A row of call center phone operators sitting in a row, working at computers while wearing headsets.

More than 70% of call center employees are at risk of burnout, according to a report cited in Forbes. Often these employees are dealing with unsatisfied, confused, or frustrated customers, which can make it difficult to empathize with customers, especially over the phone. 

“We need to receive empathy to give empathy,” says Marshall Rosenberg, founder of the Center for Nonviolent Communication. Showing your customer service team how to show empathy to these customers can, in turn, help your customers feel that same kind of empathy toward your employee — and even your business. 

So, how can we teach our customer service employees ways to express empathy over the phone? Let’s break down the benefits and techniques for some of the most effective customer service empathy examples.

Challenges To Creating Empathy Remotely 

According to Psychology Today, empathy is the ability to recognize, understand, and share the experiences of another. Like many social skills, empathy can take practice to perfect. Before you can understand the best ways to show empathy over the phone, it’s important to understand the challenges we face when trying to create empathy. Some of the most common challenges include:

  • Choosing the wrong words — ones that feel judgmental instead of validating.
  • Emphasizing user error.
  • A distracting work environment that makes it hard for employees to focus.
  • Multitasking while on the phone.
  • Overwhelming call volume that creates stress and pressure for employees.
  • Inability to see and read body language and facial expressions over the phone.
  • Repeated user experience issues that the company will not resolve.
  • Outdated technology and unclear escalation criteria.

Outdated technology is one of the most common challenges to empathy that often gets overlooked. That’s why it is crucial that you and your customer service agents stay informed about the newest call center technologies and trends. Armed with that knowledge, you’ll be able to implement the most effective customer service tools to empower empathy in any situation.

Steps for Creating a More Empathic Experience 

Once you have identified the challenges to practicing empathy over the phone, you can begin to explore what empathy looks like for your customer service team. It’s helpful to go back and examine some of the most emotionally heightened phone calls from the last six months. What could have been done differently? How could they have de-escalated the call or even gotten ahead of the emotional response?

Listen Actively

Active listening is a crucial customer service technique for creating an empathetic atmosphere. Practicing active listening means giving the speaker signs that you are deeply listening to them — that you care. According to Mindtools.com, you can show your customer service agents how to become active listeners by encouraging them to:

  • Give the speaker their undivided attention. Minimize any distractions by closing chat windows, web browsers, and other non-related tasks.
  • Use verbal cues that show they are listening, like “yes,” “I hear you,” and “Please tell me more.”
  • Reflect back to the caller their situation by paraphrasing their words.
  • Ask clarifying questions and summarize their key points periodically.

Active listening will help your customer feel that they are truly being heard, which is the first step in giving and receiving empathy.

Make a Commitment 

A customer calls because they need help. By giving them a commitment to some next steps, your customer service representative is putting empathy into action. Even if the issue cannot be resolved in the way the customer wants, just knowing that a follow-up will occur can help them feel recognized and understood.

Give your employees clear guidelines on when it is appropriate to process a refund, issue a replacement, and create a timeline for the next steps. This will empower them to make tangible commitments on their own, so they can give reassurance immediately.

Provide a Sense of Immediacy 

Customers need to feel their situation is important, especially over the phone. Since they cannot speak face-to-face, they may feel like their problem will be dismissed as soon as the phone call ends. Customer service agents can help them feel empathy by letting them know some immediate steps will be taken to resolve their issue. Consider implementing first call resolution strategies so your team can create that sense of immediacy.

Make Exceptions (Where Possible/Reasonable)

Sometimes losing a sale means keeping a customer. If an angry customer walks away from a phone call feeling dismissed, blamed, or patronized, you may keep the current sale, but you lose out on future ones. When possible, make an exception for their situation, even if it was caused by user error, to help the customer feel valued and respected. 

When customers feel that level of empathy, they are more likely to become loyal supporters, giving you their repeat business, even after feeling dissatisfied originally. Be sure to build out a process for providing exceptions, so employees know when it is applicable. It’s a good best practice to make sure managers or decision-makers clear all exceptions before they are offered.

Empathy Phrases To Use During Client Calls 

Once your employees understand what empathy is and how it can be useful in reducing both customer distress and their own stress levels, it’s time to give them a few empathetic phrases to keep at hand. Consider the challenges they face when displaying empathy over the phone, and consider how the following phrases help keep remote agents engaged and empathetic.

“I Hear You” 

These three little words have a big meaning when it comes to empathy. Empathy begins when customers feel their situation is recognized. “I hear you” not only says you are actively listening but also that you are validating their concerns.

“I’m Sorry To Hear That” 

“I’m sorry to hear that” is an effective way of letting customers know that you are acknowledging their frustration, but without admitting any culpability. Using call center scripting software can give your employees optimal language to convey a genuine sense of “sorry” into their words. 

“I Understand How This Situation Is Not Ideal” 

An authentic empathetic tone recognizes this situation could be better and will carry words far beyond a surface recognition. This situation clearly isn’t ideal, or the customer wouldn’t be calling. This empathetic phrase lets your customers know that your employee recognizes things could have been better and validates their feeling that they deserve more.

“I Appreciate Your Feedback”

This phrase lets the customer know that their call has been meaningful and helpful to your employee and your business. No one likes to get unhappy calls from unsatisfied customers. By expressing gratitude for the time they took to call, your customer service team is implying that this customer is also helping to improve overall business operations.

“How Can I Take Care of You Today?” 

Customers often know what result they are looking for during and after a call. Ask them how they would like to see this situation resolved and give them the power to show you what it will take to transform them into a happy customer.
An empathic approach to customer service can substantially improve multiple aspects of your work environment, such as your overall call quality, your NPS scores, job satisfaction, and employee turnover. It’s important to make sure everyone has the training and resources they need to consistently implement this approach. Support your customer service representatives by giving them real-time guidance through training, scripting, and high-quality technology.