Empathy: The Hands-Down Hardest of the Customer Service Skills to Master

The title of this post is essentially my thesis statement. Empathy—true empathy—is so challenging to master, but worth the investment of time, effort, and training. Why is empathy critical in customer service, and how do we train for it? Let’s dive in.

The phrase “trust begets trust” has been floating around the workspace, and HR specifically, for years. It’s helped teams optimize their productivity and engagement because people feel like others are assuming the best in them because with trust, they are. Now, the new thing everyone’s talking about besides trust, especially in the customer service world, is empathy. So let’s flip out the word “trust” for “empathy” and see where that leads us: Empathy begets empathy.

What even is empathy?

First and foremost, let’s define the coveted skill: Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.

Another way to look at it is that at the end of the day, behind all of the titles, targets, and KPIs, it’s that ability to recognize that we are all humans working together to keep this world turning. Now that might be a bit esoteric, but showing empathy is the act of humanizing our friends, coworkers, customers, and even strangers. Mastering empathy is the difference between building relationships or losing them.

I know each of us has an experience with a company’s customer service department that cements that empathy is a cornerstone of a positive customer experience. It directly correlates to whether or not you’ll continue to do business with that company, and maybe even more importantly, how you’ll speak about that company. (That means churn and new business, people!)

Training reps to deliver empathetic experiences

Now you know how important empathy is in the customer experience. But how do you give your reps the customer service skills they need to deliver empathetic experiences?

Sure, you could look into the best online customer service training or hire someone who knows how to create a customer service training program, but if you’re reading this, that means you’re a human, and that means you have the capacity for empathy, so quit doubting yourself! You have what it takes to create an empathetic customer service skills training program.

But you need some help, which is why you’re here, reading this. Without further ado, let’s get into some practical customer service training ideas to help you out!

1. Start with hiring smart.

The greatest way to train for empathy, is to create a culture around it! This means it’s not just about teaching the right customer service training topics, this is about how you recruit, how you onboard, how you coach, how you mentor, how you listen, how you lead, and simply how you work with one another. All of these pieces combined truly make the difference in a customer-facing team’s ability to reciprocate empathy.

2. Infuse your customer service training program outline with empathy exercises.

Typical customer service training programs are one-size-fits-all and training is the same across the board. All reps go through onboarding, and then they may get trained on new product roll outs or company updates here and there throughout their tenure, but that’s about it when it comes to development.

If you went into a store and all the clothing was one-size-fits-all, would you ever go back there? My guess is probably not. You want a personalized, individual experience because you are a unique human—and so are all the humans on your team.

Is a personalized training program for each person on your team necessary? No one has time for that without a tool like Lessonly. Your customer service representatives, while they are getting paid to work, are still investing their time and energy into ensuring your customers have a positive experience. And rightfully so because they want to know their leadership is putting time and energy into their development!

So instead of a passive and linear training approach, I say training should be an active, ongoing and multi-faceted process so your team is constantly developing their skills.

3. Show examples of what “great” looks like.

Let’s follow Audrey’s start as a new rep. We don’t want to hand her a customer service training manual and throw her into the deep end. We want Audrey to start off engaged, heard, and empowered to take the next steps in her role. We provide examples of good call recordings, well-executed chats, highlighting what good work looks like along the way. Then, we provide practice scenarios throughout the onboarding to give Audrey a safe place to practice before hitting the floor.

Once Audrey hits the floor is where most customer service training modules stop, but post-onboarding is where the magic happens. This is where training with empathy really steps in.

Audrey is a few weeks in from onboarding, and she is practiced and ready to pick up the phones. It’s the opposite of just seeing if she’ll sink or swim.

4. Have each new rep (in this case, Audrey) self-evaluate.

Self-assessment is where the structure for ongoing customer service training for employees on an individual basis begins. Each rep will have their strengths and weaknesses.

Not only should each rep take time to recognize that, but managers should, too. Then, you can coach Audrey on the areas she needs improvement, assign additional training, set up call shadows, and walk through role plays. Whatever it may be, creating a coaching plan shows you’re invested in her development and will in turn make her work harder and with more empathy.

Closing thoughts

Using my own empathy skills, let’s call out the obvious: This is a lot easier said than done. If you came for free online customer service training videos on empathy, you’ve got the wrong idea. When shifting your culture to train with more personalization and empathy, unfortunately, there’s no silver bullet. But, we’ve got a whole team who believes in you and the mission of creating a more empathetic workplace, and here at Lessonly, we’re more than willing to help.


Looking to build the empathy skills of your CS team? 💛

Lessonly can help. We make training and coaching software that nearly four million learners and counting rely on for their ongoing success and enablement. Interested? Book time to chat with us right here.

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