Manage Empathy Fatigue

Spending eight hours a day listening to frustrated, confused, and sometimes angry customers is a tough task for service professionals, even in the best of times.

Today, those same customers may be struggling with the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic, regional wildfires, and hurricanes. They may be juggling work, virtual schooling, caring for aging parents, and more. It is a recipe for stressful conversations, razor thin tempers, and empathy fatigue.

Empathy fatigue, says Mark Stebnicki, PhD, is a condition that impacts people working in many “high touch” professions, such as customer service.

Frontline reps are trained to be empathetic, to practice deep and compassionate listening, and to imagine themselves in the customer’s situation.

So while a rep may not be experiencing the impacts of a hurricane personally, there is a real emotional toll to empathizing with the customer who has lost her home and needs to resolve insurance issues with an agent.

The effect of a week, a month, or more, hearing difficult customer stories can make reps less able to bounce back from an emotional call, more prone to apathy, and less able to show customers genuine empathy.

The solution, says Stebnicki, starts with recognizing that empathy fatigue exists and that it takes a real toll on reps and the quality of service they provide. He notes that breathing, meditation, visualization, relaxation, and mindfulness approaches have been shown to be effective in dealing with fatigue and stress in many work environments.

More practical tips for service professionals appear in the December issue of Customer Communicator newsletter.

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