How can businesses work to increase empathy on the complaints management front line?
When it comes to complaints management, a sympathetic ear is a vital tool. Customers crave someone to listen to their issue, and ultimately, provide reassurance that they’re being taken care of. At the heart of this lies empathy, a skill which is often hard to tap into.
Employers have to choose their front-line teams carefully, avoiding hiring someone who might be able to do the job, as opposed to someone who definitely can. A lack of empathy can have serious ramifications for businesses when managing customer complaints, particularly at a time when the number of vulnerable customers is expected to rise rapidly, making empathy an essential skill in the world of customer experience (CX).
If you are lucky enough to have a team of empaths, the main thing to ensure is that these individuals truly demonstrate their understanding to your customers. Front-line staff may be extremely empathetic, fully appreciating the unique feelings and needs a customer is experiencing, but if they’re unable to pass on this sense of being understood, any empathy is rendered pretty much useless.
The concept of “radical listening”, where call handlers can reflect back what they’ve just been told to prove they’re really listening, can definitely serve to quell customer concerns. But, to demonstrate empathy in the realm of complaint resolution, it has to be about deeds not words. The next steps front-line staff members take to put this empathy in practice to reach a positive outcome for the customer are critical.
Where to start?
For contact centers in particular, a lack of demonstrable empathy can be a real problem. Front-line staff members are often young, without much life experience, making it difficult for them to empathise with the wide demographic of customers they have to deal with on a daily basis. For staff members of all ages, it’s too easy to view customer problems and issues from their own perspective, just like it’s easy to be solely task-focussed, concentrating on a swift resolution but forgetting the importance of effective, empathic communication.
You can also have the problem of too much sympathy, where a case handler is unable to look at a situation objectively. This can lead to indecision, with required actions not taken quickly enough to achieve the necessary outcomes. As with most things CX-related, it’s all about striking the right balance.
Training and empowerment
Empathy training, such as educating front-line staff about key signs to look out for or suggesting responses to specific questions and queries, certainly does have its place, but it still relies on staff applying this training every day. Such lessons can only go so far because no two customers are the same, especially when you’re dealing with situations which are often far from clear-cut.
It’s vital that staff members are empowered to know how and what to do to demonstrate that, not only do they empathise with the customer, but that they know the next steps to take to find a suitable resolution. This could include giving front-line staff members the discretion to sidestep the standard T&Cs where appropriate, or giving them the tools and knowledge to actually do things differently.
Quality as standard
Quality assurance has a big part to play, with the right tools available to analyse customer interactions and give front-line staff members the insight to raise their own empathy game. When staff members take the time to identify and share best practices, assessing and reviewing customer interactions on an ongoing basis, empathetic responses and actions become standard practice, evolving along with changing circumstances and requirements.
Having intuitive systems in place can help ensure suitably empathic responses. Comprehensive complaints management systems provide front-line staff members with a single, complete view of the customer, ensuring they have all the relevant information at their fingertips to inform a personalised response, without having to ask a series of fact-finding questions. The most intuitive systems will use this customer information to signal the potential next steps for the staff member to take, ensuring follow-up actions reflect the needs of a particular customer. This takes some of the pressure off the front-line team while also highlighting the best route to resolution.
While it might not be possible to teach empathy, a combination of training, systems and quality assurance can form the solid foundations for a truly empathic response, not only in terms of what’s said, but the specific actions taken to resolve the situation. It’s only by implementing this multi-pronged approach that businesses can apply a suitably empathetic and personal approach to every interaction, enhancing CX and achieving optimum outcomes for everyone involved.