Empathy is Everything in Customer Service

My wife and I dread the tea aisle of our local supermarket chain. The supermarket is always crowded with staff on the floor, and they keep on changing the location of the shelves now and then, making it very difficult to find anything each fortnight. But the tea aisle is just worst. The customer service staff there, or as we have code worded them “the TA girls”, are always there to pounce on you when they see you enter the aisle. We, and other customers, get constantly followed and badgered with a flurry of questions: “Green Tea Ma’am?”, “Darjeeling Tea Ma’am?”, “Try this new tea sir.”, “Chamomile Tea Sir?”, and so on and so forth. We dread the TA girls and therefore my wife has decided to avoid the aisle altogether and rather buy tea online. Much less hassle, we get what we need, without the constant badgering or hard push to sell.

Now, I know it is not the fault of the TA girls. It is a problem in the HR and training. The reason that the supermarket keeps on shuffling the contents of their shelves frequently, is the same as the reason the TA girls badger customers and hard sell products to them. The HR has decided that the best way to make your customer spend more time at your store is to make them confused, make them search for products they need, and seek the help of customer service staff, who would then try to hard-sell other products to you. But as customers we are not there for a scavenger hunt for Pete’s sake! We want it convenient; we want to go in, get the things we need with minimum intervention from the customer service staff, pay, and come out. Thinking from the perspective of the customers is the key. The idea is to not make customers spend more time at your store, because their confused. The idea is to make it easy for them to find what they need, and make them spend more time, becuase they want to. Also spending more time roaming about a store with central air conditioning confused, is not the ideal Post-Covid shopping experience that you want to give your customers. They will rather buy things online, where they feel they are in control, and they are safe. But why did the HR decide to adopt such a bizarre method of training their staff and organizing their shelves? The answer is simple, lack of empathy. Lack of thinking from the perspective of the customers. Supermarkets run on tight margins anyway, and this lack of empathy in the customer service culture post-covid might actually end up doing more harm for this supermarket chain.

Empathy is Everything in customer service. The problem is, many small and medium-sized business owners, especially in India, think that to empathize is “to do charity”. Empathy for your customer, valuing their convenience, is often seen as an impediment for making money. But trust me, that is not true. As a business owner, I am grateful to my customers for choosing to give me their valuable time and mine. They absolutely do not have to. There is no compulsion on their part. So a business owner, and as a human being, empathy has to be the core value of anything I do and Immersive Trails does. But empathy is not something that you can switch on and off. You cannot empathize with your customers at work, for the sake of making money, and then switch it off after work because you do not need it anymore. To have empathy as a core value in your business and your team, it has to be your way of life first. Empathy and compassion should be absolutely EVERYTHING. In everything you do, inside and outside your business. If you make empathy the prime mover of your life and work, then you thrive as a person, you thrive in business, and you bring a lot of delight for your customers, and everyone else around you. Isn’t that an entrepreneurial journey worth living?

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Tathagata Neogi

Dr Tathagata Neogi is the Co-Founder and Chief Innovation Leader of Immersive Trails, a purpose-driven company based out of Kolkata, India that converts ethical, in-depth research into immersive experiences. Tathagata is a vocal advocate of empathic, ethical, community focused business practices.

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