspective. It is a combination of what the rep sees and what the customers see.  

Empathetic-based solutions also involve giving the customer a chance to choose the most ideal outcome and come up with a mutual agreement for moving forward, rather that pushing only what the customer rep thinks is right (potentially coming off as condescending in the delivery of the “solution”).

Often times, empathetic-based solutions provide a positive solution and a positive customer experience because of the feeling of mutual respect and understanding.

Can Artificial Intelligence Become Empathetic?

With the growing popularity of machines and chatbots comes the realization of the importance of human capabilities. Today’s machines can understand commands, but they’re not able to understand real human emotions. This has to do with the fact that developers still haven’t gotten to the stage of completely mapping a human brain to understand human intelligence.

Is Empathy The Key to Customer Experience?

Empathy in customer service can be taught. Genesys conducted a survey a couple years back that focused on what matters most to customers when interacting with companies. 40%, or more than double the responses that the second place answer received, said “better human service“.

Empathy should play a big role in your company culture. Sales reps, managers, and even executives should  practice empathetic decision-making while they’re on the job. It’s all about seeing the situation through the eyes of the customer.

How does your company practice empathy? Do you agree with our assertion that it truly is the key to customer experience? Let us know your thoughts by tweeting at @GliaInc.