ICMI is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them. Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.


What are the Foundations of Empathy in Customer Care?

sadFew concepts in the contact center world are so widely accepted as important and so widely misunderstood as empathy. A quick Google search on empathy in the contact center turned up these nuggets of wisdom:

"Demonstrating empathy may be as simple as referring to a caller by name."

Umm, no. That’s basic etiquette, not empathy.

"Use AI-powered agent assistance to automate empathy for call contact center agents."

Automation and empathy are two concepts that simply do not belong together.

"To be empathetic, contact center agents need access to data about the person who is calling."

Okay, maybe, depending on what you mean by data. If you mean the stuff housed in your CRM, no, that is not what agents need to be empathetic.

With customer experience specialists saying such things, is it any wonder why contact center agents struggle with empathy? It's obvious that other concepts are muddying the waters of the discussion on what empathy is and how we can best utilize it in the contact center.

First, let’s get the definition out of the way. The Oxford English Dictionary defines empathy as the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.

At its heart, empathy is about an emotional connection that requires imagination. You cannot automate the human connection empathy provides, and more data is not always the answer. In fact, empathy often involves understanding what's not said. Customers may not be direct in their communication about their feelings, and reading between the lines is a critical communication skill.

So how do we get better at expressing empathy in the contact center? Let's learn about the 4 P's of empathy:


Effective paraphrasing requires understanding what is being communicated to you. It also indicates to the caller that you are paying attention to them. You can begin paraphrasing with intros like, "If I understand you correctly…," "I want to be sure we're on the same page - you're saying…," or, "What I hear you saying is…"


Effective probing questions help the caller elaborate and create a clearer picture. I'm sure we all remember Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How, and these can all be employed to gain more information to fully understand the emotions behind the call. A word of caution, however: using questions that begin with "Why", such as "Why did you…" or "Why do you…" can come off as accusatory and potentially escalate tension during an interaction.

Picture It

During the conversation, it’s time to picture yourself in a similar situation. Perhaps we're discussing a product that hasn't arrived yet. What if the delayed product was yours? What if it is a gift for someone important to you? What if you need that product to meet a work-related deadline? The key is to get to the feelings.

An effective way to do this is to personalize the situation. Perhaps they're upset about an unexpected charge. How would you feel if your entire back account was drained? That could be what that charge symbolizes to them, and that underlying emotion may be why they are so upset on the call.


Once you've tapped into those feelings and can identify with your customer, you can now express genuine empathy - just remember to keep it professional and aligned with your brand. I once heard an agent groan, "Duuuude, that sucks!" in response to a customer who had lost his iPhone. It was incredibly genuine, but not the most professional response. Even so, it was effective, and the customer instantly felt this agent was on his side because he shared the emotion of losing that iPhone.

When you incorporate the 4 P's of Empathy into agent training and coaching, you will foster the use of real empathy in customer interactions. This, in turn, will improve the customer experience.

Topics: Agent, Customer Experience, Coaching And Quality Management