Improving empathy in customer service (why you should care)

Customer Experience

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Great customer service means providing the solution to your customer’s problem or concerns and treating the customer with respect. Using empathy in customer service is an integral part of support interactions because it helps your customers feel heard, that their concerns matter, and that you (support reps) are going to do everything you can to resolve their problem. 

There are many indicators of a well-functioning customer service team, including a team with high emotional intelligence and empathy. You know your team has good empathy skills when you get customer feedback like:

  • “The agent really listened to my concerns.”
  • “The agent was kind and friendly.”
  • “The agent walked me through the resolution steps clearly.”
  • “I felt that the agent didn’t judge me for not knowing how to solve this problem.” 

If you’re not getting customer feedback like this, or you have a team with low customer service scores, a lack of customer service team member empathy may be the reason. We’ve been helping  customer-centric organizations (like Pinterest, Instacart, and HubSpot) learn if empathy is indeed a contributing factor in negative customer feedback. Through AI-generated insights, we’ve seen how negatively the customer experience is impacted when customer service reps are lacking in genuine empathy.  

We’ll dive into what it means to have empathy in customer service. Then, we’ll share our top tips to help your support agents better understand your customers to provide the empathetic support needed to earn customer loyalty and repeat sales. 

Definition of empathy in customer service

Empathy in customer service is the ability to converse with a customer so they feel understood and respected. The customer service agent can then respond with compassion to solve the customer’s problem. It’s a critical part of the success of a high-functioning customer service team. 

Empathy starts with actively listening to the customer’s concerns during a support interaction. Then, the conversation continues with the support agent being respectful and solving the concern to the best of their ability. 

How do you show empathy in customer service?

Here are five ways your customer-facing teams can express empathy:

Be an active listener

Empathy is partially about what you don’t say. Active listening goes beyond just being quiet while the other person speaks. It’s about the verbal and non-verbal messages you send to show you are attentive to the speaker. 

In customer service interactions, which occur mainly over text messaging chats or phone calls, you can’t rely on physical cues to show customers you’re an active listener. Instead, you need to listen to what they say, process it in your brain, and the first words out of your mouth should indicate that you were listening. For example, this could include repeating the customer’s concern or using an empathetic phrase

Acknowledge customer concern

Empathetic customer service reps always acknowledge and validate the customer’s concerns or feelings. This can be expressed simply as saying, “I understand how frustrating it can be to change those settings on the app.” 

Even if the customer is “wrong,” you can still speak to their feelings, which are genuine. For example, if the customer calls you to complain about not having a way to customize their app avatar, and your app already has this feature, you could say, “I hear that you’re having trouble personalizing your avatar. We’ve actually got that feature in the app right now. Let me walk you through it right now.”

Put yourself in your customers shoes

As the saying goes, you can never fully understand until you walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. While you can’t physically walk in your customer’s shoes, you can still take steps to understand their customer journey, needs, and struggles fully–reading this article is a great first step! Knowing your customers better will allow you to better speak to them because you truly understand their struggles. 

👉Learn how to get helpful insights into your customer journey. 

Be calm and rational

Even with angry customers, being calm and rational, without being condescending, is another part of being empathetic. It doesn’t help to raise your voice just because they raise it. You can remain in better control of the conversation if you can keep your cool and speak slowly and rationally with your customers. 

Remove biases

Good customer service reps remove bias and assumptions from their conversations. If you let your bias come in, you could make wrong assumptions about the customer. Never guess what the customer is feeling or experiencing unless they have told you themselves. Making wrong assumptions can turn an otherwise happy customer into an unhappy one. Even with the best empathy skills, it can be hard to make that customer happy again.

Why is empathy important in customer service?

Empathy in customer service is crucial because it’s what your customers want. When your customer service team is genuinely empathetic to your customers, that makes your customers happy. When they’re happy (or at least feel understood and respected), they may be more likely to accept a compromised solution if their initially desired resolution isn’t possible. 

Why are happy customers important to your business? 

  • Happy customers buy more (or again): 81% of your customers say good customer service increases their chance of making another purchase (Zendesk, 2022).
  • Happy customers stay brand loyal: 61% of consumers will switch to your competitor after one poor customer service experience (Zendesk, 2022).
  • Happy (and unhappy) customers tell their friends: 62% of your customers will share bad customer service experiences with others (SalesForce 2019).

Additionally, good customer service agents can help your company make more money. According to a HubSpot survey, 68% of buyers will pay more from companies known for good customer service. 

With all these reasons for having empathetic customer service agents, it makes good business sense to provide great customer service by prioritizing and investing in empathetic customer service representatives.

How do you empathize with a frustrated customer?

It’s not the easiest or most enjoyable part of a customer service rep’s job. Still, occasionally they’ll need to deal with frustrated customers. Empathy will be their most valuable tool when dealing with angry customers. 

To empathetically deal with an angry customer, teach your customer service teams to follow these five steps:


Do your best to respect their opinions, experience, and time. When you sense that the customer is frustrated or angry, begin by showing them respect, calmly and empathically guiding them to the best resolution possible. This usually starts with the phrase, “Can you tell me exactly what happened?”


Practice your active listening skills and really hear the words they’re saying and the true, sometimes hidden, meaning behind those words. Since most customer service conversations will be done over the phone or through an instant messaging system, they won’t be able to use your body language to see that you’re listening. But, you can show them by:

  • Pausing for a few seconds after they finished talking
  • Using empathetic phrases to acknowledge their frustration
  • Asking follow-up questions if you need clarification or more details to diagnose or solve their problem.


Show the customer you understand the issue and the frustration by repeating the customer’s complaint (paraphrasing if needed). You could say, “I hear that you’re trying to [do something], but you’re struggling because [roadblock they’re hitting].” 

If they acknowledge that you have understood the issue correctly, you can move to the next step. If not, ask precise questions to clarify the issue. Try to avoid asking them to tell you their problem more than once if possible (customers will get increasingly more frustrated having to explain their concern multiple times). Instead, ask specific questions to get more details. 


Once you have confirmation from the customer of their issue, you can begin diagnosing and solving their problem. Provide them with clear step-by-step instructions, one at a time, while they do each step. Once they have completed the step, explain the next one. 

If the customer needs to do something later, slowly explain the instructions so they can write them down. 


Once you have finished communicating the resolution steps, you can ask them if that helps solve their concern. Ask them directly, “Is that working for you now?” or “That should solve the problem, but please call me back if you run into any further problems.”

It’s also best practice to end the call by asking if they have any other questions or concerns you can help them with today. 

4 Ways to show more empathy

If you’ve looked at your customer experience metrics and determined that you’re not providing excellent customer service because your reps lack adequate empathy skills, there are many ways you can help your customer support team better convey empathy, including the following:

Gather more customer feedback

The best way to get in your customer’s shoes and understand their feelings is to ask them. The better you know your customers, the better you can empathize with their situation. You can better understand your customers by asking them and gathering customer feedback. 

This feedback can be collected through surveys, like those short, “are you satisfied with your customer service rep” surveys you send after a customer service interaction. You can also coordinate focus groups or 1:1 interviews with customers to better understand their needs, struggles, and how they use your products or services. 

Once you’ve gathered customer feedback data, you can get quicker, more accurate insights when you use machine learning to categorize and analyze the data to generate  actionable insights on your customers. Idiomatic is a customer satisfaction software that helps you interpret your customer’s perspective, even if they don’t express it directly. The Idiomatic AI component can analyze not just your customer’s words but also the intent and sentiment behind them (including accurately interpreting complex ideas like sarcasm). 

Provide empathy training (or emotional intelligence training)

Your team can benefit from emotional intelligence training. Emotional intelligence is about being aware of our own emotions, understanding the feelings of others, and responding appropriately with empathy. Training your customer service team in emotional intelligence helps them with the following:

  • Self-awareness – to understand how their words and actions can affect others.
  • Self-regulation – to practice how to best respond to and speak to customers to put them at ease.
  • Internal motivation – to bring awareness to the attitude you bring to the job and how it can affect customer service conversations.
  • Empathy – to help you learn how to use genuine empathy to build customer trust and better address and reverse customer anger through your word choice and tone. 
  • People skills – to help you bring it all together and use these skills to drive your interactions with others. 

👉Read more about how the role of emotional intelligence in customer service. 

Use more empathetic words and phrases

Your word choice is just as important as your tone of voice. When being empathetic with a customer, try to:

  • Use personal pronouns: Avoid using impersonal pronouns like “we” to refer to your company. Instead, use “I” or “we” (relating to you and the customer, not the company) to show them that you’re a real person too, not just someone mindlessly reading a script (or in the case of text chats, not a bot).
  • Use active verbs: Using active verbs makes it sound more likely that the action will happen. This means using phrases like, “I’ve sent this to our product managers,” or “I will follow up with that department tomorrow to ensure they’ve received your request.”
  • Avoid judgment and rudeness: Keep your opinions about the customer or your company to yourself. Avoid making assumptions and stick to the facts and any emotions your customer has expressed. Avoid saying things like, “Well, if you read the manual, you’d have your answer,” and instead say, “I understand how this can be frustrating. This is explained on page 32 of your welcome guide, let’s walk through it together right now.” 
  • Be authentic: Use empathy statements (see sample list below) but only use them if you’re genuine. Using phrases like “I understand” are used so often that they sometimes come across as impersonal and scripted responses from a customer service playbook. Practice saying them with a genuine appreciation for the customer. (Emotional intelligence training can help with this).

Here are more empathy statements and phrases you can work into customer service conversations: 

  • I understand.
  • I can see how this is upsetting.
  • Thank you for bringing this to my attention.
  • I’m sorry that you’re having this issue.
  • Is my understanding of your concern accurate?

Try other ways to improve call center agent performance

Sometimes a better-trained customer service rep is better equipped for empathy. Well-trained staff can put their mental efforts towards being empathetic and problem-solving for their customers when they’re not worried about trying to remember your company’s processes or offerings.

You can support your team in many ways to elevate the customer experience. For example, you can provide more training (in systems, processes, and offerings) and more efficient tools and resources to do their job.

👉Get more tips for improving call center agent performance.

How to use machine learning to improve empathy in customer service

Knowing your customers is the core of being an empathetic customer service agent. The better you know them, the more honestly you can show them you understand the struggle and the further you’ll go to make them happy. 

One of the most helpful ways to learn about your customer is through customer feedback. You can use a customer feedback analytics tool like Idiomatic to take large amounts of customer feedback, categorize it into logical groupings (based on your preferences), and provide you with detailed insights into your customer’s journey and the empathy skills of your customer service agents.

👉Request a demo today to learn how Idiomatic can provide data-based insights into your customer’s journey and help increase the empathy of your customer service agents.