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.

We’re sure you have a plethora of happy, satisfied customers—but they likely aren’t the ones reaching out. The truth is, 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. But there is another common constant that is so often missed when interacting with customers. 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 that was near tears. It seems this customer was having one of those days where nothing went their way. Everything fell short of their expectations, and they were looking forward to chowing down on her 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. But the Bonfire trainer 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 looked at this call from a different perspective? Is it really about the missing bag of fries—or is 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

Would shifting perspectives have changed how the interaction was handled? Absolutely. Though appreciated, coupons for future free meals have little impact on the immediate situation. 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 both company and customer.

Easy? Yes and no. It isn’t rocket science, but so few people practice this art! First comes customer service training that reinforces compassion and good old-fashioned empathy. The second is knowing how to use words and a tone of voice that validates 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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