The Role of Empathy in the Customer Experience

Get Attention WIth Customer ExperienceIn today’s fast-paced world, businesses face fierce competition to attract and retain customers. While offering high-quality products and services is essential, customer experience is the over-arching decision point.  Customer experience refers to the sum of all interactions between the brand and a person who might become a customer, including pre-purchase, purchase, and post-purchase experiences.

When customers have an encounter that connects at an emotional level and creates a memory, they are more likely to become loyal customers and maybe even brand advocates.  Businesses with empathy are able to move past the mechanics of making a sale to meet the needs of people and exceed expectations.

Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another person. In the context of the customer experience, empathy refers to understanding the customer’s emotions, needs, and pain points and providing solutions that address those needs.

“Empathy and social skills are social intelligence, the interpersonal part
of emotional intelligence. That’s why they look alike.”

~ Daniel Goleman

Empathy separates a business from competitors in several ways:

Trust Building

When a business shows empathy towards its customers, trust increases without much effort.  Customers come to trust a business that anticipates needs and strives to exceed expectations.  Without stating the obvious, the business looks for what others do and surpasses the field through care for the person.  Trust is a critical factor in building a long-term relationship with customers.

Loyalty Over the Years

Customers become loyal to businesses that are reliable.  When customers feel understood and appreciated, they are more likely to return to the business and recommend it to others.  A study by Harvard Business Review found that customers who have a positive emotional experience return for more products and services over the years.

Issue Resolution

Whenever an issue arises, the customer will have an expectation about how a business will address the problem.  A business that is able to resolve that issue completely is more likely to retain that customer.  Complete answers and spending enough time to hear the real issue are no longer standard practices in customer support.  Listening beyond the customer’s words shows empathy and care.  When a business shows empathy towards a customer who has had a negative experience, the customer is more likely to be satisfied.

Understand the Customer

Customers are people.  That might sound like an obvious statement, but we seem to forget that the person on the other side of the exchange has the same desires that we do.  Everyone wants to be respected.  Our attitudes and actions will convey whether we care enough to know the customer’s wants and needs.  We don’t even have to guess with the vast number of tools available to ask our customers for their thoughts and ideas.  The efforts invested in listening to people are never wasted.

Real Examples of Empathy in Customer Experience


Zappos, the online shoe and clothing retailer, is known for exceptional customer service.  Zappos’ customer service representatives are trained to show empathy toward every customer.  Everyone on the team is encouraged to take time to understand the customer’s needs.  The conversation will reveal emotions that lead to solutions that address those needs.

For example:   A customer called Zappos to return a pair of shoes that her mother had ordered before she passed away.  The customer service representative empathized with the customer’s situation and arranged to have the shoes picked up at no cost to the customer. The customer was so moved by the experience that she wrote a blog post about her experience, and the story went viral.


Warby Parker

Warby Parker, the online eyewear retailer, is known for offering exceptional customer service.  Warby Parker’s customer service representatives are trained to show empathy towards their customers and provide solutions that meet their needs.  The best customer service starts with listening to the caller and allowing that person to express thoughts and emotions until the agent is able to respond without interrupting.

For example:  A customer contacted Warby Parker to ask if they could repair her glasses, which had been damaged by her puppy. The customer service representative empathized with the customer’s situation and offered to send her a new pair of glasses, free of charge. The customer was so impressed by the experience that she wrote the story into a blog post.



JetBlue, an economy-class American airline, which is known for exceptional customer service.  JetBlue’s flight attendants are trained to show empathy towards their customers and provide solutions that meet their needs.

For example:  A passenger on a JetBlue flight was flying to attend his brother’s funeral. The flight attendants learned about the passenger’s situation and offered him a complimentary snack and beverage. They also gave him a sympathy card signed by the crew. The passenger was so moved by the experience that he wrote a letter, which was shared on social media, to JetBlue.


Actions That Show Empathy In the Customer Experience

At each stage of the customer relationship, we can connect with other people when we:

  • Listen actively: Listen to customers carefully and pay attention to their needs and concerns.
  • Put yourself in the customer’s shoes: Try to understand the customer’s emotions and pain points and how they are feeling.
  • Use positive language:  Word choice is important when we want people to continue to listen to our messages, and  the tone will convey empathy to the customer.
  • Show appreciation: The power of “thank you,” cannot be overstated when the customer has spent money and taken the time to contact you business. Creativity can deepen loyalty when we thank people for choosing our brand.
  • Provide solutions:  Answer the customer’s question and then anticipate the next two or three questions that would be asked.  A quick email or phone call will be remembered when you follow up to ensure that the customer is satisfied and has not encountered additional issues.

In summary, empathy is an essential element of delivering an exceptional customer experience.  A customer relationship that includes empathy will connect at an emotional level.  People serving people is the basis for  extending appropriate care when the customer has a problem.  By focusing on the customer’s emotions and pain points, businesses can provide solutions that meet real needs and create positive emotional connections that can lead to long-term customer relationships.

“When you show deep empathy toward others, their defensive energy goes down,
and positive energy replaces it. That’s when you can get more creative in solving problems.”

~ Stephen Covey