5 ways to improve customer satisfaction scores using customer empathy

5 ways to improve customer satisfaction scores using customer empathy

A large financial services company has a long-running and insightful TV ad campaign about the quality of their customer service. The commercials feature customers talking to call center agents who look just like the customers—similar clothes, communication styles, facial features, and hairstyles. The interactions always result in high customer satisfaction; these customers are joyous!

The ads aren't implying that you get the best experiences when your customer service agent is your customer’s doppelganger. Rather, the commercials are making the point that satisfying interactions happen when customers and agents make authentic, personal connections. This is why successful businesses don't just emphasize the technical aspects of customer service; they also focus on the emotional side of interactions by prioritizing customer empathy, rapport building, and showing compassion.

a call center with everything but the human touch

Showing empathy involves putting yourself in other people's shoes so you can better understand what they're thinking and feeling. Someone who experiences empathy in a customer service experience feels like the agent—by proxy, the business—listens to them, understands them, and values them, even if the agent has to say “No” to their request. This feeling of connectedness can result in higher customer satisfaction and loyalty.

consumers value and empathy and human connection

Improving the customer experience to incorporate better empathy is a customer satisfaction best practice. In the on-demand webinar, “Getting heart-to-heart: Expressing empathy in a digital world,” we cover why empathy is a customer expectation we need to address and what ingredients you need to implement empathy successfully in today’s digital-first customer experience.

But as important as empathy is to customer satisfaction, it can be difficult for contact center managers to know if their agents are truly building relationships with customers or just focusing on the mechanics of issue resolution. Fortunately, modern AI-powered contact center solutions can eliminate the guessing game and provide managers with more insights into and control over the softer side of interactions.

These tools, combined with basic blocking and tackling activities, like providing agents with training and scripts, can help organizations boost customer satisfaction and ensure empathy is at the heart of their customer relationships.

1. Use AI-powered agent assistance to automate empathy for call contact center agents

guide agents in real time on critical behaviors

Despite the growing adoption of customer self-service options, agent-assisted channels are still the most used methods of getting support. Our most recent consumer research revealed that phone, email, and chat were by far the dominant service channels. This means agents are still central to delivering satisfying, empathetic experiences.

Although supervisors and QA staff can pull a sampling of call recordings to assess interpersonal skills and coach agents to improve their performance, the size of the samples is typically very small, and agents may receive feedback several days after the interactions. The time lag reduces the effectiveness of the coaching and there's no way to impact the outcomes of the interactions. All of this means that agents' soft skills probably aren't as good as they could be and, as a result, customer satisfaction is suboptimal.

seventy five percent of agents long term success
Data source: American Management Association: “The Hard Truth About Soft Skills” (2019)

Up until recently, this was just a limitation of the quality monitoring process that contact center managers had to live with. But advances in artificial intelligence have fundamentally changed the game. AI-powered real-time agent assistance tools can monitor voice interactions as they're happening. AI enables these solutions to measure customer sentiment by assessing factors such as voice pitch and volume, length of silences, and use of keywords. Based on sentiment, the software then coaches agents on behaviors, including showing empathy, that has been scientifically proven to increase satisfaction.

Real-time interaction guidance yields several benefits. Because these tools provide real-time alerts, they give agents the ability to improve interactions while they're occurring. Equally as important, empathy for contact center agents will always be top of mind and their soft skills will improve with repetitive coaching and practice. Real-time interaction guidance software will upgrade a call center's agent development results and is a powerful supplement to quality review processes.

Here's a fun video that shows the power of AI-supported agent guidance in the call center in-action:

2. Use smart routing to make customers feel heard

If you were frustrated and needed customer support, would you prefer to call into a company and listen to a long list of routing options or state your need aloud naturally and have the routing respond based on what you’ve said? Seems like a no-brainer, right?

Any instance a customer reaches out to your company for support is an important time to demonstrate empathy and show you understand and care about a customer’s needs. Artificial intelligence-powered routing can help. The AI listens to the customer and using natural language processing and all other customer data sources on-hand, including past service results, sentiment, and recent interactions, and more, it can route their call accordingly.

What makes it even more empathetic, is pairing the customer with an agent that will most likely “get” them and make them feel supported. Beyond just routing a call to the first available agent, some intelligent routing platforms can prescribe the best agent match for the customer.

Predicting the best connection uses all available data sources. In addition to all the previously mentioned customer data, intelligent routing uses all available agent data, like their performance on past similar calls or types of customers, each agent’s unique skills, and their familiarity with different aspects of your business, to then determine which agent is best for the customer’s needs, preferences, and communication style.

AI takes interaction routing to the next level by considering not just agent skills, but also softer characteristics that should lead to more empathetic interactions that can strengthen relationships and lead to higher customer satisfaction.

3. Use agent scripting to help agents apply empathy in customer service

no idea how to respond

Scripting customer service interactions has its supporters and detractors. The danger of scripts is that if they're read verbatim, they can sound robotic and not at all sincere. When trying to show empathy, a robotic delivery can have the opposite of the intended effect and crush customer satisfaction.

But for agents who struggle with soft skills, knowing some phrases to show they understand and empathize with customers can give them more confidence as they try to build relationships. Of course, they shouldn't read the phrases to customers. Rather, they can put their own spin on the scripts to use language that feels and sounds natural. Then, when the need arises, they are prepared to say the right thing to acknowledge customers' emotions and needs.

angry customer seasoned agent

Here are some examples of customer service empathy statements that say "I see you" to customers:

  • "I understand how that would be frustrating."
  • "I'm sorry you're disappointed. I will fix this. "
  • "I want to make sure I understand the issue. [then summarize what they said]"
  • "Thank you for being so patient."
  • "You are completely right. That shouldn't have happened."

Empathy scripting doesn't have to be long or complex. It just needs to add some humanity to support interactions.

Balaji Venkatech Bala, Senior Director of Customer Support for Sum Total Systems, sums up the importance for scripting in his organization in this video:

To get it right, try an exercise of empathy mapping as part of your next customer journey mapping exercise using the empathy mapping template and examples on page 13 of the eBook, “14 innovative personalization ideas for the digital-first customer.”

4. Enhance new hire and ongoing soft skill training

high customer expectations with zero technology or training

While software tools are a great way to improve customer empathy, agents also need basic classroom training when they're hired and then ongoing refreshers to ensure their skills remain sharp. Training should include how to use the scripted empathy statements we just discussed.

Empathy training for customer service agents is important but can also be difficult to execute. Some people are naturally empathetic while others struggle to "put themselves in other people's shoes." In fact, this latter category might resist empathy training and prefer to stay in their comfort zones of analytical problem solving and system proficiency. If that's the case, maybe you can win them over with data. Since empathy and CX are both strongly related to how customers feel, try these statistics on for size:

  • 87% of consumers are willing to buy more products if they have an exceptional customer experience [1]
  • 81% of consumers are willing to recommend a company to others if they have an exceptional customer experience [2]
  • 66% of customers expect companies to understand their needs and expectations [3]

Agents should know that when they show empathy to customers, it meets customers' expectations, impacts revenue, and is important to agents' long-term career success.

Once you set the stage by illustrating the importance of empathy, here are some topics on which to train and improve agents' empathy skills.

Active listening

Since an important part of being empathetic involves showing customers you understand them, agents need to have strong active listening skills. This means agents need to be able to really listen to customers instead of being distracted by thinking through their responses. Agents should also ask clarifying questions and accurately paraphrase the issue back to the customer to show they grasped the issue. Good active listening will give customers confidence that they are understood. Role-playing is an effective way to teach active listening skills.

Customer service empathy words

Like scripting, agents need to know what to say to convey empathy. Having a list of customer service empathy words in their back pocket can help ensure agents aren't caught flat-footed when the heat is on. Words matter, especially when you're speaking to someone who's frustrated, disappointed, or angry. Agents should know to use terms and phrases like the following to let customers know they're being heard and that their issue will be resolved:

Customer service empathy words and phrases:

  • Appreciate — “I appreciate your patience”
  • Understand — “I understand how this can be frustrating.”
  • Immediately — “I’ll fix this immediately.”
  • Fix — “I can fix that.”
  • I will — “I will work with our team here to resolve this.”
  • I see — “I see the problem.”
  • I know — “I know how frustrating this can feel.”
  • Thank you — “Thank you for providing additional context.”
  • Sorry — “I’m sorry to hear that you’re having trouble”
  • I hear — “I can hear that this is important for you.”
  • Right — “You’re right.”

Listening comprehension

How does listening comprehension differ from active listening? Active listening is important because it's a way to confirm the facts and reassure customers. But being able to paraphrase information doesn't always guarantee that an agent understands intent. Some customers (and people in general) don't say exactly what they want, instead of relying on other people to infer meaning. It's important for agents to recognize this and be able to read between the lines. True understanding requires comprehension.

To make it easier to train your agents on critical skills like empathy, we created some pre-built agent empathy training you can start giving agents today as part of this free agent and supervisor training bundle.

72 percent of agents want better training

5. Collect and act on customer feedback

customer told me they love me

Successful businesses regularly ask their customers for feedback through structured surveys and also mine unstructured data sources like product reviews, social media comments, and customer service interactions. Asking customers for their opinions sends a signal that you care about what they think and feel. But more important are the actions businesses take in reaction to the customer input. If customers constantly tell you that your IVR menu is confusing or that your software functionality is clunky, you should use that information to reduce friction along the customer journey and improve customer satisfaction. Nothing says “I love you” like revamping your password reset process!

Modern technology makes it very easy to collect solicited and unsolicited customer input. Here are a couple of software options:

Use customer survey tools to learn where empathy is needed

Good customer survey software is flexible and user-friendly. End-users can configure their own survey questions, distribute surveys through multiple channels, and slice and dice the results to get actionable insights. This flexibility empowers contact centers to run industry standard survey types such as the following.

  • Customer satisfaction. Customer satisfaction surveys measure satisfaction at a specific point and time with a specific facet of the business, for example, a customer service interaction. If you're implementing a new empathy initiative, consider baselining your contact center's satisfaction score so you can determine if your initiative is having an impact.
  • Net Promoter Score. Net Promoter Score (NPS) surveys ask customers how likely they are to recommend a brand to friends and colleagues. High brand advocacy is correlated to high loyalty.
  • Customer effort. More companies are adopting customer effort surveys, probably because the measurement makes a lot of sense given the current focus on the customer journey. Customer effort surveys measure if an organization is easy or hard to do business with and can shine a light on pain points that should be eliminated.

For more information about the best way to structure your customer surveys, check out “5 Best Practices for Effective Customer Satisfaction (CSAT) Surveys.

Interaction analytics

Customer service interactions are a gold mine of customer information that has mostly remained out of reach until recently. It used to be impractical to transform so many conversations into meaningful insights, but artificial intelligence has made it possible. AI-powered interaction analytics software analyzes 100% of contacts from all channels to identify customer sentiment, contact drivers, emerging problems, trends, and more. This lets businesses know if their customers are feeling positive or negative and enable proactive problem management. The right tools can even calculate sentiment scores at the agent level, which allows supervisors to identify training opportunities and agents who may need to work on their empathy skills.

Put empathy into practice with help from these resources

Empathy is a critical attribute to meeting customer expectations. To get it right, try the above five ways to improve customer satisfaction scores using customer empathy:

  1. Use AI-powered agent assistance to automate empathy for call center agents
  2. Use smart routing to make customers feel heard
  3. Use agent scripting to help agents apply empathy in customer service
  4. Enhance new hire and ongoing soft skill training
  5. Collect and act on customer feedback

cultivating a future proof customer journey strategy

Simply put, applying customer empathy means understanding and integrating your customer’s expectations. And lucky for you, we’ve outlined what that looks like with help from three industry experts in the eBook, “Cultivating a future-proof customer journey strategy.” Get your copy now.

1 NICE CXone: Customer Experience (CX) Transformation Benchmark (2019)

2 NICE CXone: Customer Experience (CX) Transformation Benchmark (2019)

3 Salesforce: State of The Connected Customer, 4th edition (2020)