TCF and empathy both rely on our ability to relate to and understand the feelings of others
How can we Treat customers fairly if we cannot put ourselves in their shoes?
Empathy is relating to how somebody else feels, their pain or circumstances, but does not actually require us to feel feel their pain. It is understanding based on our own experiences. e.g. if you have ever had a bad service experience you can empathise with a friend who shares their lousy experience, but it doesn’t have to be exactly the same. It is about connecting on a human level, acknowledging their experience may be different, but no less impactful. Developing our ability to relate to others, to understand where they are coming from, can be invaluable when learning how to treat customers fairly.
Though TCF is not about customer satisfaction it does involve understanding our clients’ needs, giving them suitable advice and communicating with them in an effective manner. Without an understanding of who they are, what their needs are and where they are coming from, this is exceedingly difficult.
A significant obstacle to Treating Customers Fairly and delivering great service is a lack of understanding of customer challenges and how their experiences may differ. It is too easy to get caught up in “our” own experience of a transaction, and forget that their experience may not be the same as ours.
We tend to assess the behaviour of others based on their actions, but judge our own actions based on our intent.
The first step is often to remember that our experience of the world is not the only one possible. It takes courage to actively seek other perspectives, and to discover how our own actions may be perceived. Empathising with others can be a very powerful tool, even when an issue can’t be solved immediately due to factors outside our control. When we demonstrate a caring approach, client confidence and satisfaction rises.
Empathy is not a psychic event. It requires avoiding assumptions, asking questions, listening and connecting as human beings.
Roadblocks that inhibit TCF and empathy:
1. Feeling the pressure
When under pressure our brains can struggle to distinguish between our own feelings, and the feelings of our client. When we feel angry or stressed about something it is easy to misread a clients’ tone or actions.
2. Emotions are contagious.
We are more likely to react to what our customers are feeling when we are tired or hungry. It takes practise to manage our own emotions and act consciously instead of in a knee-jerk manner to another’s bad mood or anger. An angry response (from us to a client) is more likely to escalate into a tense situation, rather than a more measured response. When a client pushes your buttons it is often a good idea to give yourself a few moments to calm down, before answering their email or calling them. Unless we pay attention to what we are feeling it can be easy to allow one bad interaction to negatively colour all future interactions
3. Snap decisions.
TCF and empathy require us to make decisions while under pressure, but snap decisions can be detrimental to our relationships. When under pressure it becomes harder to accurately assess a situation, and we begin to assume what the other person is feeling. Though we may need to make on-the-spot calls, utilising good judgement, it is a great idea to gain the perspective of another person (e.g. call a manager or supervisor) when stress levels are high.
4. The stranger effect.
It is easier to relate to people we already know. However, as service professionals, we often need to manage interactions with strangers who may be frustrated or upset. From a biological point of view, this can amp up our levels of three hormones that diminish our ability to empathise with others effectively. Learning to recognise and manage our stress responses can help us calm our amygdala response and improve our ability to understand and relate to clients.
5. Defensiveness and self-protection.
We all can find ourselves taking things personally when we have to deal with someone who is in pain or angry. A normal biological reaction is to become overwhelmed or threatened (in the case of an angry client). In these situations we have to work harder to keep our heads and to empathise with them. For many, the habitual response is to shield ourselves from their pain. Listening to someone who is upset or hurting can be a vulnerable experience. When the emotion is heightened we may begin to feel defensive or inadequate. This is the reason we sometimes find it easier to distance ourselves from upset or frustrated customers instead of empathising with them and opening the channels of communication to discover their situation, needs and how we can help.
The great news is that TCF and empathy are skills that can be learned. With a little practice we can become better at relating to others with understanding and compassion.
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