Customer Service: The Difference Between Empathy and Sympathy

Most customer service teams respond to customers with sympathy. A sympathetic response could be: “I’m also unhappy with the way that product works.”

Sympathy is rarely an ideal response to a customer’s problem. Instead, show empathy. Empathy allows to you be professional and caring at the same time. It also allows you to avoid becoming emotionally involved (like when you show sympathy).

Think about it this way: when you’re sympathetic, you simply feel badly for someone. Sympathy doesn’t communicate to a customer that you understand WHY they feel the way they feel – it only allows you to communicate that you understand their problem. A typical response – “I’m sorry” – is insufficient to solve a customer’s problem. You must do more.

On the other hand, empathy communicates that you not only understand the customer’s problem, but also that you can relate it to something you yourself have experienced.

Here’s a wonderful short RSA video (by Dr. Brene Brown) that puts the two (empathy and sympathy) in context.