Building Empathy into Your Chat Strategy

Truly effective customer service is relationship-building in microcosm. Sales agents have only about 20 minutes to build rapport with customers on the phone. On chat, the time to build that relationship is cut in half—and the impersonal nature of the conversation, with no voice cues from the customer, makes it more difficult as well.

With so little time to make a connection, agents and customers can understandably struggle to make the most of the opportunity.

Clearlink makes connection easy.

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Empathy is the key to quick customer connection. According to a study from the Journal of Business and Technical Communication, empathic communication allows agents to overcome organizational, service, and efficiency conflicts built into the agent-customer relationship. Developing empathy helps agents treat customers with dignity and care when building that connection. When agents have taken the time to develop an empathetic relationship with customers, customers are also more likely to forgive negative experiences in the moment and in the future.

The Value of Chat

The time our agents spend on the phone with customers, an average of 21 minutes, is around twice as long as the amount spent on chat, an average of ten minutes. In addition, chat reps can handle as many as five customers concurrently, while phone agents can handle only one at a time. Chat has already established itself as an efficient mode of communication with customers, and it can be used both reactively and proactively.

Chat can serve as both a support and a sales tool. Building empathy into your chat strategy is key to making it successful.

As part of Clearlink’s Service to Sales Strategy, chat serves two main purposes for our business: support and sales.

  1. Support: Chat primarily makes our call center more efficient through call deflection. By using chat as a support tool, we are able to eliminate extraneous customer service calls that have no potential to lead to a sale. Clearlink’s cost on an answered call is about $18. Our chat reps deflect around 5% of total calls, saving the company money while allowing our phone agents to do what they do best—sell the product.
  2. Sales: Chat offers an opportunity to reach potential sales. For those customers who prefer to interact via chat rather than phone, our chat reaches a new subset of customers we may not have touched before. This makes chat an effective secondary sales tool. Clearlink partners with both “call through” and “sell through” brands. With “call through” brands, the chat agent gives the customer a priority phone number to call to complete the sale. With “sell through” brands the chat agent completes the sale over chat itself.

Clearlink’s chat strategy uses a combination of live agents and chatbots to funnel customers to what they need. Agents have the freedom and flexibility to chat with customers or get assistance from the bots to provide the best possible response for individual customers. This type of quick problem-solving via chat, whether by deflecting calls to our partners’ customer service lines or setting up a sale, is a major part of our focus on intelligent customer experiences.

Emotional Intelligence

Customer service, whether on the phone or via chat, requires a solid understanding of emotional intelligence, the ability to recognize and manage your own emotions and help others regulate theirs.

In chat, emotional intelligence is demonstrated through properly reading a customer’s tone, accurately predicting the type of response the customer is looking for, and providing a solution in the manner that the customer best relates to. Emotional intelligence is key to developing true empathy. Empathy goes a long way toward building not only customer satisfaction but also customer trust—and the combination of customer trust and satisfaction means greater customer loyalty.

Three Strategies for Building Empathy into Your Chat Strategy

Many of the techniques for cultivating empathy in over-the-phone and in-person customer service can also be used in chat—just modified for the different medium. Here are three ways our chat agents have learned to develop empathy throughout the chat experience.

Learning techniques for mirroring, validation, and personalization is the best way to cultivate empathy in chat.

Mirroring

One way humans communicate empathy with others is by overtly mirroring the emotions they display. Research shows that mirroring plays an integral role in interpersonal exchanges. When interacting in person, we mirror others’ facial expressions, body language, and other physical cues. On the phone, we can mirror tone and pitch as well as conversation speed.

In chat, we mirror our customers’ tone and word choice. Formal questions get formal responses, while a more casual tone is met with banter that matches. Allowing the customer to lead the conversation—and then mirroring their approach—helps an agent understand their needs and build empathy from the start.

Validation

Using validating phrases that acknowledge the customer’s difficulty is not just a courtesy—it builds empathy. Saying something as simple as “if I were in your shoes, I’d feel the same way” or “that would frustrate me too” lets the customer know you’re on the same side and want to get the issue resolved for them.

Phone agents are often instructed to smile while talking to customers, as doing so can create a more positive, validating tone; similarly, chat agents are encouraged to lean forward while typing to demonstrate active, empathetic chatting. Repeating the customer’s query can also validate their concerns and help clarify the issue to further build understanding.

There is a danger of these strategies coming across as pandering, but following up such a statement with a quick solution to the customer’s issue shows that you really do empathize with the situation.

Personalization

Personalizing the customer experience allows chat agents to quickly improve the customer relationship. Letting their own personality shine through builds rapport with the customer, increasing the likelihood that the empathy being cultivated is a two-way street.

Personalizing the conversation can be as simple as using the customer’s first name in conversation or the agent using first-person pronouns and injecting their own personality into the conversation. The key to building empathy through personalization is to avoid assumptions and meet the customer where they are at, rather than concluding ahead of time what the issue will be and sticking to a script based around that particular issue. Building empathy can’t be scripted ahead of time, and personalization helps agents avoid that trap.

The Future of Empathy in Customer Service

Like many aspects of Clearlink’s approach to creating intelligent customer experiences, chat is constantly growing and changing. Chatbots allow a relatively small number of agents to communicate effectively with a larger number of customers. As the AI behind chatbots improves over time, their usage will also likely increase—not just for funneling customers to the right place or preparing them for a conversation with an actual agent, but for building the customer relationships themselves.

As the consumer base continues to shift to people who grew up online and prefer typing to talking, building empathy into your chat strategy will become more essential.

Additionally, as the consumer base continues to shift to people who grew up online and prefer typing to talking, building empathy into your chat strategy will both become more essential and come more naturally. No matter what direction chat takes, a focus on creating intelligent customer experiences via empathetic communication will be key.

To learn more about how we create intelligent customer experiences, visit our ICX Solutions page.

Travis Petersen

Born in DC, raised in St. Louis, and living in Utah, Travis is a writer whose words appear in various corners of the World Wide Web. His interests include old paperbacks, comics, loud music, hockey, and basketball, not necessarily in that order. When not daydreaming about his other life as a 1940s detective, he’s constantly reading, learning, and writing, with an eye on making complex topics clear to all types of readers.

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