The buzzword is everywhere you look – so what it is the big deal about empathy in customer service, and why does it matter in debt collection?
“It’s one of the biggest things to which I attribute my success,” he once wrote. “It’s the reason I believe that I am one of the great salespeople out there.”
And perhaps in the most conspicuous example, Ford Motor Company asked male engineers to wear a simulator that would allow them to experience pregnancy symptoms. The goal was to honor the words of Henry Ford, who famously said that the key to success is to get the other person’s point of view. In his mind, fully and truly understanding different points of view would ensure a vehicle that fit the needs of the masses – hence, pregnancy symptom simulators.
Clearly empathy in customer service is a quality that many attribute to success. Just how well does it work in collections?
Here, we’ll discuss three main points –
1. What is empathy, really?
2. Why does it matter in debt collection?
3. How should it actually manifest itself in debt collection efforts?
What is Empathy?
Empathy was once described by author Lee Nicholson as “your pain in my heart.” Empathy is recognizing emotions in others, and being able to “put yourself in another person’s shoes” – understanding the other person’s perspective and reality.
Empathy is different from sympathy in that , while sympathy says “I feel for you,” empathy says “I feel with you.”
Why is Empathy in Customer Service Important?
As a collector you know better than anyone how much easier a conversation becomes when there is compassion involved.
It’s pretty simple – creating an environment of empathy in customer service provides meaningful, concrete returns. There are few of us who would rather speak to a cold, rude customer service employee (or even worse, a machine) then a warm, friendly voice talking us through our options.
It’s not just for the consumer’s benefit, though. You may find that an empathetic approach makes your conversations a lot easier. So what are the internal benefits of approaching conversations with empathy?
- A better understanding of people
- Dealing easily with conflict
- Invoking empathy in return from consumers
- Predicting action and reaction
And as you can probably guess, when empathy is lacking, it can lead to a consumer immediately becoming defensive, discourteous and difficult.
So now you might be thinking, how can I be efficient and empathetic? How can I collect on accounts in a firm way, and still be empathetic? How will anyone take me seriously? Here are some tangible ways to integrate empathy in customer service.
How Should Empathy Manifest Itself in Debt Collection Efforts?
Here are a few concrete and actionable ways to begin expressing empathy in your everyday conversation.
1. Avoid Sympathy
It sounds counter-intuitive, but sympathy can get in the way of a successful conversation. Here’s an example:
Collector: “So it looks like you owe $650 on this account.”
Consumer: “I just had an unexpected car expense, I just don’t have the money right now.”
Collector: “I’m sorry to hear about the car expense, that must have been frustrating.”
Consumer: “Yea, obviously it was frustrating! So what do you want from me then?”
To avoid that, try saying “I understand how frustrating that is, but here’s what we can do.” Putting yourself in the shoes of the consumer can give you incredible insight into how to problem solve for them.
2. Ask, don’t assume – Be curious and actively listen
Confirm every piece of information you’ve been given, and try to take a genuine interest in the consumer’s situation. No one wants to end up in debt. No one does it on purpose. The more information you have the better you can solve the problem.
3. Set the tone and do your best to control it
Whether the consumer you have on the other line is irate, indifferent or worried sick, you be the one to take the reigns of the conversation. Your job is to help the consumer out of debt, and as such, you are an asset to them – even if they don’t see it that way. This is not a conversation where they walk all over you, nor is it the time you walk all over them.
Work under the assumption that your conversation will make their day better.
After all, having the weight of debt lifted off your shoulders is a great feeling!
Remember that cultivating empathy takes time and also flows from the top down. If you want to begin cultivating empathy, try reading more fiction or getting feedback about your demeanor from friends and colleagues. If you’re an experienced collector, training new collectors can also help you develop empathy. Stay informed about the debt you collect on and the problems those consumers may be facing.
You might be surprised at the difference this quality makes in your profit and your everyday conversations.