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You can train your employees in the technical components of a job, but it’s difficult to train somebody in compassion and empathy if they aren’t naturally hardwired with those skills or attitudes, says Steven Knight, senior vice president of Member Engagement at Quantum Health.
Empathy and compassion are key to connecting with and relating to your customers. They aren’t simply nice to have; they’re essential for the kind of service where your employees put themselves in another’s shoes and truly understand their perspective.
“Relating and connecting to individuals allows us to earn their trust and have the opportunity to best support them,” Knight says. “In our world, that’s supporting them through health care experiences to make sure they’re achieving the right financial, clinical or humanist outcomes. In other industries, relating to and connecting with individuals so that they trust you is your ability to create brand loyalty.”
If customers feel like you aren’t listening or supporting them, or that you have adverse interests, your ability to earn that trust and support them in whatever they may need is severely diminished, he says.
Smart Business spoke with Knight about how to find and support employees who can deliver best-in-class customer service.
How can employers best identify the right job candidates for this role?
First, be active on social media — not just about the perks of working at your company, but also the mission of the organization.
When recruiting, a three-part process can help narrow down candidates and give you a starting point. Behavioral assessments help show what feeds and starves an individual. Are they geared toward collaboration or control? Cognitive assessment is also important. Employees have to be prepared to pivot quickly and provide the right expertise in a moment’s notice. Finally, look at their background. People from helping professions — retail, hospitality, food services, etc. — where they look customers in the eye, relate to how they are feeling and help them solve a problem in the moment, are especially successful at delivering compassionate, empathic customer service.
When you bring people in for interviews, be transparent and upfront about what the job entails. Allow candidates a chance to observe somebody doing the job, and ask questions and get the real story. If people know what to expect day one, they’ll be more effective as they go through training and onboarding.
It’s worth the cost to make upfront investments. If someone comes in and doesn’t understand what a day-in-the-life is like or the true culture, you potentially incur additional training or turnover costs.
What can business leaders do to encourage this across their organization and then sustain it over time?
In order to operate a customer-first business model, it needs to permeate throughout your organization’s mission. Let your customers tell you what they need to have the right experience, and then make those the foundation of everything you do from how you train and hire to evaluating the quality of customer service.
Everyone should go through the same training, whether they are in customer service, IT or sales. They need to truly understand the customer to make that the north star of the entire organization.
Allow for real-time coaching and feedback. It’s not handing out a sheet of metrics and telling them, based on a score, how they performed. It’s not sharing what went well or a missed opportunity three months after the fact. It’s experienced staff mentoring others, doing real-time conversations on a per call basis. It’s having a quality team reviewing customer interactions, which then become coaching discussions.
Share positive feedback throughout your organization on a regular basis and tie it back to the mission — that way it’s not just marketing, it’s truly part of the culture.
In addition, if you want your employees to deliver compassionate, empathic customer service, treat them that way within your walls. Successful leaders won’t operate in isolation. They should have an ability to connect and meet people where they are, because that’s what you’re asking of your employees — to be able to meet customers where they are.