Why is empathy important in customer service?


“How do we bring compassion to the forefront as we engage with folks? Because it’s no longer just about business strategy. It’s now about self care and where they’re at and how they’re persevering at this time.”

– Shubha Rao, CX Strategy Lead at Uber

We’ve been talking about the importance of empathy for a while, and then along came a pandemic.

As COVID-19 seems to be changing just about everything everywhere, one thing that isn’t changing is the importance of empathy in customer service.

What is empathy in customer service?

Empathy doesn’t mean you’re agreeing with the customer. Instead, empathy in customer service is about understanding the customer’s truth, really hearing them, and then doing what is possible to make things better.

Empathy, Today

In fact, empathy has never been more important as it is today. When you think about it, your customers are faced with uncertainty in nearly every facet of life, and customer experience professionals have an opportunity — even a responsibility — to offer moments of certainty during this time. 

But, can you offer empathy at scale?

Scaling empathy was a key focus at the recent 2020 Simplr CXLife Virtual Summit, where one of our expert panels gave us a veritable master class on this timely and critical topic in our session “Innovation in Customer Experience During an Economic Downturn.” 

If we set the stage, in practically every industry, the pandemic has forced an acceleration toward digital transformation. When social distancing and community shutdowns began, most people’s long-ingrained habits related to working, shopping, and even preparing to walk out the front door had to change overnight.

With storefronts closed and restrictions in place, businesses of all types have felt forced to replicate face-to-face service and engagements in the digital realm. 

At this point, it’s safe to say that anything that can be digitized will be. But the things that can’t — the things that are uniquely human — will become extremely valuable.

So, while technology can go a long way toward making CX more efficient, it’s the human element that makes CX truly effective. 

Technology + human empathy so very important in customer service

The concept of empathy coexisting with technology is the theme of the Harvard Business Review May 2020 cover story “Don’t Let Digital Transformation Make You Less Human.”

The crux of the article is all about retaining human connection by adopting technology as an enabler, not a replacement.

Author Martin Lindstrom begins, “We all understand that customers and colleagues should be treated with respect — and we all know, too, that digital technologies can get in the way of that happening. Whatever the ‘job to be done,’ key communications tend to become less direct and more impersonal when the job’s digitized. That’s just the nature of the beast: Apps and other technologies are doing a lot of the work that people used to do — and you can’t train an app to have empathy.”

This thinking aligns like stars to some of the points that our expert panel made about the importance of empathy in customer service during the CXLife conference.

In particular, this echoes some of the key ideas shared by Shubha Rao, CX Strategy Lead at Uber. As she shared during her panel session, “For me, the biggest question to answer is how do we scale empathy, along with this digital transformation… We saw to design around the customer experience and understanding how they’re going to interact with this technology. How do we make it as seamless and painless as possible? So, I think starting with that customer experience in mind and then designing which use cases are best suited for digital technology to be deployed and at what time do we bring in human experience.”

Fellow panelist Ashley Paczolt, Senior Manager of Global Customer Experience at LinkedIn echoed Subha’s sentiments on keeping humanness front and center. She said, “How do we bring compassion to the forefront as we engage in as we work with folks? Because it’s no longer just about business strategy. It’s now about self care and where they’re at and how they’re … persevering and this time.”

Take it from our 2020 Simplr CXLife Virtual Summit panel: there is magic to be found when you can combine efficient technology with human empathy at scale to get the balance right between speedy and supportive. Particularly at a time when people are feeling unsure and thrown for a loop, some extra empathy can go a long way. 

To see how Simplr’s distributed network makes empathy-at-scale a reality for brands like Happiest Baby and Princess Polly, request a demo here

For more customer experience insights as well as countless opportunities to build human connections with CX peers and mentors, check out the Simplr CXLife community and become a member today.