How to show empathy in customer service

Pradeep Vasudev

May 25, 20239 min read

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Being at the helm of customer service operations in an organization isn’t easy, but do you know what’s more difficult than that? Being on good terms with your customers to the extent that they’re able to trust you completely and even be your brand advocates.

But do you know you can bring about that level of trust easily? Transforming your customer service from good to exceptional majorly depends on one element, the “secret sauce” so to say — empathy.

The concept of empathy is a crucial element in fostering meaningful relationships and creating exceptional experiences in customer service. Businesses can strengthen customer retention, enhance satisfaction levels and drive long-term success when their support teams are guided by a strong sense of empathy.

This article explores the role of empathy in customer service, its significance and practical techniques to effectively incorporate empathy in customer conversations.

Table of Contents

What is empathy in customer service?

Empathy refers to the ability to understand and share the feelings and perspectives of other people, or in the case of customer service, of your customers/users.

While sympathy is related to feeling sorry for someone, empathy is more about putting oneself in the other person’s shoes and genuinely connecting with their emotions and needs.

Businesses can steadily build a foundation of trust, create positive customer experiences and build lasting connections with their clientele by employing an empathetic tone in customer service interactions.

As this blog progresses, we will learn practical ways to showcase empathy in customer service and explore more about its importance.

Importance of empathy in customer service

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Empathy holds immense importance in the realm of customer service. It is a powerful tool for building strong customer relationships and fostering customer loyalty. Here are some key reasons why empathy is crucial in customer service:

1. Enhancing customer satisfaction: When working on tickets, your support team can actively exhibit empathy during interactions with customers and, by doing so, help them feel understood and valued. When you acknowledge the customers’ emotions and concerns, you create a highly supportive and trustworthy environment that increases customer satisfaction and, in turn, retention.

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2. Building trust and rapport: Your support agents will be the face of your brand during customer service interactions, and being empathetic goes a long way in establishing positive sentiment and brand trust. Trust is a critical component of long-term customer relationships, and empathetic agents can earn your customers’ trust in no time.

3. Resolving issues effectively: The practice of being empathetic with customers enables service representatives to approach issues with a genuine desire to help. With good insight into customers' emotions and perspectives, representatives can provide personalized solutions and effectively resolve issues.

4. Diffusing tense situations: By empathizing with frustrated or upset customers, your service representatives can de-escalate the situation and create a more conducive environment for problem-solving. This way, you can not only stop customers from churning but also avoid the situation from blowing up on public platforms like social media.

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5. Increasing customer loyalty: Customers with a positive sentiment are likely to praise and promote your brand on public forums, which will eventually help attract new leads and drive your sales and revenue.

Knowing when to show empathy to customers is equally important. Here are some situations that call for empathetic responses.

  • Customer complaints or issues: Empathy is crucial when a customer expresses a complaint, concern or negative experience. With a solid understanding of the issue and acknowledgment of the customer’s emotions, businesses can turn a negative situation into an opportunity for resolution and relationship-building.

  • Product or service failures: When customers encounter problems with products or services, empathy helps to validate their frustrations. Demonstrating empathy during such instances can reassure customers that the customer service team is taking their concerns seriously and that efforts are being made to rectify the situation.

  • Challenging or emotional circumstances: Empathy is critical when customers face difficult life circumstances or emotional situations. Sensitive topics like health issues, financial difficulties, or personal losses are some situations that call for empathetic handling. When you can create a compassionate and supportive environment for the customer, you have the potential to become their preferred brand.

  • Inconvenience or delays: When customers experience delays in delivery, service disruptions or other inconveniences, empathy can alleviate their frustration. Businesses can empathize and proactively seek solutions for customer issues by understanding the impact of these inconveniences on the customer's experience.

Now that we know the when and why of employing empathy with customers, we'll discuss in depth how you can exhibit empathy in your support interactions in the next section.

Learn More: How to preserve the human touch in customer service

How to show empathy in customer service

Showing empathy in customer service interactions is a skill that can be developed and refined over time. Service representatives can demonstrate compassion and create meaningful connections with customers by following the step-by-step guide below.

Step 1: Active listening

Active listening is the foundation of empathy. You must give your full attention to the customer and focus on understanding their perspective. Here's how to practice active listening:

  • Avoid interrupting the customer while they are speaking

  • Summarize or paraphrase their concerns to ensure you understand their message correctly

  • Ask clarifying questions to gain a deeper understanding of their needs

  • If you are connecting over video calls, maintain eye contact and use attentive body language to show your engagement

Example: Imagine a customer expressing frustration with a faulty product. By holding their gaze, nodding in acknowledgment and refraining from interrupting their explanation, you demonstrate empathy. Paraphrase their concerns by saying, "If I understand correctly, you're frustrated because the product isn't functioning as expected. Is that right?"

Step 2: Understand and validate emotions

Here’s a quick gist of how you can use emotional validation to make your customers feel seen and heard:

Use empathetic language to convey understanding and validation. For instance, say, "I can understand how frustrating that must be for you."

Below are some statements that you can use to reinforce a positive sentiment:

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  • Avoid dismissing or downplaying their emotions. Instead, acknowledge the significance of their experience

  • Demonstrate empathy by expressing compassion and concern for their situation

  • Try to forge a genuine connection by not “following the script” blindly. If your company policies allow, exchange personal notes and look for common grounds for conversation.

Example: If a customer expresses disappointment due to a service outage, respond empathetically by saying, "I completely understand how frustrating it is when you're unable to access our service. We genuinely apologize for the inconvenience caused."

Step 3: Respond with care and respect

Once you have established an empathetic connection, ensure that you respond to their query with a genuine intention to help them. Offer personalized assistance and demonstrate your commitment to resolving the issue. Here are some pointers on how you can achieve that:

  • Use positive language to express your willingness to help. For example, say, "I'm here to assist you throughout this process."

  • Offer specific solutions or actions to address their concerns

  • Take full responsibility for the resolution and follow up promptly

Example: If a customer who isn’t well-versed with technology calls your support team regarding a technical difficulty, you can respond empathetically by saying, "I understand how frustrating it can be to navigate such a highly technical issue as a user. Rest assured, I will personally investigate this matter and work towards finding a swift resolution for you."

Step 4: Adapt your communication style

As an agent, aligning with your customers’ emotions helps them feel comfortable and understood. Being empathetic goes a long way in reducing their frustration, but you can further de-escalate the situation by shaping your conversation to resonate with your customers’ communication style as follows:

  • Mirror the customer's tone and pace of speech to establish rapport

  • Use appropriate language and terminology that resonates with the customer's level of understanding

  • Adjust your demeanor based on the customer's emotional state, offering reassurance or empathy as needed

  • Steer clear of your personal biases and prejudice. Always be respectful to your customers, no matter how heated a situation turns.

Example: You need to adopt a calm and empathetic tone while addressing the concerns of a customer who’s noticeably frustrated. Use phrases like, "I understand this situation is distressing, and I assure you we're committed to resolving it."

Step 5: Follow up and ensure resolution

Empathy extends beyond the initial interaction. Follow up with customers to ensure their issues are resolved, and they are satisfied with the resolution experience. Here are some of the ways you can ensure proper resolution:

  • Contact the customer after the initial interaction to provide updates on the progress of their case

  • Take complete ownership of their issue and ensure you resolve it to their satisfaction

  • Seek feedback and suggestions for improvement to show that you value their input

Example: After resolving a customer's technical issue, reach out to them to ensure everything is working smoothly. Express empathy by saying, "I wanted to personally follow up to ensure the issue has been resolved to your satisfaction. Is everything working as expected now? If you have any further questions or concerns, please don't hesitate to reach out. We value your feedback and want to ensure you have the best experience with our product/service."

Service representatives can demonstrate empathy and create meaningful connections with customers by following these steps and adapting them to different customer service scenarios. The genuine care and support shown through empathetic interactions will enhance customer satisfaction, loyalty and overall success for the business.

But are you asking yourself, “How will all these pointers be applicable in a real-life situation?”

In the next section, we’re going to take an example from a usual day of a customer service representative and see how being empathetic can positively impact your customer conversations and lead to quicker, more satisfying resolutions.

Interesting Read: Emotional Customer Experience: How Understanding the Science of Emotions Can Make You Better at Customer Experience

Example of showing empathy in customer service

To illustrate the practical application of empathy in customer service, let's explore a real-world use case, the challenges faced, and the solution opted to deliver an excellent customer service experience.

Scenario: Resolving a shipping delay

Challenges faced:

A customer named Sarah had placed an online order to deliver a special gift before her sister's birthday. Unfortunately, there was a delay in the shipment and the package didn’t arrive on time. Sarah was highly disappointed about the situation and reached out to customer support to express her grievance.

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Solution opted:

1. Active listening and empathetic acknowledgment

When Sarah reached out to the customer service representative, Emma, expressing her frustration and disappointment, Emma practiced active listening and empathetic acknowledgment. She let Sarah share her feelings and concerns without interruption. Emma acknowledged Sarah's disappointment and assured her that she understood the significance of the gift arriving on time for her sister's birthday.

2. Understanding the impact

Emma took the time to understand the emotional impact of the delay on Sarah. She asked questions to better understand the situation, such as the importance of the occasion and the sentimental value of the gift. By doing so, Emma demonstrated genuine care and empathy for Sarah's experience.

3. Offering solutions and alternatives

While changing the shipping timeline was impossible, Emma proactively offered alternative solutions to mitigate the disappointment. She suggested options like providing a digital gift card for immediate use or arranging a handwritten note to be sent in advance, explaining the situation and expressing Sarah's intentions.

4. Taking ownership and following up

Emma kept this issue under her personal supervision and assured Sarah that she would personally monitor the shipment's progress and keep her updated. She promised to follow up with any new information promptly.

5. Going the extra mile

Emma went the extra mile to show empathy by offering Sarah a heartfelt apology and a discount on her next purchase as a gesture of goodwill. Despite the unfortunate shipping delay, she wanted to ensure that Sarah felt valued and appreciated as a customer.

Outcome and customer experience

Initially disappointed by the delay, Sarah appreciated Emma's empathetic approach and efforts to understand her emotions and find alternative solutions. Despite the initial setback, Sarah's perception of the company remained positive due to the exceptional customer service she received.

Example image 2 - empathy blog

The above use case exemplifies how customer service folks can apply empathy to turn a challenging situation into an opportunity to build trust, understanding and long-term customer loyalty.

Get access to this on-demand webinar: Transforming Customer Service to Achieve Loyalty and ROI


Empathy in customer service is a powerful tool that goes beyond superficial interactions. It involves actively understanding and sharing customers' feelings, leading to meaningful connections, enhanced satisfaction and long-term loyalty.

Throughout this blog, we've explored the essence of empathy in customer service. It is more than just a fleeting emotion; it's a skill that can be honed and practiced. We've discussed the importance of empathizing with customers in various scenarios, from handling complaints to navigating challenging situations and how it can dramatically transform the quality of an interaction. Embrace empathy as a core value in your customer service approach and witness its transformative power in forging meaningful relationships with your valued customers.

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