Empathy Metric in Customer Service: Managing Empathy Fatigue and Inauthentic Empathy

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Empathy Metric in Customer Service: Managing Empathy Fatigue and Inauthentic Empathy

Don’t underestimate the power of the empathy metric in customer service. To get the most out of this metric though, you need to manage empathy fatigue and avoid using inauthentic empathy that backfires.

  • Empathy metric in customer service
  • Manage empathy fatigue 
  • Avoid inauthentic empathy
  • The power of empathy

Empathy Metric in Customer Service

Emotion affects experience, and your customers are no different. Emotional loyalty is an important part of long term customer relationships. Empathy factors into this kind of loyalty. 

Behavioral loyalty is linked to ease and habit. Rational loyalty is linked to price, practicality and value. Some see these definitions as interchangeable, but compared to these, emotional loyalty has a feeling component. Forrester research has repeatedly found that emotion is a greater loyalty driver than effectiveness or ease.

When a company is able to show it really understands and cares for its customers it is building an emotional connection with them that goes deeper. Research indicates 76% of customers will stick with a brand if they feel appreciated.    

On top of that, though delight, happiness and surprise have a place, value, appreciation and respect rank highest for US customers.  

Any other metrics – CSAT, NPS, CES – are affected by emotional connection. They need to work together.

That is why it is important to show care in an authentic way, which leads us to the next two points.

Manage Empathy Fatigue

Customer facing work like customer service requires emotional energy. Under difficult circumstances empathy fatigue is real for both your agents and your customers. 

The Cleveland Clinic calls empathy a ‘limited resource’ that when exhausted can cause a negative backlash mentally, emotionally and physically. Whether customer or employee, the capacity for empathy requires nurturing and replenishment. 

Remain connected with your employees. Make dialogue, support and positive experiences part of your culture. Preventing this kind of fatigue is better than trying to do damage control once it hits.  

The company Entersekt gave an NPS style survey to their employees to measure their engagement during the pandemic. It helped them understand how their workers felt. From there they started regular virtual meetings to stay connected, supportive training and even had food delivered to everyone so they could have a virtual lunch together. 

Training, scheduling and staffing based on individual strong points are all helpful in preventing fatigue or worse, burn out.

Don’t forget to empower your customer. Dr. Nate Regier, former psychologist now focused on bringing compassion to the workplace, states: “Customers are much more loyal and engaged when they take an active role in the solution. When you are doing all the emotional (and physical) work, you are undermining their capability and dignity and creating dependence.”

Empathy is putting yourself in another’s shoes. Imagine a busy customer wanting a swift answer. Easy to find, clear information along with self-service options are ways to give your customers the opportunity to take care of issues themselves. That is a form of empathy too.

Avoid Inauthentic Empathy

Empathy is an important part of customer service. However, it needs to be appropriate to the situation. There is no point in employing empathy if it isn’t nuanced and real. 

Scripts

Scripts can be helpful as guidelines, but when read robotically they sound inauthentic. It is hard for people to repeat the same words multiple times of day without them sounding stale. Allow room for your agents to use their cumulative on the job experience and their own personalities (within company policy and branding of course).  

Besides, memorizing 30 empathy statements to use won’t help if they aren’t used at the right time for the right situation and with the right tone. The nuance of empathy is just as important as the words.

Consider recording policy or other often repeated information so that the burden isn’t on your agents to deliver them. This way the agents aren’t expected to go from robotic info mode to nuanced empathy mode. Plus they can focus their efforts on using their time with the customer to create effective exchanges and deeper connections.

The Soft Skill of Hard Empathy

Empathy is often described as one of the soft skills:  the interpersonal skills that are difficult to quantify. However, empathy is actually difficult to master. 

Can you see the problem with this interaction:

customer: I got the wrong color shirt. Can I make an exchange?

agent: I am so sorry to hear this. I imagine it was difficult. I understand how troubling it is to get the wrong item. 

The agent is using ‘canned’ empathy and making it not only ineffective, but potentially a backfire. The response is overboard compared to the inquiry. Also, it would be better for the agent to respond positively, especially if this is the first part of the inquiry. “Yes, I’d be glad to help. What is your order number?”  or “Let’s get you the right color shirt. What was the date of purchase?”

Then the agent is immediately addressing the customer query. They are also showing confidence and helpfulness at the same time. 

Strategic is not the same as fake. The empathy needs to fit the situation. Using what is considered technically to be empathetic language without regard to context is just as bad, if not worse, than a script.

A Word About Bias

Identifying and managing unconscious biases is important to developing effective use of empathy. Bias is part of the human experience. Recognizing it is part of managing it. It affects how your agents interpret customer words and vice versa. Train them to identify examples of bias, thereby helping your agents be more self aware and to manage their own responses to customer biases

This is connected with empathy fatigue. Biases impact decisions especially when people are under pressure or fatigued. Recognizing when exhaustion is imminent is as important as recognizing bias when aiming for quality performance.

The Power of Empathy

In 2021 Catalyst conducted a study of 889 employees in multiple industries to measure the power of empathy, especially during this unprecedented time. The overarching discovery was that it positively impacts innovation, engagement and inclusion improving performance.

The study was diverse across job level, age, race, sex and identity. However, they found a particular benefit of empathy for women of color. The women of color surveyed who reported empathetic supervisors also reported 13% less burnout. Catalyst states: “our data highlight its power for women of color employees whose experiences with institutional-level empathy in the workplace may be sorely lacking.

There are companies who figured out the importance of empathy on both sides well before the pandemic. The Ritz-Carlton is a classic enduring example.

After dedicating to a shift in customer relationship building American Express reaped a 400% increase in retention.

Bottom line: it’s worthwhile for you to employ and measure this metric for both your customers and your employees.


Do you measure the empathy metric in your customer service? 

For more on how empathy impacts customer service check out these articles: