Episode 4: Understanding and Practicing Empathy in the Workplace

Michelle:

Thank you for joining episode 4 of your Reboot Program. We designed these short learning episodes to help frontliners prepare for the day we open our doors to customers again. This episode focuses on a very important aspect of service you must be hearing often – EMPATHY. We are not here to teach you how to have empathy. You already have it. Human beings have the natural capacity for empathy, but we also have the free will to decide when to show it.

In this episode, Gabe Baradi will help us understand what Empathy means in service and how we can practice it with the intention to restore relationships at work and with our customers. 

Gabe:

We started talking about how our mindset can help us slowly adapt and survive this current crisis. Having the humility to accept our present situation, allows us to reach out and learn from others which is the beginning of developing a growth mindset. 

 

Empathy is another essential value in service. Practicing empathy now will continue to help our situation as we deal with these challenges.

We often hear the terms “sympathy” and “empathy” used interchangeably. While they may be similar in meaning, there is a big difference between the two. Sympathy is a shared feeling which leads us to show concern for another person’s sorrow, pain or loss. Empathy is stronger than sympathy, because it does not need a shared experience to identify with another person’s experience. It is putting yourself in their place to better understand their situation. Sympathy only works when you have a similar experience. 

Empathy works for all situations/ because you are able to look through the eyes of the other, that’s why in the service industry / where each day brings us new customers and new situations, / having empathy helps frontliners be more effective in serving their customers.

In this current pandemic, empathy is necessary for our survival. We need to acknowledge that while our experiences of pain and loss may not be similar, we can still be empathetic by choosing to look through the other person’s point of view. 

How do we apply this now? Let’s start with the people immediately around us /–offline and online. 

At home, let’s observe the body language and words of each member of the household. You may be together during this lockdown, but each person responds to this situation differently. Emotional and mental support from each other will help us survive. Online, let’s stay connected with family and friends. Empathy can be practiced more online. There will be content posted that may trigger positive and negative emotions in us. This is a moment of self-awareness on our capacity to empathize. Each person responds to a difficult situation based on either hope or fear. Before we hit the comment button,/ can we empathize with this person’s feelings? Empathizing is not agreeing. It’s simply understanding why a person is feeling this way. 

It’s not about validating one’s opinion, belief or statement, but validating the emotion of the person. 

Here is a simple analogy in dealing with customers. When we are faced with an angry or upset customer, what the customer says is not an attack on our character, it’s not an insult thrown at us. 

It’s an expression of frustration and dissatisfaction that leads a customer to become angry.

Frontliners who did not receive enough training on customer service and recovery /are unprepared for these situations,/ so the natural instinct is to defend one’s self, and distance ourselves from the customer’s problem and make it our employer’s responsibility to resolve that problem. This makes the situation worse because we are the frontliner, we are the company’s representatives in the eyes of our customers. 

When we start to understand the concept of customer complaints in this manner, and we combine humility and empathy, we will be able to connect with an angry customer effectively and pacify the situation. 

We may not have the answers to a customer’s problem right away, and that is all right. A customer complaint is someone giving us another chance to recover the relationship. 

To survive this pandemic, our relationships in our personal life and at work would have to be stronger than ever. 

There are no perfect relationships even in customer service/ but every customer problem is an opportunity to convert that customer to become a loyal one based/ on what we do to solve his or her problem. 

Try to empathize now with what I am saying by putting yourself in the shoes of your customer. If you are upset about something, how would you want a frontliner to handle your complaint? 

Here are a few ways:

  1. Respect their emotions by saying an empathy line that feels authentic to you./ Please ask for their name first so you can address them properly. Here is an example, “Thank you for your feedback, Sir / Ma’am (name). This is not the experience we would like you to have.” It’s simple, it’s honest, and professional.
  2. Document and acknowledge their concern.  This can be shown by simply writing it down or logging their concern. Always clarify the details you need and give a recap to assure them we have their complete and accurate information. 
  3. Inform them of the action step we intend to take. If you have a protocol, share with them the process in simple words. This gives them a timeline to work on when to hear back from the company. If there is no standard practice in your company, all you have to say is what you intend to do with the information you have. 

An example is “After we speak, I will be calling our head office to inform them about your complaint. Please allow us time to understand what happened and get back to you. Here is our number at the store / this is the number of our customer care hotline”. 

The last one is not easy to implement because this requires you to have ownership to look for a solution that works, and requires you to follow-through to ensure it gets resolved. We must be results-oriented in the post-lockdown world. 

Empathy is not about what you want, but about the needs of the other person. You and your employer are on the same side and both you and the company want to resolve the customer’s problem. 

If these are ways you want to be treated as a customer, then we can practice empathy better next time we have a customer in front of us. Empathy for service frontliners should be common sense, because we are all customers too. How does it feel when we enter a store and the staff sees us but continues to ignore us? / If we remember how that makes us feel, we will be mindful not to let any of our customers feel the same way again. When we open our doors to customers, they will come back but the way we serve them would have to be better. /They need to be assured that they are safe in our stores, that we care about them/ and we value the business they are giving us. We can only do this if we have gratitude in our hearts that we are very fortunate to still have work, and we can show this gratitude by helping our employer recover the business faster. When businesses are stable and on the path to recovery, hiring will happen again, jobs will be kept. The first level of empathy we need to practice is towards our own employers. It is a tough time for many businesses and not every business can survive this crisis. 

Real teamwork is needed now, and frontliners are the best people who can help the business recover faster. It’s in our hands. 

When we go back to work, we must show empathy to our co-workers. Some of them may have lost someone they care for, and there will be people who are affected financially because of this crisis. You may hear frustration, and hopelessness from some of them. Remember, what comes out of their mouths/ comes from either a place of hope or fear. You must practice empathy not by validating their fears/ but allowing them to feel safe in your presence /and then you can help them shift those fears into feelings of hope. If you are healthy and able to work, you have what it takes to survive this situation. 

Now is the time to cooperate with each other, rather than compete. Actual studies have shown that employees and companies that practice empathy do better than other businesses. Employees who work in an empathetic work culture are more productive and stay longer with the company.

Here are more ways to practice empathy at work:

  1. Listen actively to your colleagues, leaders, and customers. Here is another pair of words that we usually think are the same: “hearing” and “listening”. Hearing is recognizing the sounds or words, while listening means actively understanding the meaning of those words.     
  2. Ask questions to clarify points you may not understand/ and to show that you are listening actively. Watch out that you are not just nodding and saying “yes” without truly understanding what the other person is saying.
    Listening actively means you are showing respect and you are sincere in your intention to understand the other person. Effective communication is so critical during this time.
  3. Don’t assume that your first impression is always correct. When you deal with colleagues, it’s easy to fall into judging their behaviors or reactions. Remember that we all have our pain and loss from this crisis, so when we return to work, /we all are dealing with internal struggles as survivors. This goes the same for your leaders and customers. Try to understand the whole situation before you react. 
  4. Be sincerely interested in people. We work in the service industry. Our jobs and businesses are built on successful interactions and relationships with people. Engage with those around you, especially your customers. When you show enthusiasm in others, you make them feel respected and valued, which makes them feel good about themselves. 

Empathy is such an important concept in service that will be required of you now and in our post-pandemic world. Michelle and I will continue to share with you practical lessons on practicing empathy as we continue with our Reboot program. See you in our next episode.

Michelle: We would like to end this episode with a few questions to help you practice what Gabe shared with us: 

  • Do you remember a moment when you experienced empathy from someone? Try your best to recall what happened in detail. 
  • How did it make you feel? 
  • What are your blockers at work which prevent you from practicing empathy towards your manager, your co-workers and your customers?

Empathy should be common sense in our line of work, but it is not common practice. Let’s keep practicing this while we are at home and in our interactions with people online. 

If you have questions about today’s episode, we would love to hear from you. Please click the link and share your thoughts or questions with us. We will answer them in the future episodes. Thank you for joining.