Customer service training tip: Scripted empathy never works

Faith Ocampo Published on May 4, 2016

Scripts may be effective in steering conversations in the right direction, but they rarely work for communicating empathy.

call center agent reading customer support script

Empathy, long been regarded as an essential component of successful customer support, makes interactions more meaningful. Taking it out of the equation is like punching a gaping hole right through otherwise productive dialogs. Without it, brands are stripped of the opportunity to prove themselves trustworthy.

On the contrary, when agents are able to see a situation through the customer’s eyes, everything changes—from the way they phrase messages to the tone and language they adopt, and the techniques they use to address problems.

Empathic agents tactfully resolve the issues at hand and, at the same time, uplift a person’s overall experience by channeling positive feelings.

The bad news is that empathy is also one of the hardest communication skills to teach. To make up for this, most call centers resort to scripting. Indeed, predetermined phrases (such as, “I’m sorry for the inconvenience” and “I understand how you feel”) help agents emulate the kind of response that customers expect. However, although scripts are effective for steering conversations, they almost never work for communicating genuine empathy.

Encouraging agents to be supportive

smiling call center agent looking at computer screen

Your customer service training needs to shift its focus. One way to do this is to spotlight deep listening, a soft skill characterized by being supportive and generous.

Not to be confused with active listening, which mainly involves the use of logic to solve problems, deep listening occurs when you listen to customers as though they’re your friends. In a call center context, this means that agents are prepared to trust a customer and withhold judgment. Doing so would allow them to fairly evaluate a situation using both logic and emotion.

Taking the customer’s perspective

Agents must learn to shift back and forth between two perspectives: one is as a customer support representative and, the other, as a consumer. You may think this comes naturally, but in reality, it doesn’t happen as often as you’d like.

call center agent in pink reading sheet of paper

What hinders agents from thinking like a customer is their overdependence on scripts, and this is something that a structured call center training often promotes. The solution is to allow your employees to be inventive, to approach customers in their own way, and to make decisions as they see fit.

But aside from allowing agents to be independent, trainers must not forget to emphasize the importance of good customer service in creating a solid company branding. Agents who don’t fully understand how their individual performance affects a company’s reputation tend to be more insensitive to customers’ feelings.

Staying out of judgment

The purpose of call centers is to assist customers through a process. Ideally, therefore, customer service training must foster open-mindedness. If not, agents come across as condescending and insincere, and these negative emotions get in the way of two core functions: relationship building and problem resolution.

Communicating well

Through a well-designed call center training, you can nurture the fundamental communication skills that allow agents to articulate their messages clearly. Agents must know the right words to use to show that they understand what customers are going through. The messages don’t have to be long or creatively phrased, but they need to reflect sincerity.

Faith is a digital media enthusiast aiming to become an active part of the tech world by sharing her insights. She likes to blog about everything digimarketing, technology, and social media.
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