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Lack Of Empathy Is A Sure Fire Way To Lose Customers

Today’s post is by Colleen Stanley, president of SalesLeadership—a leading sales development consulting firm that specializes in emotional intelligence and consultative sales skills training. Colleen was named by Salesforce as one of the eight most influential sales experts of the 21st century, and is the author of the best-selling book, Emotional Intelligence For Sales Success.

Companies are always focused on new strategies to acquire clients.  Money is invested in technology and marketing to ensure the sales pipelines are full.  Investments are made in PR, SEO and artificial intelligence. But often, these proactive companies don’t experience sustainable growth because they have as much business going out the back door as that which is coming through the front door.  It’s the “revolving door syndrome.”

It’s easy for sales organizations to default to the excuse that customers leave because of price.  However, research shows that most customers leave because of “employee indifference.” I contend that employee indifference is really lack of empathy because salespeople and customer service teams have not been trained in empathy.   

More sales leaders are recognizing the importance of empathy.  However, they confuse the emotional intelligence skill of empathy with active listening skills.  They teach their salespeople to validate and paraphrase what the customers is saying. Paraphrasing is not empathy.  

Empathy is the ability to step into another person’s shoes, heart and mind.  It’s the ability to say what another person is thinking or feeling. The challenge for salespeople is that often a customer isn’t saying what they are really thinking or feeling!

Here’s two examples of where salespeople and customer service professionals fall short of empathy during the sales and service process.  

  1. Generic empathy

A customer expresses a concern about the difficulty in using the product or service he just purchased.  The salesperson responds with, “I understand your frustration….”

The rep thinks to themselves, “Check.  Empathy delivered.”

However, the customer is likely thinking, “If you understood my frustration, you’d do a better job of describing it!”  An empathetic salesperson describes the emotions behind why the customer is feeling frustrated. When a salesperson can describe the why behind their customers emotions, he demonstrates real world empathy, rather than generic, vanilla empathy.  He makes an emotional connection with the customer which in turn diffuses an emotionally charged customer. A better approach might be, “Mr. or Mrs. Customer, I can understand your frustration because the last thing you want to do is take your very limited time to deal with installation issues caused by our software. You do business with us to eliminate problems not create more!”      

  1. Offer solutions too quickly

 The customer service professional’s intent is good here, however, the sales approach is wrong.  I have observed customer service professionals that do a great job of demonstrating empathy. Then they blow all that good rapport and connection by moving right into solutions, before hearing the customer’s full story.  Here’s the reality. When people are upset, they want you to hear their story. Then and only then, can they hear your brilliant solution.

Instead of moving into ‘problem solving mode’, manage your impulse to problem solve.  Ask more questions so your customer can tell their story. They feel like they are being heard.  “Can you expand on that as I don’t want to make assumptions on the solution.” Customers want to be heard first and receive advice second.  

Empathy is a powerful influence selling skill.  Teach your sales and customer service teams the difference between active listening and empathy.  Coach your team on the importance of listening first and offering advice second.

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