How to foster an empathetic support team

Posted by: The Teamwork team /

Empathy is a key part of efficient, impactful support. In this post, we explain the how and why of fostering an empathetic support team.


As a support leader, you naturally want to make your customers happy. But, you’re worried that putting your customers first will distract your team from hitting their support targets. It seems easier, necessary even, to prioritize efficiency over empathy to remain productive.

The truth is that — just like peanut butter and jelly — empathy and efficiency can work together in harmony to supercharge your support team’s impact. Placing empathy at the core of your customer support strategy will help your team boost your customer satisfaction, exceed their support targets, and accelerate your business’ growth. 

Below, you’ll learn how to foster an empowered, empathetic support team — including what processes to set up, what to say, and how to say it. 

Empathy can transform your support into a profit center 

“Empathy is about standing in someone else’s shoes, feeling with his or her heart, seeing with his or her eyes. Not only is empathy hard to outsource and automate, but it makes the world a better place.”

– Daniel H. Pink, New York Times bestselling author of Drive 

Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another person. When you’re talking to a customer that means affirming that customer’s feelings and showing them that you understand their pain point or frustration — even if you can’t fix it.

It might sound fluffy, like a “nice to have” soft skill, but empathetic support is critical to your support team’s success and your business’ bottom-line growth. For example, it helps your team: 

  • Improve your CSAT score. When customers feel listened to and understood, they’re more likely to provide a great satisfaction rating on your feedback surveys, which will boost your customer satisfaction score. 
  • Speed up your response time. Contrary to popular belief, empathy can actually speed up your support team’s response time. The quicker you understand a customer and their pain points, the less back and forth you’ll need. 
  • Retain more customers. Customers that have an emotional relationship with a brand have a 306% higher lifetime value than the average customer. Empathy is one of the best ways to create a strong emotional connection with a customer, which will make them more likely to stick around for the long-term. 
  • Enhance employee satisfaction. Empowering your support team to delight your customers, rather than just encouraging them to hit their targets, will give them a sense of meaning, which is crucial for employee satisfaction and retention. 

Lay the foundations for an empathetic support team 

You’re already convinced that fostering an empathetic support team is a worthwhile investment. But, where do you begin? 

Create empathy guidelines (with your team)  

Success starts with getting buy-in from your team early on and making sure they understand exactly what empathy means for your business. After all, they’ll be the people interacting with your customers daily and putting your empathy principles into practice. 

So, first, create a handful of empathy statements that give your teammates solid examples to draw inspiration from. Be clear and concise — for example: 

— Do say: “I want to make sure that I really understand what you’re telling me, so I can answer your question fully. I’m hearing that…” 

— Don’t say: “What do you mean?”  

Pro tip: Asking your teammates to contribute to your guidelines will help foster a sense of ownership and excitement within your team from the very beginning. 

Embed empathy into your help content and processes 

The next step is to anticipate your customers’ pain points and questions and address them before they ever get in touch with your support team. As part of this, make sure to automate simple tasks, so if a customer does get in touch, your team will have more time to provide a thoughtful, helpful response. 

This type of proactive empathy can save your team a ton of time and keep your customers happy. 

Here are a few effective ways you can do this: 

  • Proactively answer your most common customer questions in your help content. How do you create an empathetic help doc? Be clear, get to the point as quickly as possible, answer your customer’s question in full, and adopt a positive, upbeat tone.   
  • Create empathetic canned responses that cover frequent customer queries. Just remember to personalize each response before sending it to a customer. 
  • Automate repetitive tasks, like assigning tickets, tagging conversations and sending emails — so your team has more time to be empathetic when it matters. 

Have empathetic conversations with customers

33% of customers say they’ll consider switching companies immediately following a single instance of poor customer service. How you respond to each and every customer query can make or break that customer’s relationship with your business. Here’s how to respond with empathy: 

Watch your tone 

Watching your tone is important, especially when you’re talking to customers online, where your tone can easily be misinterpreted. Being personal and conversational, rather than formal and stuffy, can help build a bond with customers. True empathy, however, requires going one step further and adapting your tone to address your customer’s individual emotional needs. Look for cues like:

  • Does the customer use emojis, exclamation points, and upbeat language? Then, feel free to reciprocate in a more light-hearted way. 
  • Is the customer struggling to describe their problem? Avoid technical terms and industry jargon. Help them out by writing as clearly and simply as possible. 
  • Does the customer sound angry or frustrated? Your customer will want to feel understood. Make sure that your tone is deeply understanding, reassuring and apologetic (when necessary). 

Work towards finding the right solution 

Ultimately, empathy means focusing on the most thoughtful and helpful response, not the quickest. It might sound contradictory, but taking the time to craft an empathetic response will actually speed up your response time. When you’ve taken the time to put yourself in your customer’s shoes you’re more likely to answer their question the first time around, rather than needing lots of back and forths. 

Set expectations between responses 

If you’re waiting for a response from a teammate, don’t keep your customer waiting.  Instead, simply let them know and set their expectations for when they should expect a response. It’s courteous and they’ll appreciate the heads up, so they can get on with other tasks. 

Learn how to say no with empathy

Empathy doesn’t always mean saying yes or catering to your customer’s every request. Often, the most effective thing you can do is be honest and transparent, even if it’s something your customer doesn’t want to hear. For example, if a customer requests a new feature that doesn’t fit in with your product vision, tell them. Just make sure to say no with a why. Providing context can help take the edge off your customer’s frustration or disappointment.  

Build rapport and delight customers 

Empathy doesn’t always have to be so serious. Look for ways to delight your customers and build a genuine rapport with them. For example, studies show that emojis can help convey real human emotions. So, add a fun emoji or GIF to convey excitement, show a customer how awesome you think they are, or share an in-joke. Just make sure to only share jokes where appropriate and in context. 

Keep learning from your customers and adapting 

Your customers’ needs and pain points will continue to change as your company grows. True ongoing empathy requires a two-way dialogue between you and your customers. So, seek regular feedback. For example, you can send automated customer surveys to get feedback from customers after they interact with your support team. 

Your teammates will also have a wealth of first-hand insights that will help you improve your strategy. So, regularly ask for their feedback too.

Finally, review your support metrics at regular intervals to see how they’re performing as your team becomes more empathetic. A combination of feedback and data will help you spot lucrative opportunities for improving your empathy strategy. 

Empathy is the gift that keeps on giving 

If you place empathy at the core of your customer support strategy you’ll make more customers happier, resolve their issues faster and — ultimately — retain more of them. 

As you see your customer satisfaction, retention and response times improve, share your team’s hard-earned results with your wider business. Just make sure to share the glory with your teammates. 

Empathy will pay off in the short and long-term for your customers, your business and your team. It’s a win-win-win. 

Want to start putting some of these tips into action? Teamwork Desk helps support teams like yours put customers first and increase their efficiency. Try a free 30-day trial to kickstart your new empathy strategy today. 

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