Showing Empathy: Do You Understand What Clients Want?


When you go to your local coffee shop and the barista, Stephanie, serves your favorite concoction, you love it when she uses your name and asks no questions. Occasionally, Stephanie recommends a different drink for you to try. Time after time, you relish the familiarity of the shop. If your barista stopped working there, it wouldn’t feel like the same coffee shop. However, if you don’t visit for a month, she still knows your name. Fortunately, there are other baristas who know your likes and dislikes. In this post, I want to explore what’s evident in this business relationship, especially when it comes to empathy.

What Business Clients Want

According to the Cambridge English Dictionary, empathy is “the ability to share someone else’s feelings or experiences by imagining what it would be like to be in that person’s situation.” While the relationship of empathy to Stephanie and the coffee shop may not jump off the page, they do to me. There had to be at least a few transactions in which this magnificent Stephanie learned your preferences. She had to ask your name and then practice using it. She probably took time to explain the menu and encouraged you to try different beverages until you settled on a favorite. She never forgets to smile when she recognizes your face. Sometimes, she gives you a free drink just because.

How to Show Empathy

Not everyone is cut out to serve their customers as well as Stephanie does. She is a special person suited to working with the public. However, owning a business or running a company calls for some interpersonal skills (or staying behind the scenes and letting the Stephanies of the world do it for you). If you want to be as successful at welcoming people to your company and then nurture relationships with them so that they will stay on the client list, here’s what you can do:

1. Keep a record of how every client finds your business. When you have a CRM platform, much of this is automated for you. However, you also need to add people to the CRM database who walk into the office, call first, email, or get referred by word of mouth.

2. Practice active listening. This requires that you stop thinking about what you will say next and give your full attention to the customer. It means that you don’t refer to a computer screen, a cell phone in your pocket, or a co-worker waving at you while you ascertain what the customer wants and needs.

3. Change the office environment to promote active listening. Find a place where the customer interacts with you in person or on the phone without distractions. In a busy call center, this might be hard to do, but other environments can allow for noise reduction and limited interference from managers and colleagues. Don’t force customers to yell into the phone or to keep repeating themselves because of your workplace’s shortcomings. Customers also need to focus on what you say as you explain products or services and pricing.

4. Get training for yourself and your staff on showing empathy. A person who shows empathy is not in a hurry to get his words out. He watches your body language and catches the intonation in your voice. He shows concern when you take a deep breath in case this means you’re worried or afraid to ask something. He leans forward when he talks to you and occasionally pats you on the shoulder or playfully punches you on the arm. He sometimes hugs you or shakes your hand. His arms and legs are never crossed because that creates a defensive posture. He will gladly show you where the restroom is and ask if you have any questions. He will never rush you to state what you want or need. He will not pressure you to buy anything.

Many companies have lost the art of customer service. Empathy is the top skill that your business can provide training on for everyone who helps customers. If you go through empathy training with your staff, you will see rapid results as customers feel more appreciated. What’s more, don’t keep workers on the payroll who go through empathy training and fail to show this quality to customers. Your clientele deserve the best!


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