Offering a great service to clients is important, but service isn’t just about sales and figures. Establishing empathy with clients is one of the best ways to improve client relationships.

Practising empathy comes easier to some people than others, but there are some simple techniques that anybody can use to do it. 

The techniques we’ll be covering in this article are:

  • Active listening
  • Recognising emotions
  • Accepting a clients version of events
  • Restating the problem
  • Asking permission to move forward

But first, why exactly is empathy important for client relationships?

Why does empathy matter?

If a customer doesn’t believe their feelings are understood and valued, they’re far more likely to feel frustrated and take their business somewhere else.

The worst thing an employee can do is assume they know how a customer is feeling, instead of listening for emotional cues and taking the time to really understand their emotional state

For example, let’s say a customer calls up with a complaint. If you take the time to listen to their feelings and put yourself in their shoes, it’s much easier to get them on your side.

When they call up, it can sometimes feel like you vs the customer. Empathising puts you both on the same side – it’s both of you vs the problem.

Solve problems

Customer service members often rush to try and solve the problem without listening to the whole story. The truth is, sometimes the customers themselves don’t even know what they really want.

Empathising with customers is the only real way to know the best way to help a customer. Listen properly, and the customer will let you know the best way to help them. All you have to do is listen.

Reduce Miscommunication

Miscommunication is one of the most dangerous mistakes in customer service. Not feeling heard or appreciated can lead to frustration and complaints.

If the customer is in touch for a complaint in the first place, miscommunication will often be the final straw that convinces them to leave. Empathy is the best safeguard against miscommunication and bad customer service.

Get valuable feedback

Customers are the best source of information and feedback, so you should try your best to use them as a resource. Empathy will give you a deeper understanding of customer issues. 

Have your customer service staff take notes about the kinds of complaints they are getting. Not just what customers are saying, but how they feel and what’s leading to their frustration.

Techniques for establishing empathy

So empathy is important for a number of reasons, but let’s get specific. 

It’s helpful to think about empathy as a set of behaviours and actions, rather than some inherent skill or emotion. Anybody can do it with practice. 

Active listening

Empathy starts with listening. But it’s active listening that really allows you to connect with clients. 

Here are some easy tips you can use to improve active listening with customers:

  • Maintain eye contact with the customer. Generally speaking, you want to aim for eye contact about 60% of the time. Too much could be a little scary.
  • Don’t fold your arms while talking. This is guarded body language that will make you feel less approachable.
  • Paraphrase what the customer has said instead of offering before trying to offer a solution. For example, you could say “okay, if I understand, what you’re saying is…”.
  • Wait until the customer has finished talking before you prepare a response. The last thing they say might change the meaning of what has already been said.
  • As well as what they say, pay close attention to the customer’s body language. Facial expressions, tone of voice, and physical movements can tell you a lot.
  • Show interest by asking open-ended questions to encourage the customer to speak. Don’t use too many closed yes-or-no questions; they tend to shut down the conversation.
  • Be patient, open, and neutral. Treat them like people first and try not to be judgemental.

Remember, every customer is different. What works for one person might not work for another. But if you get into these listening habits, you’ll be well on your way to better customer service

Recognise emotions

Reading your clients emotional cues is the best way to know when you’re on the right path, when to be careful, or when you’re just making things worse. 

Sometimes a client needs practical help, other times they just want to complain about something. In those cases, it’s best to let them vent rather than jump in with solutions or counterarguments. 

If you do have a solution, or an answer they don’t want to hear, having recognised their emotions first will help build trust so they’ll be more open to your suggestions. 

Accepting a clients version of events

This doesn’t mean agreeing with everything they say or backing down when you know you’re right. But like recognising their emotions, this is all about making clients feel valued and supported. 

You should listen to their perspective, and understand how that would make them feel. If you accept their point of view, they’re much more likely to accept your point of view. When you’re both on equal footing, you can then work together to find a solution and move forward. 

Restating the problem

Sometimes it can be helpful to repeat what a client has told you in different words. Statements like, “if I understand, what you’re saying is…” can be incredibly powerful tools. 

First off, it’ll show the client that you were actually listening and internalising the information, showing you care. If not, the client can try to explain the problem again and you won’t waste time offering solutions before you fully understand the issue. 

Asking permission to move forward

Active listening, recognising emotions, accepting their perspective, and restating the problem are all about making sure you and the client are on the same page. 

So it only makes sense to make sure you’re acting together to find a solution as well. All this really means is getting their consent before moving forward with an idea.

Avoid instructive statements like “what you need to do is…”, and instead offer gentle statements like “there are a few directions we could take, if you’d like to hear them.”

This allows the client some control over the situation, reinforcing the idea of you working together as a team. 

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