4 ways to incorporate empathy into your online chat support

by | May 8, 2020 | Customer Experience

We live in the digital future that the early days of the internet augured in the early 90s. Today, it’s common for us to casually video call our friends and family, pay for our parents’ Uber fare without leaving your office desk, or order a portable blender from as a gift to a loved one.

But all of this has also made it increasingly difficult for all of us to share empathy with people. We interact with each other from behind our digital screens — deprived of human touch.

This is twice as challenging when we are talking about chat support because the service industry is at an early age when it comes to embracing the digital nature of customer support.

It’s also scary to realize that 96% of unhappy customers don’t complain about their bad customer experience. They quietly abandon a brand forever without trying to resolve their problems with customer service. You can imagine how rampant this problem can be when a customer interaction happens on a digital landscape that lacks a human to human engagement.

If you are ramping up your online chat support given the current situation where you are forced to run businesses remotely, here are four essential things to keep in mind to share empathy with online customers.

#1. Strengthen your support bandwidth

Lack of empathy often stems from a state of chaos. You can’t expect compassion from your support agents when your contact center is always short-staffed or if a few agents shoulder the burden of handling a multitude of chats every day.

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The first step towards creating a conducive environment for empathetic chat support is ensuring a reasonable bandwidth in your contact center. If your chat team is overworked, apply a load balancing workflow allowing other team members to engage in the CX. This will even out the workload.

Alternatively, you can also implement answer bots or publish self-service content to deflect a sizable amount of customer queries without them needing to chat with a human agent.

It’s also important to prioritize the position of chat support in your scheme of the customer service function. For instance, if your target audience is more comfortable calling your customer support over the phone, the chat team can play the role of a supplementary team.

Consider the relation of your main support team vs. the chat support team to that of a quarterback and a linebacker. They are both defensive functions but have nuanced roles to play within the support parameters.

Similarly, if your target market is the sassy, Instagram-loving generation, it makes sense to prioritize chat as the central, first point of contact for your brand.

#2. Don’t over-automate

The meteoric rise of chat support has led a lot of businesses to believe that it’s one aspect of customer support that they can automate fully. It’s a dangerous myth that can push companies to obscurity if they fail to offer a human-centric customer experience.

Using interactive answer bots is a great way to initiate a conversation with customers and help them resolve simple queries on their own. But no matter how intelligent your chatbots or automation software is, you can never rely on them completely to empathize like human agents.


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Intercom’s answer bot.

Of course, you can train your chatbots to make them sound less robotic. You can program your bots to imitate your brand voice and give it a funny or friendly personality that aligns with your brand personality.

But at the end of it all, make sure that they are ready to hand off a customer query to a human agent when the machines are not capable of answering certain things.

If, for instance, customers initiate a chat about your custom pricing plans, make sure the bots are intelligent enough to pass the conversations to the agents who specialize in sales or marketing.

If they are approaching the chat asking for a refund, it’s best the chatbots hand off the conversation to someone from the support team. Nothing beats empathy from a human agent, not even the most conversational chatbot.

#3. Pay attention to the chat language

The #1 reason why chat interactions are void of empathy is because 60% of human communication is non-verbal. It’s a tall task for any chat support agent to overcompensate that kind of human connection over an interface that doesn’t have visual capabilities.

It’s tough to replace that level of human connection over chat, but it’s not impossible.

If you are just beginning to build a chat support team, make sure you hire agents who know the ins and outs of chatting online.

They have to be young and peppy agents who talk the SMS lingo (e.g., LOL, BRB, FWIW, IMO) and are fluent in emojis and GIFs. Allowing your agents to use the textspeak enables them to connect with customers on a personal level and present your business as an approachable and friendly brand.

Your chat agents also have to master the craft of empathetic language to share empathy with customers. At a policy level, have everyone in your company follow an empathy guideline.

Train your agents to internalize empathy statements and practice positivity. Coach them on the importance of handling confrontation coolly and by placing themselves in the customers’ shoes.

From a software perspective, make sure the chat tool that you use integrates with other apps in your tool shed (e.g., CRM, ticketing platform, email) so that your agents have contextual data on the customers. That way, they can offer a uniform experience to all customers and personalize their interactions.

#4. Make chat a solution hub

Many businesses build online chat teams to extend their support capabilities in addition to phone or email support. It’s a great approach, but incomplete if your chat support fails to scale as a solution point.

Let me explain what I mean.

Most businesses install a chat widget on their website just so their customers can initiate a conversation. But at some point, they route the customers to the traditional channels like phone or email because they haven’t thought through their chat support strategy.

Customers jump through hoops to circle back at the original problem without making any progress.

This leads to delays, frustrations, and flaring of tempers across your contact center.

Talk about the opposite of empathy.

The solution is to make sure you try to minimize the support resolution time as much as possible. Chat is often the first channel of choice for customers to approach your brand.

Make sure you have capable staff to handle complex queries and solve them within a chat interaction.

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If that’s not possible, ensure seamless integration with other support functions (e.g., phone or email) so that the customer queries are automatically converted into support tickets enriched with all the contextual details.

The focus should be on providing timely solutions to customers and giving them a cohesive customer experience regardless of which platforms they choose to interact with your brand.

Elizabeth Sedlacek
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