Customer service empathy and the opportunity it presents

Customer service reps have one of the hardest people-interfacing jobs on the planet. In addition to being kind, courteous, patient, and woefully underpaid, they are asked to be the knowers of all things, the virtual hand-holders, and the consumer psychologists who can make everything alright when a product or service fails to live up to its own standards.

That’s a lot to ask.

Some customer service reps are up to the task, while others are woefully under qualified. Yet, regardless of which type answers the call, on the other side of the line sits a valuable customer.

Some reps make it obvious they are just collecting a paycheck, while others make it obvious they are giving their all to solving problems and keeping customers. Only one of these is valuable to business, yet they both are paid the same and both get to keep their jobs.

This is an unhealthy balance for everyone.

It’s bad for the slacker who gets to keep their dead-end job (it’s dead-end because they don’t want it), bad for the company because customers are left unhappy and looking for an alternative, and worse for the customer because they are unhappy and they know the company already has their hard-earned money.

Customer service reps who show empathy, take initiative to help, and make all parties as pleased as possible are worth their weight in gold. Why are they so very rare?

As consumer numbers climb to commodity levels, so too will good customer service representatives. Not at the same rate unfortunately.

There is an opportunity right now for companies to hire local help (people need jobs) who actually care about doing an exceptional job in caring for customers. There’s also a problem.

Many companies do not recognize the differences between qualified customer service reps and bodies filling desks. The reps know the difference, and the customers experience the difference. The controlling interest in the equation (the company) is paying the least attention.

When a customer service rep says, “I wish there was something I could do, but I’m not allowed to…” that’s showing empathy (even if the company has forbidden post-sale customer satisfaction, a common process design problem). Their inflection and tone make a difference. On the other hand, most customer service agents just boldly state policy while defying any form of customer satisfaction. Stating policy can have only one effect: get rid of the customer (often permanently).

Companies who empower customer service reps to solve problems for people are remembered. People are loyal to their brands. Employing caring people who emit empathy and humanity while solving problems is good marketing.

The opportunity is three-fold: Good customer service agents show how it should be done, what type of personalities to hire, and how to set policies that keep customers.

Kelly Hobkirk - teaching marketers how to harness strategy, goals, reality, and purpose to connect and do better work.


Kelly Hobkirk has been helping companies succeed in creative ways for nearly 25 years. His work has been featured in Time Magazine, and books by Rockport and Rotovision. Get exclusive articles when you sign up for his monthly newsletter.

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