Leveraging Emotional Intelligence for Better Customer Service

Everybody appreciates feeling heard. Not just listened to, but heard and understood. It’s how we help each other. Communication has always been a vital part of building relationships. All kinds of relationships — professional, political, romantic, familial, and recreational – need to leverage emotional intelligence.  

Emotional intelligence is a vital skill. However, not everybody has it in abundance. Few rate it as an important business skill. When we think about this, it’s absurd. Business is built around relationships. Relationships between employees and clients, between different businesses, or between employees themselves. 

Building and maintaining such relationships, though simple in practice, requires a high level of emotional intelligence. Whether you are starting a new business, or already running one, emotional intelligence is a vital part of understanding customer needs. 

There are many technically efficient things you can do to help your business. You could hire a B2B marketing agency or implement MDM tools. However, in an increasingly competitive business environment, one of the best things you can do is leverage emotional intelligence for better customer service. 

What is Emotional Intelligence?

Emotional intelligence is the ability to recognize, and appropriately respond to, emotional signals. It’s a vital attribute. Emotional intelligence is used to build and maintain relationships with other people.

In a nutshell, it can be broken down into two main concepts:

Empathy: The ability to recognize and understand emotions in others.

Self-awareness: The ability to recognize and understand one’s own emotions. 

Sounds simple, right? 

In principle, yes. But, some people are better at this than others. Being able to utilize these skills can do wonders for your business. This is particularly true when it comes to customer service. 

How Can We Use Emotional Intelligence?

We’ve all experienced good and bad customer service. There’s no need to over-analyze; you just know it when it happens. 

However, chances are those good experiences were due to the employee displaying a high level of emotional intelligence. There are several simple things that your customer service team can do, to make sure every customer feels taken care of.

Empathize

Customers with problems are often upset or angry. People don’t call just to chat. 

It’s important to show that you understand how the customer is feeling. Simple phrases like, “I’m sorry to hear that”, or “I can see why you’re annoyed”, can be very helpful. The customer will feel acknowledged and appreciated. Most people feel uncomfortable complaining. Letting them know that they are right to feel annoyed is a great way to help them feel more at ease. 

For example, let’s look at an imaginary correspondence between a customer (John) and a delightful customer service representative named James.

John hadn’t received a mail order. He emails to ask when it might arrive.

First of all, James replies quickly — because he cares!

He begins his email, “I’m sorry your order hasn’t reached you yet.”

He ends his email, “I’m sorry for the inconvenience.”

Simple, but effective. He nailed it. John’s complaining for those exact reasons. James has acknowledged them, empathized, and apologized. 

Don’t go overboard. There’s no need for tears, and people don’t appreciate being pandered to. 

Just put yourself in their shoes, and you can’t go wrong. 

As long as you have a consistent, empathetic tone, across all forms of communication. Whether your customer support operates via telephone, email, or via fax, make sure the customer’s needs are at the forefront of every decision. 

Don’t Be a Robot

You have shown an understanding. Now, it’s time to build a rapport.

Obviously, you should ask questions about a customer’s problem to help fix any issues. But, this is also an opportunity to get to know your customer a little better. 

Seize opportunities throughout the conversation to ask some personal (although not too personal!) questions. Even a little joke, now and again, will put a friendly face on your business. 

Let’s see, once again, how James knocked this out of the park. 

“It’s probably fallen down the back of a shelf at a sorting depot somewhere and will sit there forlornly until someone spots it and sends it on its way, to arrive three months late…”

Functionally, all he’s saying is, there’s probably a mix-up at the mail office. He did that little bit extra, and John probably found himself smiling, while complaining! Well done, James.

Fix The Problem

Finally, use emotional intelligence to help the customer!

The first two steps would be pointless if it wasn’t possible to solve challenging customer support issues

Let’s go back to the example of our rep, James. Obviously, James will do just that. He’ll send John a replacement order, free of charge. As such, it solves the problem.

This could have been the only step. Functionally, you could achieve the same result. However, building that rapport first makes a huge difference in the customer’s eyes.

It’s the difference between the customer solving a problem, by themselves, and the customer feeling like you and the service team are a united front, working together. 

Emotional Intelligence Benefits

Let’s think about our long-running example. 

Sure, James’ company lost money on that free replacement order. However, what they gained through emotional intelligence is invaluable. 

They have John’s continued business. Every savvy business owner knows that return business is the most valuable kind. 

Second, they’ve got some great PR from that exchange. Not only might John recommend them to all his friends, but also to people online on social media or on a blog. 

Remember, this wasn’t some top-tier business executive. It’s just a nice guy, doing his job really well. Now everyone knows about it. Do this enough and strong word of mouth will spread. It will help bring new business. It may even win back old customers.

Put simply, effectively leveraging emotional intelligence in customer service will help grow your business. Simlarly, a lack of emotional intelligence can lose you that same business and a lot of potential customers. 

The Value of Emotional Intelligence

The most important thing you can do, as a business owner, is to recognize and appreciate emotional intelligence. It should just be another routine part of the financial equation. 

You could consider emotional intelligence the same way you might value an effective face-to-face product orientation, for example. It’s all about people, and how they feel.

Look out for it when hiring new employees.

Nurture that emotional intelligence displayed by members of your customer service team. 

For those that are struggling, help them out. There is always more to learn

Customer support is always evolving, and improving, technologically. Nowadays, your support team can video call online, or even perform remote analytics. 

This is not some radical innovation. It’s something that many people innately possess. While there still might be quite a long way to go, we are starting to appreciate the importance of emotional intelligence.


Patty Yan is the EMEA Product Marketing Manager for RingCentral Office, the leader in cloud communications solutions. Patty is passionate about creating value and differentiation, ensuring a better experience for customers and partners. She gained a wealth of international product marketing, product management, GTM and market development experience, across a range of high-tech SaaS in a fast-paced, hyper-growth environment that assumes both strategic and tactical execution. She is not new to UC, starting in Tandberg, then Cisco, driving the launch of video collaboration and services, and Enghouse with global responsibilities for hosted CCaaS. 

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