Empathy feels touchy-feely, a soft skill. Support metrics are cold hard data. How can we bring the two together?

Empathy might sound like the silver bullet to all your support problems. It’s constantly one of the top desired customer service skills when hiring new agents. We talk about whether you can train for empathy and how to use it to deal with difficult customers.

But what impact does it actually have on your customer’s experience? Can you measure the return on investment of empathy?

In this post, we walk through 5 ways you can test the impact a focus on customer empathy has on your customer support metrics. Do customers respond positively? Let’s find out.

What does empathy look like?

Empathy and support metrics come from almost opposite side of the support world. Empathy feels touchy-feely, a soft skill. Metrics are cold hard data. How can we bring the two together?

If you’re looking to measure empathy you need to first decide what the practice of empathy looks like. Once you have a list of these qualities, you can measure empathy through qualitative conversation reviews, either with peers or team leads.

A few common signs of empathy include:

  • Acknowledged how the customer was feeling by repeating the issue back to them in a different way
  • Used words like “I understand how frustrating that would be” or “You’re totally right” or “I can see why you feel that way”.
  • Matched tone with customer’s tone. For example, using humour, professional phrases and casual phrases.
  • Offered solutions with advice relevant to the customer’s priorities.
  • Anticipated what the customer would need next.

In order to see how often agents use empathy, keep track of your conversation review scores for an empathy category. Then, you can compare your overall empathy scores with the following customer support metrics to confirm the impact empathy has your on your customers.

CSAT

Customer satisfaction is the first place you’re likely to see an impact from increasing your team’s focus on empathy. When customers feel listened to and understood, they are much more likely to provide a good satisfaction rating on feedback surveys.

Even if the answer isn’t exactly what they wanted to hear, empathy helps cushion a bad situation with a level of humanity.

Customers will understand that the agent has done everything they can to make the situation better. This is particularly true when customers are giving feedback and asking for specific features. If their suggestion isn’t going to be incorporated anytime soon, a heavy dose of empathy will make that pill easier to swallow. It’s like a spoonful of honey to help the medicine go down.

First Reply Time

Does taking the time to empathize with a customer make your team slower to reply? Possibly. First reply time is the length of time it takes a customer to receive a human response back to their initial question. It’s generally accepted that a faster first reply time is better, because customers don’t like to wait.

However, there’s such a thing as responding too quickly. Much like in arguments with friends and family, a quick response might not always be the most thoughtful or the most helpful.

If your agents are taking the time to read through the customer’s full question, looking through their history and thinking deeply about the best response to a difficult situation, it’s definitely possible your first reply times will be slower. (But this does not have to be a bad thing – read on!)

First Contact Resolution

Exercising empathy can help you get things right the first time. While first reply time might be slower, you’ll likely be giving better responses to your customers on the first try. You’ll have thought about what that specific customer needs in this specific instance.

You’ll have anticipated their future needs and hopefully prevented their next question. This should increase the percentage of cases that get resolved on the first contact.

Resolving conversations with your first reply is a good experience for customers and for your support efficiency. When customers don’t have to go back and forth for help, it feels much easier. Customers like doing business with companies that make it easy.

When it’s difficult to get a full answer, it’s incredibly frustrating for customers, which leads to them looking for other solutions. In fact, 96% of customers who’ve had a difficult, high effort experience with a company have considered being disloyal in the future.

Taking the time to be empathetic can help reduce the effort for your customers through increasing the number of times you resolve their questions on the first try.

support metricsChurn

Can empathy help keep your customers around? Churn is measured by the number (or dollar amount) of customers that choose to stop doing business with your company, usually over a month’s time period.

Besides the fact that empathy can help agents give better, more accurate answers and resolve questions on the first response, empathy can also help create a stronger emotional connection with the customer.

For customers, the more they feel like they’ve been heard and that their feedback has been received, the more they will connect with the person helping them. This emotional connection keeps customers around for longer.

According to Motista, an emotional connection to a brand means customers have a 306% higher lifetime value, and 71% of these customers recommend brands to their friends, compared to 45% of customers who are not emotionally attached.

Customers at the receiving end of an empathetic agent receive better support, and are more likely to do business with the company again, because they know the company cares about them.

Agent Satisfaction

Empathy isn’t just good for your customers’ well-being. It can also boost your agent’s happiness.

Kristin Aardsma at Basecamp believes that expressing and showcasing our humanity is one of the most valuable aspects of the customer support role. Without it, agents become apathetic, robotic, burnt-out and likely to quit.

As she says, “it’s not the work itself that creates high churn and apathy in support positions; it’s how you treat the employees.”

At Basecamp, she looks to hire people who are preternaturally driven to help other people. By hiring right, and giving agents space to have real conversations with their customers, Basecamp consistently receives positive reviews from their customers. Also it keeps their employees happier.

“We’re simply understanding our own capacity for answering emails (60–75 per person per day) and doing that in our own voices. We’re simply allowing a team of people to have human conversations with our customers.”

If you make sure to hire people who genuinely want to help, and give them the room to be empathetic and helpful, their work will have meaning for them. Meaningful work means happier employees who will stay around for longer and invest more effort in their work.

Helping people find ways to show more empathy in their work will positively boost your agent satisfaction alongside your customer satisfaction.

Measuring Empathy for Improved Customer Relationships

It might feel wrong to put numbers to feelings. But understanding how a skill like empathy impacts the support metrics your business cares about can help support your case for who you want to hire, how you support your customers and how valuable support is to the business.

Understand what empathy looks like in your customer support replies and see how it impacts your connections with your customers.

My bet is that you’ll see benefits from taking the time to slow down, think carefully about how your customer is feeling and crafting an empathetic response to every question in your inbox.


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About the author

Sarah ChambersSarah Chambers is a Customer Support Consultant and Content Creator from Vancouver, Canada. When she’s not arguing about customer service, she’s usually outdoors rock climbing or snowboarding. Follow her on Twitter @sarahleeyoga to keep up with her adventures.

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