How can you use empathy to retain loyalty when handling customer complaints?
Let’s illustrate this with a little story. Imagine yourself as the customer in question.
You have just booked a weekend break online for a hotel. The past few months have been hectically busy, and this is a much needed getaway.
The best thing about it is that you can pay on arrival. Your debit card was only needed to reserve the room.
Everything seemed to go fine with the booking process. You’re about to turn your laptop off when the confirmation email comes through.
To your horror, the confirmation thanks you for your pre-payment. It seems that you ticked the wrong box!
Now there is a serious personal cash flow problem. That transaction happened on the wrong side of pay day, and has now left you deep in the red!
In a panic you rush to the phone to plead for this problem to be sorted out…
Working to Retain Loyalty
For the customer service agent who answers this call there are two options as to how to handle this situation:
A. Tell you there is nothing they can do, as you were the one who made the mistake.
B. Put themselves in your shoes, and refund the money allowing you to pay on arrival as originally intended.
A PhD is not required to see that choosing option B is more likely to retain loyalty than A.
Option A is factually correct, you did tick the wrong box and authorised immediate payment. But when a service agent empathises with their customers a few important things happen:
- Customers feel like they are being treated as human beings, not just a sale.
- Allowing them to save face promotes the company as being staffed with real people, who have feelings.
- Further escalation of the complaint is avoided.
- They are more likely to use your product or service in the future, as both parties now have a second chance at continuing the relationship.
Smoother Service Interactions
Research has shown that an employee’s ability to put themselves in the place of the customer makes for more pleasant service encounters.
A German study, “On the Role of Empathy in Customer-Employee Interactions” states that, “employees must be able to ascertain the customer’s perspective of a service encounter and…sense the customer’s emotions, and to share these emotions during a service interaction”.
It goes on to state that staff members who are committed to doing this consistently are a very valuable asset to their company.
While some people are naturally more empathetic than others, it is a skill that can be developed and improved.
The research suggested that activities like role playing, and mystery shopping can go a long way in helping staff understand things from the customer’s point of view.
With this knowledge it is then easier to manage encounters in a way that is more satisfying for all parties involved.
When a customer’s issue or complaint is well handled they are more likely to repeat purchase, and recommend the product or service to others. This is definitely a desired expression of loyalty for any business.
So the next time you’re faced with an unhappy customer, try putting yourself in their place and see if that makes the resolution process any easier?
We’d love to hear your stories. Reply in the comments below with your tips on dealing with difficult customers and showing empathy.