How to Use Emotional Intelligence to Provide Exceptional Customer Service
It's no secret that exceptional customer service is key to customer retention, loyalty and, ultimately, achieving business goals. When trying to elevate the customer experience, businesses are starting to look outside the box. In fact, business leaders are starting to look on the inside.
Emotional intelligence is the capacity of individuals to recognize their own and other people’s emotions. It's the ability to differentiate between a variety of feelings and label them appropriately. Humans use emotional information to guide thinking and behaviors. Having a high emotional intelligence allows workers to relate and interact with customers in an authentic and meaningful capacity. This means recognizing the human side of customers instead of the business transaction side.
Emotional intelligence doesn’t mean giving the customer everything they want or being nice and pleasant no matter the circumstance. Key components of emotional intelligence include empathy, embracing vulnerability, relationship management, and behavioral adjustments. When the awareness of these key components is combined, your team can elevate their emotional intelligence to promote personal and professional growth as well as the customer experience.
Let’s look at these components.
Empathy is the capacity to feel what another human feels. Remember, this is different from sympathy. Empathy means you “get it.” You’ve had a similar experience to the other party and can relate to the emotions involved.
For example, let’s say a customer calls to dispute a service on a bill. They feel they've been wrongly charged for a service and would like to eliminate the charge on their account. When you tap into your empathy, you may be surprised to discover the evidence your customers seek. Sometimes the customer just wants to be heard. Even if your hands are tied, is there a way you can relate to the customer on a human level?
First, identify the problem and the customer’s desired solution. Next, determine what's feasible. Before responding, place yourself in the customer’s position. Try and recall a time you were in a similar situation. How did you feel? What were you hoping to achieve? In this example, you may be able to listen to the customer’s frustrations and build rapport. Let the customer know they're understood, heard and valued.
Then work to resolve the conflict with this awareness. If you cannot reverse the service charge, there may be other things you can do to ensure the customer has a good experience.
Customer service can be improved when employees demonstrate appropriate vulnerability. After all, empathy requires vulnerability. It may require you to share an appropriate struggle or challenge in your life with the customer to build rapport.
Historically, the term “vulnerability” had been used in a single context: projecting or explaining a situation or an individual as a sign of weakness. Therefore, when mentioned in the context of leadership or leading with vulnerability, it was often misunderstood. That is until now. Vulnerability is having a moment in the world of authentic leadership, and it's showing no signs of stopping.
Vulnerability evokes unease in many leaders because they default to this perceived need to disclose the shadow side of oneself. When it comes to vulnerability, it's rarely “all or nothing,” but rather offering the most relevant pieces of the self to others in an effort to foster connection. Vulnerability isn't “too much information,” or a laundry list of past failures. True vulnerability is far more contained. Simply put, vulnerability needs boundaries.
When a customer asks for a manager, we may assume we know how they feel. However, we cannot determine how another person may feel or want to feel. Instead, we can ask ourselves, “How do I want the other person to feel?” and “What do I need to do to make them feel that way?” It may not be as easy as waving the charge on the bill away, but there are things the worker can do to help usher the customer into a neutral or even positive feeling.
Using self-awareness, you can determine what actions you need to take to help the other person not feel angry or upset.
When confronted with aggression, dominance, snark or outright rude behavior from customers, take a moment to identify the emotion you're feeling. This identification will help strengthen your emotional intelligence. The pause taken to label your feeling will create a buffer of time before you can respond.
Can you see yourself within the eyes of the customer? Going back to empathy, can you put yourself in the customer’s shoes? If so, you may gain valuable insights as to how to proceed with your interaction, delivering an authentic and memorable customer experience.
Finally, take a deep breath, let it go and forgive the customer. If you remain bitter, these feelings will come out during your next interaction with another customer. This is how to move forward throughout your day and give each customer fresh, unbiased attention.
Salman Raza is founder and CEO of training and development consultancy Razalution Bureau.