Customer Service: The Difference Between Empathy and Sympathy

If you’re starting a business and planning how you’ll deliver excellent customer service, you must understand 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. Show empathy instead.

Empathy allows you to 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 feel bad 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. It would be best if you did more.

On the other hand, empathy communicates that you understand the customer’s problem and 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.