Paolo Fabrizio
September 11, 2016

How To Use Empathy In Social Customer Service


Convincing a reluctant prospect to become your customer or an existing one to remain is not that easy; if you want to have chances to be successful, you have to provide them with great reasons. Actually you need to spur their emotional side with one of the most powerful triggers in customer service — empathy

Every customer experience provides a chance to leverage empathy in order to reduce the distance between your customers and your brand. 

Leverage empathy to nurture customer interactions [case study]

It’s a matter of fact that your customer service reps represent your brand. You therefore need to hire people who live and breath your brand’s values so that they will reflect them externally by having positive interactions with your customers. That is why when it comes to Social Customer Service, it’s very important to assess the right people as well as it is train them well and give them proper guidelines to perfectly execute their job. 

Here’s a very good example of how to do it successfully. Yesterday I came across an article by Digiday, where they described how Skyscanner has successfully replied to a customer issue on their Facebook brand page. As this is a very interesting case, I’ve added below my personal insights and tips which I hope you’ll appreciate.

…Back to this story, here’s how the customer started the conversation…

Skyscanner question

3 steps to follow before replying over social

In similar cases, instead of replying immediately, put yourself in your customer’s shoes to understand what he/she really means. When I train social customer service representatives for my clients, I always let them follow a simple process based on the following 3 steps:

  1. Understand the customer’s purpose. First, read the customer’s query very carefully, in order to understand what he/she wants to get from you. Did read between the lines.
  2. Detect customer’s tone of voice: grasp quickly how does he/she says it. Joking, provoking or something else? In the above case, the customer ironically and publicly (on Facebook) points out a mistake which may affect brand’s good reputation for being a reliable ‘aggregator’ for worldwide flight schedule/fares.  
  3. Use collated information to reply effectively — what did you learn from points #1 and #2. Now you know more about customer’s aim and personality and you are able to turn this issue into a an asset for your brand. 

And here’s how Skyscanner successfully replied to their customer (their answer went viral ↓)

Skyscanner answer

Why this answer worked so well

There are specific reasons why it has proved to be so effective. First of all, the customer assistant realized the issue. She nevertheless avoided to use a cold, formal tone such as “we’re investigating this issue and we’ll revert to you shortly…” . Instead, she used the same ironic tone of the customer, plus she added her personal sense of humor. By doing so, she was able to humanize the brand she works for and, at the same time, acknowledge the issue giving proper feedback to the customer at the end of her answer.

Please note that in Social Customer service, empathy does not happen by accident. It’s actually the result of a brand’s clear policy which empowers customer service assistants to avoid ‘brandalese’ (the formal language spoken by most of organizations) according to specific guidelines. So, kudos to Skyscanner (and to Jen!). 

Before answering to a customer query over social networks, read carefully what's NOT being written. Click To Tweet

TIP: what makes the real difference in social customer service is providing clear, concise and convincing answers with the proper right tone of voice.

People trust people first (then maybe brands)

If Bryan Kramer readsthe above case, I’m sure he will enjoy it as it represents a great example of his well-known Human-to-Human (H2H) marketing approach. Moreover, when it comes to convincing brands about the crucial role of TRUST in acquiring and retaining customers, there’s strength in numbers. In fact: 

  • 70% of customer brand perception is determined by our experiences with people. (Source: Customer Think)
  • Only 33% of buyers trust messages from a brand, while 90% of customers trust product or service recommendations from people they know. (Source: Nielsen Global Online Consumer Survey)
  • 77% of consumers are more likely to buy from a company when they hear about it from someone they trust. (Source: Nielsen) 

Over to you

If you really want to get closer to your customers, let your customer assistants express their own personality. So provide them with specific guidelines that will enable them to have informal, yet always professional conversations with your customers. Because at the end of the day it’s HOW YOUR CUSTOMERS FEEL TODAY that influence their decisions tomorrow, rather than prices or products/services.

So here’s my question for you to end this post. Are you leveraging or discouraging empathy within your customer service team? Why?

I’d love to read your answer in the comments below.

Have great social conversations.


Lead/Featured image: Copyright: ‘‘ / 123RF Stock Photo

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Paolo Fabrizio

Digital Customer Service Consultant, Trainer, Author, Speaker. Paolo has been helping companies to harness digital customer service as a business driver. Founder of CustomerServiceCulture, author of books and speaker at conferences in Italy and abroad. Lecturer at the Bicocca University of Milan