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One of the customer service concepts that business owners and even front line staff tend to find confusing is the distinction between empathy and sympathy. While it is OK to sympathise with your clients by feeling sorry for whatever predicament they may find themselves in, you will be doing so as someone on the outside.  Empathising with your clients on the other hand, means that you make the effort to get inside their minds and hearts in order to understand their situation and needs.  

So how do we cultivate this habit of putting ourselves in our customers’ shoes?


1.      Active listening

This simple and obvious practice is unfortunately often overlooked. Active listening involves listening to each word our customers say, imagining the emotions behind what they are saying and making mental notes about our conclusions. Also by regularly feeding back what we are hearing to them, we are able to tune in and connect more deeply with them. This creates positive feelings in our customers.


2.      Curiosity

Yes, the old proverb “curiosity killed the cat” warns of the dangers of unnecessary investigation. With customer service however, a good dose of curiosity is actually a must. While asking your customers too many pressing questions may feel like an interrogation, being kindly inquisitive on the other hand, can help you understand them better.  The more you ask ‘why?’ the more you are able to learn about how your customers think and also understand what their motivations and needs are.


3.      Prepare for unexpected opportunities

Like the military, we need to be ‘battle ready’ all the time.  We must go into any kind of customer interaction situation ready to seize the moment because some opportunities require just that. They do not require a plan or a strategy, but they require an immediate response. By giving yourself and your employees the permission to delight your customers, putting yourselves in your customers’ shoes becomes second nature to you.


So this month, remember “When you’re trying to make an important decision and you’re sort of divided on the issue, ask yourself: If the customer were here, what will she say?” - Dharmesh Shah

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