On the last section of this series I shared with you the importance of attitude and perspective. This week I want to discuss key factors in the Customer’s Bill of Rights which was created by Harvard University Business School. This edict was put together from the findings of an extensive study on customer service and there’s three main soft skills that will help you and your team abide by the BoR. 

They are: empathy, promptness, and communication

On today’s installment I’d like to review the first two. I decided to devote one full section to communication given that it is a more complex skill for which there are too many approaches and techniques to discuss here. 

Let’s start with empathy. The dictionary definition of empathy is as follows: the psychological identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another. Simply put, being empathetic means trying to put oneself in someone else’s shoes even when you have not been in that particular situation before. Contrast that with sympathy, which is when you have similar feelings as someone in a specific circumstance because you have been in that situation before. So why is empathy so important and how can we employ it? 

Think back to one of the first sections where we discussed the definition of excellent customer service. In it I outlined the minimal conditions that must be met for it to be achieved, and one of those was that the customer must come away feeling like the service provider is on their side. Showing empathy is the greatest catalyst to achieve this goal. Many believe that empathy only comes into play when there is a problem, but that is not the case. During every part of a sale or service the customer might have questions or concerns (remember, they are not the experts) and not being empathetic can make you come across as dismissive or patronizing. That is definitely not conducive to a customer feeling like you’re on their side. Remember rights #2 (To be taken seriously), #4 (To be treated with respect), and #5 (To be treated with sensitivity) in the BoR? Those cannot be fulfilled without being an empathetic person.

The question now is, how can we be more empathetic?

Unfortunately, empathy can be a difficult skill to master for a lot of people because by its very definition it means that you need to try to feel what someone else is feeling even if you’ve never been in the same situation. Moreover, when we have reached an expert level of knowledge and ability in something it’s very difficult to remember a time when we weren’t at that level (especially if it’s something we have been doing since we were very young). Sympathy, on the other hand, is much easier to achieve since it only requires remembering what it felt like when you were in the same situation. Fortunately, when it comes to customer service it’s possible to build a bridge between empathy and sympathy since we have all been customers many times in our lives. That means that when we have a customer who is either confused by our products or services, or is angry or upset for whatever reason, we can think back to a situation in which we had a similar experience (even if it is in a completely different context or industry) and tap into those feelings. Remember that for someone who is not in the beauty industry the process of buying a product or service from you would be akin to you trying to buy a car or a computer, or anything else that you aren’t an expert on.

My tips to being more empathetic are as follows: 

1) Make a conscious decision to be empathetic when a customer walks into your establishment (flip the switch in your mind, so to speak)

2) When a customer is expressing confusion, anger, disappointment, etc. think back to a situation when you were a customer and had similar concerns and

3) Don’t take it personal. This last one is crucial. It’s difficult to not see our work as perfect or beyond reproach given how much time, effort, and money we’ve invested in our businesses. This can often cause us to get defensive and push back on customers who have issues that we believe are not justified. This is a perfect recipe for a customer coming away feeling that it’s you vs. them. 

If you take anything away from this installment let it be this: defensiveness is where empathy goes to die. One can’t at once be genuinely concerned for the customer while protecting one’s ego. 

Let’s now look at promptness. This skill is a component of the greater quality of professionalism which we’ll discuss in a later section. But it bears mentioning it here because it is inextricably linked to empathy as well. Many of you have probably heard the saying, “timeliness is next to godliness.” Whether we are talking about being punctual, or providing the customer a service in the expected time, or addressing a concern with urgency, being prompt communicates to your customer that you value their time. The great upshot about being prompt is that this is truly a skill that will result in better outcomes for both you and your customers 100% of the time. Whereas being empathetic might sometimes lead you to make concessions for a customer that could have a less-than-optimal impact on our business (discounts, refunds, re-works, etc.), being prompt will give you credibility while making you more efficient in your business overall. The customer might only see that you are working with urgency—which is good in and of itself—but this will also open you up to attending more clients or selling more products; a veritable win-win situation!

So start analyzing your interactions with your customers and determine if you are being as empathetic and as prompt as you could be. If you have any examples of how employing the concepts you've learned so far in this series I’d love to hear them! On the next email we’ll close out this section by talking about communication. This is a big topic and one that I know you’ll get a lot of benefit from. Talk to you then!