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Complaint Handling: Establishing Empathy with a Customer

Empathy is mainly concerned with “walking” with another person into the deeper self – while still maintaining some separateness. It involves experiencing the feelings of another (in relation to a particular experience) without losing one’s own identity. It involves accurate response to another’s needs (albeit from an independent perspective).  The empathetic person therefore can feel the genuine “pain” of another person but is not resistant to or disabled by it. In addition, an empathetic person can sense the other person’s bewilderment, anger, fear, happiness or frustration as if it were a personal feeling. Establishing empathy with a customer then is all about building relationships with people and to do this effectively one of the core skills we need to hone is being able to connect with people and appreciate their emotions.

There are three components of empathy:

  1. First the empathetic person has a sensitive and accurate understanding of the customer’s feelings before they communicate with them.
  2. Second, empathy means understanding the situation that contributed to or “triggered” those observed feelings (or at least looking to find out).
  3. Finally, the empathetic person communicates with the other in such a way that the other feels accepted and understood, and willing to engage in a fully two way conversation.

The key element to empathy is listening with your heart as well as your head. Don’t forget, listening is a combination of hearing what another person says and involvement with the person who is talking. Take account of what you have therefore heard to reflect back your understanding of what has been communicated. The more you check with the other person, the more comfortable he or she will feel that you are really trying understand and empathize with them.

The featured video clip is a short excerpt from the ReadyToManage, Rapid Skill Builder eLearning program, Complaint Handling: An RSB eLearning Course.

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About Dr. Jon Warner

Dr. Jon Warner is a prolific author, management consultant and executive coach with over 25 years experience. He has an MBA and a PhD in Organizational Psychology. Jon can be reached at

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About the Editor and Primary Author

Jon Warner

Jon Warner is an executive coach and management consultant and in the past has been a CEO in three very different companies. Read more

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