Preparing your team for today’s conversation – empathy and managing difficult conversations

Increased financial stress means many more conversations related to hardship or concerns about options for delaying payments. Other customers are checking on opening hours, trying to understand what is and what is not available. Some services have expanded and others have retracted, as buying behaviours change meaning some organisations have had to expand their contact centres or move people from face to face and retail branches or even back-office functions.

As I said in my last blog, redeploying teams from face to face roles into a contact centre is a great way to keep your customer supported during this pandemic and retain your valuable employees.

But have you given your people the skills they need to make the transition? Telephone interactions are vastly different to face to face interactions. Communication skills, particularly active listening, empathy and knowing how to support difficult conversations are a must for all contact centre personnel. Given the changing nature of conversations, this is even more critical in today’s environment.

Listening skills

Being able to take a breath, listen to your customer and confirm what you have heard sounds logical. However, we all too often rush in on our first impulse to appear responsive and in a face to face conversation, things can easily be put right. Over the telephone, we need to approach this differently and help our people understand how important it is to get the first step right and allow them the time to truly listen at the start and throughout the conversation.


There are a raft of articles about empathy in the contact centre and especially during COVID 19. Empathy is the ability to put yourself in someone else’s position and understand their feelings by identifying with them. Helping your people to understand what this means and how to respond can go a long way to support your customers’ needs and deliver a better outcome for all.

Managing difficult conversations

Your team need to understand that these conversations are not about them; customers are expressing frustration or concern about the issue at hand. There are many options for managing difficult conversations and I like HEAT the best – it trains your team to hear, empathise, acknowledge the issue and take action. It is a great training tool – taking the heat out of the conversation in an easy to follow format that serves both your people and your customers.

Having the right training for your team, although an investment, can drive important and sustainable business benefits. These include:

  • Reduced escalations as agents are better equipped to manage the call.
  • Fewer complaints as issues are resolved in a professional and engaging manner.
  • Improved average handling times as your agents have the right conversations.
  • Increase employee satisfaction as your people feel more in control.
  • Increased customer satisfaction through better engagement.

With decades of experience in creating the best customer conversations, Probe can assist you to provide the upskilling your teams need. Within a week we can tailor a training program to your needs and by week 2 we can be running online sessions for your people.

With over 20 years’ experience in creating the best customer conversations, Stellar Evolve can assist you to provide the upskilling your teams need. Within a week we can tailor a training program to your needs and by week 2 we can be running online sessions for your people.

Our program covers:

  • Listening skills.
  • Building empathy.
  • Managing difficult conversations.
  • Each module is a half-hour session that will make a difference to your employees’ confidence and the quality of conversations with your customers.

Contact us to learn more.