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5 fun ways to build empathy in customer service teams

by | May 18, 2020 | Customer Experience

If you set a daily Google Alert for the word “empathy,” your inbox will soon be inundated by blogs and thought leadership posts that will clog your understanding of empathy.

Over the past few years, empathy has become one of those topics where everyone is an expert, but nobody is a master.

All this to say, empathy is quickly becoming yet another shallow rhetoric in the business world.

I do not deny empathy’s role in business relationships — the hype around growing empathy in customer service is well-deserved. But most of what you hear is a theoretical yoga babble — a charade that’s got all the thunder without any rain.

If you are serious about injecting empathy into your customer service staff, you should make specific and tangible moves towards training your workforce to embrace empathy as part of their work culture. You should make them exercise empathy instead of just talking about it.

Below, we have compiled a list of 5 fun ideas that your customer service teams can play to develop an empathetic outlook towards your customers. These exercises are better than reading volumes of books on empathy because they are fun, easy, and practical to apply.

#1. Conduct mock empathy drills

If you can conduct mock fire drills to prepare your office staff against an imaginative inferno, you can run mock empathy drills.

Divide your contact center teams into groups of 2–5 and give them a service prompt. Remember the famous show What Would You Do? on ABC network? Create mock emergency customer situations like in that show and see how your customer service staff react to them.

Here are a few examples of how to come up with service prompts:

– “You receive an angry call from Sarah, a customer, who’s threatening to sue your company for cheating her of $25 in payment.”

– “You have 10 hate mails from Murray, who claims to be a member of a Neo-Nazi group, threatening you of dire consequences if you don’t give him a refund within 24 hours.”

– “Colin, a 10-year-old customer from Burlington, has sent you a heartfelt greeting card thanking you for the free $10 gift card you sent him on Christmas.”

Come up with mock situations like these and let your service teams react to their respective prompts in the most empathetic manner possible. Celebrate the best ideas and discuss it with the entire team to encourage similar behavior.

#2. Play empathy bingo

I bet your contact center reps are going to love this one.

First, you will need a bingo expert to get the basics of preparing bingo cards right. Next, create as many bingo cards as the number of service reps in your team. Now, assign (~say, 20 or 40) empathy statements to numbers across the bingo cards.

The participating reps can cross out the number mapped to the respective empathy statement every time they use it with a customer. The rule is, they can’t use the sentence to win the game. They have to use it meaningfully in a real context.

The first agent to complete their cards in a straight row — either across or down — wins. Award them with a handsome prize and repeat the game with the rest of the team.

The empathy bingo game can help your customer service teams increase their awareness of the empathetic language. The more they use it in their day to day job, the more it becomes an internalized habit they can practice without any effort.

#3. Watch a movie together

This one is easy. And it mixes well with popcorn or pizzas for the whole team.

Every Friday (or the day of the week that works for your team), showcase a movie or TV series that encourages empathy among the viewers. Maybe call it a Sappy Movie Hour because most of these movies are powerful tear-jerkers.

Here’s a quick list to get you started:

  • E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
  • The Green Mile (1999)
  • Freaky Friday (2003)
  • What Would You Do? (2008)
  • Inside Out (2015)
  • This Is Us (2016)

At the end of each session, gather around in groups to discuss the main takeaways, or encourage your staff to share stories from their own lives, to ensure your service team understands the point behind the exercise.

#4. Encourage random acts of kindness

This has to be a stealth mode game where the identities of the participants are never to be disclosed. That’s the only way you can get the message across about the importance of altruism.

Here’s how you do it. Write everyone’s names in “raffle tickets,” shuffle them and put them in a jar, and let everyone pick one ticket from the pot. If they draw their own name out, let them pick another name.

Now, each person is supposed to do a random act of kindness for the person whose name they won in the lottery.

This is similar to the Secret Santa gift culture, but a bit more extreme. In this game, the Santas are not supposed to just gift their babies, but do something deeply thoughtful such as hand-write an appreciation note, order them their favorite food, or write 30 good things about them for the next 30 days.

The recipient’s role is to share their experiences with the whole team once they received a kind deed. They are also supposed to tell everyone what they learned from the exercise.

#5. Silly charades

You must have played silly charades a million times growing up. For the purpose of teaching empathy in customer service teams, you have to tweak the rules of the game by just a little.

The basic rules remain the same — divide your teams into smaller groups of 2–4 and give them turns to prepare their ideas.

But instead of movie names of songs, this game of dumb charades requires the players to act out a hypothetical situation that a customer is going through.

Maybe their order went missing or was never delivered.

Perhaps they broke the product after a few days of use.

Or, they are calling you to request an exchange.

Let them act these scenes out and make the rival teams guess the customer’s situation. If a team can guess it correctly, make someone from that team give a response in the same manner.

The teams that pull off both the acts correctly for the most number of times wins.

It’s a game that tricks your mind into empathizing with people without even listening to what they say.

Comment below which of these tips your organization should start implementing today.

Asya Avagyan
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