Customer Experience News & Trends

Your most powerful customer experience tool — straight from the barista

When you need ideas to up your customer experience game, look no further than your local Starbucks barista. They’re capitalizing on one of the most powerful tools.

What is it? Showing empathy.

That’s the word that came down from Starbucks’ CEO Howard Schultz in the midst of the stock market’s recent volatility. He sent an email to all employees (who they call “partners”) encouraging them to show customers some special consideration because they may be facing a tougher time. In part, he wrote:

Our customers are likely to experience an increased level of anxiety and concern. Please recognize this and — as you always have — remember that our success is not an entitlement, but something we need to earn, every day. Let’s be very sensitive to the pressures our customers may be feeling, and do everything we can to individually and collectively exceed their expectations.

While this may be a short-lived concern, Schultz’s emphasis on empathy is important for anyone delivering the customer experience. Recognizing customers’ lows and highs is one of the best ways to connect with customers and ignite loyalty.

It’s tough to train someone to feel any kind of emotion, especially empathy. But you can help front-line employees identify and practice it. Here are four ways to improve using the power of empathy:

1. Understand it

Empathy isn’t about feeling sorry for customers (that’s sympathy). It’s about recognizing the negative or positive emotion customers feel when they’re interacting with you and responding to them appropriately.

Front-line employees want to listen to the entire message customers are communicating so they can identify emotions, and then connect with them. So listen with your:

  • ears to what’s being said and the tone that’s being used
  • instincts to sense if the customer is not communicating something important
  • heart to pick up underlying emotions, and
  • eyes (when possible) to make sure customers’ body language and facial expressions match what they say.

2. Build it

Like Schultz, leaders can build that sense of empathy from the top-down. Managers can show front-line employees empathy by telling them you understand how stressful their jobs can be working with customers every day and by sometimes stepping in to help.

Show interest in them by asking about their interests, weekends and families. Those pleasant, rapport-building questions — and interest in their responses — are the same kind they can use with customers. As people get to know each other better on a personal level, empathy comes natural because they have a genuine interest and concern.

3. Establish it

Empathy is established easiest when people try to see things from customers’ points of view and put any preconceived notions aside. You don’t have to agree with how customers view things, but understanding why they feel that way is the key to genuine empathy.

That’s where fact-finding and emotion-sensing go hand-in-hand. When you ask the necessary questions to handle their issues, note the facts and ask, “How did that make you feel then?” or “What were you thinking when that happened?”

4. Express it

Even when you’ve established empathy, you don’t want to tell customers, “I empathize with you.” That doesn’t sound genuine. But these statements do:

  • I can understand how frustrating it is when …
  • I realize how complicated this can be …
  • I can imagine how upsetting it is to …
  • I know how confusing it must be when …
  • I’m excited that you … , or
  • I hate that this happened, and know we can take care of it.

Subscribe Today

Get the latest customer experience news and insights delivered to your inbox.