Leah Niu is an expert at empathy, which is why she's so good at customer service.

Want to Improve Customer Service? Be Empathetic.

ReadyTalk is unique in the unified communications world. We have employees available 24/7, all located in Colorado and Canada, who want to talk with people. Our customers never go to a recorded audio with instructions; everyone gets a real person.

And real people are exactly what ReadyTalk has; Leah Niu is a customer care representative and one of those real people. In fact, she’s an expert on empathy and why it’s important.

What is empathy to you?

Leah: It’s understanding and being able to share someone’s feelings. It’s being relatable and relating back. Being present and in the moment. I put myself in other’s shoes.

How do you practice empathy?

Leah: When people call in it’s because they’re new to starting a meeting with our products. They’re usually calling when the meeting is about to begin and they’re stressed and frantic. They have something important happening and are unable to do it. That’s a terrible feeling! We’ve all been there. Everyone hates that feeling. I hate it, too.

My job is to do what I can so they leave the call being able to do what they set out to do and feeling better. It’s why we — real people — answer those calls rather than send someone to a user guide or knowledge base. When you’re at that point, you need a person to talk you through something. That’s empathy, too — knowing someone needs a reassuring voice.

I listen, understand the issue and clarify it, let them know they’re not alone through validation — that I’m here — and help them resolve that issue. Sometimes it’s a creative solution I come at and sometimes it’s something we come to together. That’s important — it’s a partnership.

After talking with me, they’re confident and calm, ready to take on the challenge that caused them to call. In fact, my hope is to empower customers, helping them know how to use our products better. I want them not to call, but for the right reasons — I want them to be expert users and feel confident.

But really, it all starts with, “I’m here with you and for you.”

Why is empathy important?

Leah: Our toughest calls involve people who are panicked and upset. Before we can even get to the issue, we need them to understand we’re here for them and we’ve felt that way, too.

It’s also important to me personally. I get emotionally invested in things. When I’m having a hard time, I don’t need someone telling me what to do. I need someone who listens and validates my experience in that challenging moment. I need to know that I can practice trust before I’m prepared to be vulnerable.

That’s true with others, too. When people call us, and can’t do something — they’re vulnerable! They need someone to say, “Thanks for calling us and trusting us. You’ll always be picked up by a real person. Now, let’s do this together.” What they don’t need is just someone telling them what to do.

Not being empathetic can hinder a customer from using our product. That could mean a lost customer or someone who’s complaining to friends about us. We don’t want that. We want happy employees and happy customers.

What happens when the call is about something we don’t offer in our product?

Leah: That happens sometimes and we’re open to it. I’m part of a group that follows up — taking customer service calls into product discussions. If one person is calling and asking for something, chances are good that others are thinking about it, but not expressing the request themselves.

How can you train someone to be empathetic?

Leah: Most, if not all of the time, you can’t. There are a lot of things you can train for, but empathy is one of the hardest, mostly because it’s often a personality trait. You can train people to be active listeners though; I guess that’s a good step toward being empathetic. But to have true empathy — that’s more than a skill; it’s innate.

Leah Niu is an expert at empathy, which is why she's so good at customer service.

About Leah Niu

Leah’s a Jill of all trades and has done everything from managing in retail to writing for the Motley Fool to running a nonprofit. She believes in the power of good service and investing in people, partly why she’s a good customer care representative. How good is she? Within here first 60 days at ReadyTalk, she received a thank you gift basket from a customer for her help.

Her advice: Stay open to being taught. In just every interaction there’s something someone can teach you as well as something you can teach.

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