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Six Steps to Emotional Intelligence

As a customer service pro, picking up on customer cues is the key to your success. But how can you really know what the customer is thinking - or feeling?

Are you able to read your emotions, and the feelings of those around you, while navigating to new solutions? Valued by many employers as more important than IQ, emotional intelligence (or EQ) is asking for your recognition: your ability to recognize the emotional state that influences every aspect of a customer service conversation.

Emotional Intelligence

Here are six ways you can use emotional intelligence to turn difficulty into opportunity:

Listen to Discover: What’s the best way to listen? The famed therapist M. Scott Peck (author of The Road Less Traveled) said that true listening means the setting aside of oneself.  Often, we find ourselves listening to confirm (“Oh yeah, I’ve heard this one before!” or “She’s just like the guy that called in yesterday”). We listen until we get to something that we already know. When we listen to confirm, we miss out on an essential aspect of the customer service conversation: discovery. In your next call, tune in to what’s new. What it is that you can discover? Maybe it is the 900th time you’ve had a shipping delay issue. What is it, from the customer’s perspective, that’s new? What might you might be able to discover, together?  Don’t stop at what you already know, if you want to find new solutions.

Feelings Come First: It’s a universal truth that we all want to be heard and understood. Today, “being heard” really means “finding empathy.” Yet, the University of Michigan says that empathy has declined by over 40%.  What words do you use to acknowledge not only what the customer is saying, but how they are feeling? Emotional intelligence, or EQ, is about identifying states of emotion first and using that knowledge to create new outcomes. Without using your EQ, the facts could lead you down the wrong path. Often, the facts are simple and are not in dispute. For example, the product didn’t perform as expected. Focusing on how the customer views the impact of the facts - not just the facts themselves - is where emotional intelligence comes into play. Look for the customer’s viewpoint. How did the service delivery impact their life, their family, or their business? Discover how they feel about that impact, without judgment, as the first step to a successful resolution.

“I See” Does Not Mean “I Agree”: One of the most significant things missing in the political arena today is the ability to acknowledge a different viewpoint. If your opinion isn’t an affirmation of what I already believe, it’s a confrontation. But that online dialogue can’t continue in the customer service conversation - because yours is a dialogue about different viewpoints coming to a single agreement.  While the customer is not always right, the customer is always the customer. Their perspective is the only one that matters--to them. Emotional intelligence asks you to tune in to how they see the world and acknowledge that viewpoint. You may not always agree with what they want because some expectations are just unrealistic. And that’s ok. Finding a positive resolution starts with acknowledging their point of view - even if you can’t agree with the customer’s proposed outcome.

Chasing Happiness: You can’t solve a feeling. Not for yourself, or someone else. Try it sometime. Simply use your will to make yourself happy, or sad. How did that go? Satisfaction, not happiness, is the goal. As Don Draper famously said on Mad Men, “What is happiness? It’s a moment before you need more happiness.” The only real solution you can achieve is satisfaction, because people may never be happy, even when they are satisfied, loyal and grateful. It’s not your job to make people happy. That’s up to their therapist. Providing solutions that satisfy is the key to your success. Aim to amaze, but understand that satisfaction is the real resolution you seek. And make sure that your conversation gains that confirmation from the customer before you close the call. In the eyes of the customer, satisfaction is service.

Prepare to Be Aware: Don’t get caught up in your customer’s emotional state. Like a doctor with a patient, you can’t be of service if you catch their disease. Don’t let anger or frustration become contagious. Your objectivity is a big part of your EQ. Manage your emotional state if you want to influence someone else's.

Ask for Answers: Do you offer options as part of your conversation with the customer? The best customer service involves sharing steps and possible outcomes. Why? Because the source of the customer’s dissatisfaction is their current one-choice outcome. (It wasn’t the choice they wanted, and that’s why your phone just rang). Asking for preferences allows the customer to control the situation and the solution. When a customer owns a solution, you can move from pain to agreement. An agreement that they see, identify, and ultimately create (with your help). Ask the powerful questions, and acknowledge the customer’s authority within the situation.

Working towards “wow” means carefully empathizing with your customer’s emotional state, and effectively monitoring your own, as you discover new solutions for the people that matter most in your business. While you may not be able to grant every wish or solve for happiness, you can be more intelligent about the emotions at play in every conversation.