The Importance of Empathy in Customer Worker Relations
If you’re asked about your virtues, you might say “I’m a good person. I’m kind and understanding.” Or, “I’m patient and quite sensitive to the needs of others.” At least, that’s what you believe.
However, if you stop and think, are you really understanding with everyone around you? Is your kindness limited to your social circle or are you also kind to strangers? Are you really empathic with all those people with whom you interact on a daily basis?
Every day, you come into contact with many people. Indeed, your social interactions aren’t only limited to dealing with your family, colleagues, or friends. You also communicate with the waitress who serves you coffee every morning, the cashier you pay in the supermarket, or the neighbor you pass on the stairs. In fact, if you take a look at your daily life, you’ll realize you have a large number of social interactions.
It’s logical that you give more importance and take more care of your close relationships, with people with whom you spend more time, or those with whom you have closer ties. However, working on empathy and kindness with strangers, no matter how fleeting your interactions with them may be, is just as important.
Don’t forget that, at these moments, you’re also dealing with human beings. Consequently, they deserve the same kindness, respect, understanding, and empathy as people you know.
Empathy in customer-worker relations
If you put the words empathy and customer into a search engine, you’ll find many articles and guides and a great deal of advice on how workers should behave when serving someone. For instance, smile, show enthusiasm, call the client by name if you know it, adapt your body expression, etc. There’s a seemingly endless list to be taken into account.
This is because empathy and good customer service are the most outstanding skills for carrying out customer service work.
However, if you were to focus the search on workers, the results are really different. According to a study carried out by the Spanish Labor Market Guide in 2022, 41 percent of workers exhibited burnout syndrome. Moreover, another study conducted in 2011 by the Balearic Government claimed that hotel, trade, and service workers are the most affected by this syndrome, along with stress and psychological harassment.
Burnout syndrome has been classified as an occupational disease by the World Health Organization due to its high incidence. It’s more frequent in professions in which there’s a great deal of social interaction, such as customer service jobs.
Taking this into consideration, it’s curious that more importance is given to the empathy that the worker must have with the customers. In fact, the importance that the clients should also be respectful and empathetic with those who serve them is barely ever mentioned.
Empathy has to work both ways
It must be taken into account that empathy isn’t an inert instrument. It encompasses feelings and has a social nature. Through empathy, we understand situations that other people experience yet that are alien to us. It helps us to show understanding and to be interested in the welfare of others. For this reason, it’s essential that it works in both directions.
Many work factors have an influence on the emotional wear and tear of workers. Let’s imagine the worker as a glass. Each contributory factor adds liquid to this container. For example, precarious wages and conditions, excessive pressure, exhausting working days, and not feeling valued. Eventually, the glass is full.
As customers, we can’t control many of these factors, but we can offer empathy toward the worker. In effect, making our interactions friendlier will help not to add any more liquid to ‘the glass’ so that it doesn’t end up overflowing.
Kinder and more empathetic interactions in customer worker relations
It’s often said that everyone should have to work with the public at least once in their lives. Certainly, doing so and experiencing first-hand the daily situations that these workers have to face would increase our understanding of them. However, it’s not really necessary.
As a matter of fact, it’s enough to work on our empathy thus achieving a friendly and respectful encounter for both parties.
We can start by ridding ourselves of the ‘the customer is always right’ fallacy. In reality, this was just an advertising slogan created by a department store at the end of the 19th century. Although it’s been extremely powerful in this context, we can’t reduce human interactions to a sentence. They’re far more complex.
The truth is that, as customers, we make mistakes. When this happens, we must accept them and not put responsibilities on the worker that don’t belong to them. On the other hand, customers also have a series of rights. For example:
- To be treated fairly.
- To be informed of what we’re buying.
- Having access to the service for which we’ve paid.
- Being offered a product in good condition. If it’s deficient, it should be replaced or repaired.
However, we must bear in mind that paying doesn’t give us the right to total freedom. Professionals can get confused, especially when they have a large volume of work. If we find mistakes in any transactions we should communicate in a polite way. Exposing the problem in a calm and assertive way will prevent the worker from feeling attacked. Moreover, they’ll able to solve it without any added unnecessary pressure.
Small gestures of empathy
There are some small gestures that don’t mean a great change to the customer but show a great deal of kindness to the worker. Carrying them out will not only make their job easier but will indirectly help them improve the way in which they carry out their work. This also benefits the client. Here are some ideas.
- Asking permission to move any furniture before doing so.
- Grouping glasses together so it’s easier for a waiter to pick them up.
- Patiently waiting when a place is crowded.
- Responding politely if we’re not interested in a service when it’s offered to us.
- Putting a garment back on its hanger when handing it over to the assistant in the changing room.
- Explaining our needs in a calm and detailed way, so the worker has a solid basis on which to advise us.
Of course, saying hello and goodbye when entering and leaving a store, saying thank you when being served, speaking to workers in a friendly manner, respecting their personal space and not harassing them, are rules of coexistence that we should all implement.
Being an empathetic customer
We may think that we don’t get any benefit ourselves by showing more empathy to the professionals who serve us. However, this isn’t true. After all, empathic and assertive interactions offer various benefits to those who practice them.
Workers facing the public are often under pressure. They’re having to deal with so many things at the same time that the possibility of making mistakes increases. Consequently, their interactions might become more utilitarian and automatic as they try to avoid wasting time.
Providing a more comfortable environment for the worker will make them feel more understood and valued. In effect, it relieves some of the pressure they feel. This indirectly contributes to their work being easier and flowing better. It also benefits us, as customers as we receive more efficient service.
Empathy collaborates with the closest and most non-judgmental of interactions. It works like a small stove that heats and improves comfort. When we feel cold, we tend to be more irritable and feel uncomfortable. On the other hand, in favorable conditions, we relax. Therefore, our interactions become more human. Therefore, empathy makes both parties feel understood and satisfied with the treatment received.
All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.
- Corrales, A.; Quijano, N. K. y Góngora, E. A. (2017). Empatía, comunicación asertiva y seguimiento de normas. https://www.redalyc.org/pdf/292/29251161005.pdf
- Lovo, J. (2020). Síndrome de burnout: Un problema moderno. Entorno, (70), 110–120. https://doi.org/10.5377/entorno.v0i70.10371
- Maslach, C. (2009). Comprendiendo el burnout. Ciencia y trabajo, 11(32), 37-43. https://pesquisa.bvsalud.org/portal/resource/pt/lil-526898
- Naranjo, M. G. M. (2018). Escucha activa y empática. Editorial Elearning, SL.