Empathy Is Great For Cx But It Doesn’t Solve Customer Service Problems Alone

Empathy definition in a book as concept for customer service metric

Empathy Is Great For Cx But It Doesn’t Solve Customer Service Problems Alone

Let’s get clear on empathy, what it means and how it fits into creating great customer experience and your company culture. Yes, empathy is great for CX, but it doesn’t solve your customer’s problems alone. It smooths solutions,  but it is not a solution in itself. 

What Empathy Is

OK, empathy is more about understanding another person’s experience by putting yourself in their metaphorical shoes. This is not to be confused with sympathy, which is feeling bad for or pitying another person’s experience.

The shades of meaning between the two are important to understanding what language to use with customers and how to train agents to be effective.

Your customers want to be understood. Understanding their problem, and the difficulty it causes them, enables you to recognize the urgency of a solution and to reassure your customers that how they feel matters. That is an empathetic approach. A sympathetic approach comes off as condescending and doesn’t reassure that a solution is forthcoming.

How Empathy Helps


You have biases. All humans have biases. Empathy helps to recognize and manage biases and in customer facing roles this is important as they are limiting: 

“We instinctively make judgments based on language, color, gender, religion, accent, and vocabulary. We do not notice when we are acting out of bias but it makes us treat some customers differently than others. For example, assuming that a customer would not be tech-savvy because they are older and blaming them for the issue they are facing is because of our bias. This bias creates a barrier between agents and customers.”
“A Guide to Empathy in Customer Service”, Prashanthini Mande, Freshdesk

You can see how this is a problem. Put yourself in your customer’s situation. Imagine being faced with technology you have never used and that you have no real baseline for and you must navigate this unknown technology to get a medication you really need. You’re afraid if you do it wrong, you won’t get your medication in time. That means another trip to the doctor (or emergency room) plus higher costs and you’re on a fixed income. Your customer is contacting you under this stressful scenario. Allow that to inform your approach to your customer.

Defining Pain Points

To create great CX requires identifying and eliminating customer pain points. Empathy helps you do this when combined with listening:

“Among its benefits, empathic listening builds trust and respect, enables people to reveal their emotions–including tensions, facilitates openness of information sharing, and creates an environment that encourages collaborative problem-solving.” –“Three Ways Leaders Can Listen with More Empathy”, Christine M. Riordan, Harvard Business Review

Identifying repetitive problems combined with an understanding of the impact of those problems enables more comprehensive and targeted solutions. 

As an example, a customer’s phone dies or is stolen, and they have a service issue. This seems simple, call on another phone. However, they do not have a second phone and live alone without immediate access to another phone. They need to contact you via an alternative method such as computer chat or email or searching for solutions through FAQs. Email often takes more time for a result than a phone option. Searching FAQs is also putting the work onto the customer, work that takes time they may not have and it may not address their issue anyway.  If you do not have a live chat option your customer is stuck. It is a pain point for the customer to have to find access to another phone. A public phone poses privacy challenges when credit card and account numbers are being exchanged. Combine this scenario with time or financial pressure, and you have multiple pain points to address.

Putting yourself in your customer’s shoes reveals the levels of difficulty in your customer service plan and aids you in creating targeted solutions that respect the human aspect of business. 

Going Beyond Empathy

Empathy is great when it is both real and followed up with effective action. Just saying “I understand, I would feel the same way” does not get Mrs. D her medication on time and that’s what she needs. Like James Dodkins talks about in this Instagram clip  some situations just need action and not empathy. 

This requires going beyond empathy to discover the root of the problem and then taking steps to rectify it while communicating along the way. 

From Empathy to Action

Asking your customers is a way of finding out where you need to improve. However, use surveys sparingly. Remember, yours is not the only company your customers buy from. Be respectful of your customer’s time and provide some bonus when requesting it. 

Automating data collection during interactions identifies pain points. Quality Assurance (QA) is not just about monitored calls, emails and chats, but also allows tagging for issues. This provides you specific insights into service problems.  

For example, identify CSAT scores for specific employees or causes of customer churn using tags. These insights allow you to take nuanced action such as targeted training to solve repeat problems. 

Tools that help you monitor as many interactions as possible give you the best overall view of your customer experience.  

Yes, empathy is great for CX. Remember to combine it with the right tools, data and action so that you and your customers receive the best result.