19 Feb Humor Creativity And Empathy In Customer Service: Know How To Read The Room
Though there are great customer service experiences, they are not considered the norm. You want to define exceptional customer experience, and make it standard at your company. One of the keys to this puzzle is service agents who can “read the room”. They tune in to what your customer needs beyond their question or product issue. Using soft skills like humor, creativity and empathy in customer service, agents are able to change a mediocre customer experience into a memorable one.
How to Read Your Customers
A lot has been written on the psychology of body language, but many customer service interactions are not in person. Phone exchanges provide some information. Customer vocal tone, speed, volume and word choice help to convey how they are feeling. Talking fast with urgency, slowly and deliberately, shouting, speaking calmly with a smile in their voice all present different emotional states.
In text, email and chat this is more challenging because there is no body language or vocal context to read. Humans don’t all communicate alike, but there are common patterns that can be learned to help identify customer sentiment. Look for word choices, speed of response and slang to understand where your customer is coming from.
Tchiki Davis at Berkley brought up an important point about bias: “When it comes to detecting emotion in texts, try to remember that unconscious biases affect our interpretations. The emotions we detect may be reflective of things about us just as much as they are reflective of the information in the text.”
Bias is a part of our human experience, but there are ways to become more aware of it and create a better customer experience. For example, The Washington State Department of Social and Health Services has a course on turning the tide of unconscious bias. Their presentation brings up talking points to help identify and discuss bias.
Different channels have different communication styles. Chat is known for short, rapid exchanges, where email leans toward longer, more detailed ones. Ensure that your agents are trained to use each channel skillfully or employ them on the channel they excel at.
Though considered too casual by some, emoji’s help convey sentiment. The key is to know how and when to use them and sparingly. In chat they provide clarity that is missing without vocal and physical cues. This article at Whoson explains some parameters for using emojis in chat and how cultural differences impact their use: “…the thumbs-up emoji would be considered positive in the US or UK. In Iran, it’s considered an insult. Therefore, it is important to understand what the emoji means, what emotion you want it to convey, and which audience you’re targeting.”
Follow Your Customer’s Lead
Previous research, like that done by Software Advice detailed on Zendesk, indicates that most customers prefer a casual tone of voice. However, if your customer uses a formal tone it is best to respond in kind.
There are some situations where casual tone can come off as flippant too. When a customer is having a serious problem a response like “I get it. That’s terrible.” doesn’t help: “For example, according to Jay Ivey, customers are likely to interpret a casual attitude in a delicate situation as being insensitive, condescending, or otherwise inappropriate. It just may not create the most productive mood.” – “How to Satisfy Customers Using the Right Tone of Voice”, Zendesk
Create Brand Personality
Speak with your customers, whether live or via a text method, in your brand voice. Defining phrases and style that represents your company helps agents in creating a brand focused customer service experience.
If your company sells orchestral scores responding to a customer with “Dude, I totally get you” is not on brand. However, for a surfing company that may be a perfect response.
Along with humor, creativity and empathy that are good in customer service, there are some phrases that shouldn’t be used in customer interactions in general. Examples include: “I can’t”, “you should” or anything that over promises or comes off as a platitude. This is a starting point for putting your team on track for quality interactions.
Have a Laugh
A great example of picking up on customer cues with humor, is this Amazon exchange. The customer service agent, who may or may not have the first name Thor, tuned into the customer’s invitation to role play:
Both the customer and agent clearly had fun with this exchange and resolution. Hiring agents who have a capacity for humor can be a great fit for a brand with a fun vibe.
Caught early enough in an interaction a skilled customer service agent can shift a call from frustration to laughter. Agents who can employ humor, creativity and empathy in customer service are highly valuable for CSAT and retention.
I Feel You
There is great power in empathy to connect customers with your brand. Micah Solomon believes a type of empathy is teachable in customer service: situational empathy. He explains the difference between this type of empathy and dispositional empathy is that the second is a personality trait. Situational empathy is a response to an experience. If an agent doesn’t share a similar experience with a customer they can learn about a customer situation through tools like roleplay and case studies. According to Zendesk, The Best Customer Agents Read Fiction. Do yours?
Note that there is a difference between canned responses and true empathy. Your customers are wary of false expressions used to manipulate that sound more like a bot than human. That backfires. Train your whole team to convey empathy authentically while solving customer issues effectively.