Customer Service Training: How to Show Compassion


At Bonfire Training, we’ve delivered customer service training to our fair share of companies and organizations. (And by “fair share,” we mean, A LOT.) While it’s true that the products and services differ across customer service organizations and call centers, we’ve seen variables and constants that cross all industries.

The most common and obvious constant is that customer service representatives are interacting with customers, clients, patients, consumers, members, or end-users. The most significant variable is, of course, the products and services being discussed. How those constants and variables work together during a customer interaction is what leads to memorable customer experiences.

Now, we’re sure you have a plethora of happy, satisfied customers—but they likely aren’t the ones reaching out. The truth is that most of the interactions customer service representatives handle are ones in which there’s been a problem, a perceived problem, an anticipated problem, a question, or a concern. And no matter what product or service you are supporting, the goal of your team members is to deliver exceptional customer service throughout the interaction.

But there is another common constant that seems so simple at first glance but is often missed when interacting with customers. It’s key to achieving a positive outcome and leaving the customer with a memorable experience. And customer service teams that practice it stand out in the minds of the customers they support.

What is this incredibly important constant?

Compassion in Customer Service.

Seems simple now, doesn’t it? Compassion in Customer Service is the expression of a genuine understanding of a customer’s challenges and the ability to create an empathetic connection with them. Customers recognize you see them as humans and are working with them to resolve their challenges.

However, showing compassion in customer service can be surprisingly challenging if you haven’t had opportunities to recognize the need in real life and act upon it. For example: What does a bag of fries have to do with compassion? Time for a quick story.

It’s Not About the Fries

A few years back, one of our trainers was delivering customer service training to a popular fast food company. While coaching staff in handling incoming calls, a call arrived from a very distraught customer who was nearly in tears. It seems this customer was having one of those days where nothing went their way. On a day when everything fell short of their expectations, they were looking forward to chowing down on their favorite fast food meal. When they left the drive-thru, however, they discovered there were no fries in the sack.

Rest assured, the staff person handling the call took care of everything as best they could. While there was no way to magically teleport fries through the phone, they smoothed things over with apologies and coupons for free meals. After listening over and over again about how upset the customer was that the fries were missing, the call finally ended. The staff person threw her head on her desk and, with exasperation, exclaimed to our trainer coach, “Can you believe that! Because of a lousy bag of fries! Get a life!”

In reality, you can’t blame her reaction when it stays framed in the context of a missing bag of fries. After all, it’s one bag of fries—why would it be such a big deal? 

But the Bonfire trainer saw the interaction from a different perspective. They started to debrief the call by saying,

You know I was amazed too. What kind of a day do you have to have where a bag of missing fries throws you over the edge?

What if we reexamined this call through a different lens? Was the customer’s concern really about the missing bag of fries—or was it that you just talked to someone who was emotionally raw? This customer was teetering (or already over) the edge, and you just happened to be the next person in line to witness their emotional dumping. To them, those fries represented a sort of compensation in return for a lousy day; medicine for the pain of a rotten morning when things went awry; a moment of satisfaction to alleviate the dismal mood they found themselves in.

Our trainer continued, “Think about what sends you to the edge…What does it take to put you there? I suppose we could at least be thrilled that, for today, it will take a lot more than a missing item on our lunch tray—but we’ll probably both have days where something sets us off way ahead of schedule. 

“What if we connected with the caller at the intersection of being on the edge rather than at the intersection of missing fries? I can empathize and have compassion for being overwhelmed, even though it’s tougher to have compassion about the fries!”

Showing Compassion in Customer Service

Would shifting perspectives have changed how the interaction was handled? Absolutely. Although the customer appreciated coupons for future free meals, that offer had little impact on resolving the immediate situation. 

We needed to step back from what was initially expressed and examine the customer’s concern with compassion. But how do customer service representatives do that during an interaction such as this one? While you cannot teleport fries, you can teleport understanding through your words and tone of voice. Let upset customers know that you “get it.” The sooner they hear your validating words and tone, the sooner they are soothed, and the better the outcome for you, your company, and the customer.

Easy? Yes and no. It isn’t rocket science, but so few people practice the art of showing compassion in customer service! It really all comes down to customer service training that reinforces compassion and good old-fashioned empathy. Reassure your customers that you’re actively listening to their concerns and understand what it looks like from their perspective. 

Then, when it’s your turn to respond, the right training will help you know how to use your choice of words and tone of voice to validate your customers and guide them toward the best resolution available. Whatever product or service you’re supporting, you’ll have trained the ability to show compassion and accomplish a great outcome for your customers.

At Bonfire, we have over 30 years of experience training teams like yours for success, and we can’t wait to educate your employees to create positive experiences for your customers.

Contact us today to equip your team with the customer service training needed to grow your business.

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