Using Empathy to Hack Customer Service

It’s 2019 and the human customer service reps are just as robotic as the AI chat bots. As we work to humanize robots, shouldn’t we also de-robotize the humans?

I spent about a year sitting in the middle of a customer call center for a large company. Even over my headphones I could hear them reading the service scripts, to the point where I began to learn them as well. And then I’d hear them complain about how rude and challenging the callers were. But something interesting was happening: When they themselves called customer service at another company, to handle a personal issue, they too became rude and challenging. They too yelled “REPRESENTATIVE” into the handset.

When they themselves called customer service at another company, they too became rude and challenging.

What a dose of empathy! Experiencing first-hand what your customer experiences, and having the same struggles.

There is a reason those scripts exist. They are time-tested, liability-limited (and nationality-agnostic) pathways to solving a customer’s problem. And most customers will experience a problem from a list of common problems.

But tell me, reader—have you ever experienced an Uncommon problem? And have you ever dealt with customer service attempting to align your uncommon problem with one more common? Yeah, me too. And how many times have you yelled (internally or out): JUST TALK TO ME LIKE A FORKING HUMAN BEING AND SOLVE MY FORKING PROBLEM!


Or rather, let’s empathetically develop one that is more human. In a 2014 SalesForce study, results showed that 69% of customers feel their call experience improves when it doesn’t feel scripted. So how do you create authenticity in a customer service call, while making it scalable and replicable? Here is my proposal for an empathetic redesign.


The trend in CSR scripts tends to place the burden of blame on the customer. I realize it’s a delicate boundary when accepting liability as a company, but there’s very little to lose by expressing sympathy and acknowledging a customer’s struggle.

Former: “I understand you are experiencing technical challenges with the product.”

Humanized: “Oh wow, I am so sorry your internet isn’t working!”


There’s an invisible wall between the customer and customer service, and another invisible wall between customer service and the actual company. Let’s break down a few of these barricades. CSRs are potentially the only customer-facing or interfacing role at your entire company—this is an incredible advantage! Leverage them and connect with your customer in unprecedented ways.

CSRs are potentially the only customer-facing or interfacing role at your entire company — this is an incredible advantage! Leverage them and connect with your customer in unprecedented ways.

The best way to do this is to train CSRs to empathize with the customer, and make the customer feel the CSR is on their side. Example:

Former: “Please hold for a moment while I investigate this issue further.”

Humanized: “OK, let’s see if we can get this fixed so we can get you back online.”

The customer should feel as though the CSR is working with them to solve the issue, and more so that their business is meaningful to the company. And that goes beyond “Your call is very important to us.”


This one gets a lot of push-back but I stand strongly by it. Your CSRs need to be equipped with the ability to solve problems, be it authorization to refund, remove fees, apply discounts, reset trials, re-order, etc. The veil of a secondary layer of approval is as antiquated as the mystery manager in back office at a car dealership.

Minimize the problem-solving time, the call transfers and the hold times. Let your reps help your customers.


I can’t believe we’re still on this one. I have tried to find data on how many customers will stay on the line after the call for your survey. What I did find was that only 1 out of 26 customers complain about a bad experience, the rest just move on. If I’m frustrated, I’m probably not going to stick around on a call that has already taken too much of my time to complain to another robot. Thus, just because there isn’t a ton of negative feedback doesn’t mean your customers are satisfied, especially if 91% them don’t bother to complain.

Instead, why not have the CSRs close the call with a few quick questions?

Humanized: “Was I able to solve your problem today?” “How would you describe your experience with me today?”

These open ended questions (and others like them) are a window into much better data, and are the kind of empathetic humanized interactions that will set your company apart.

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