Improving Emotional Intelligence: Why It’s Important in Customer Service

6 min read
Mar 10, 2017
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Lighbulb illustration emotional intelligence

When I was working in customer service, my greatest problem were emotions.

When I was having a bad day (you know, one of those days with a high percentage of grumpy, upset or rude customers), I wasn’t able to cope with anger and frustration. My biggest dream was to have the ability to turn off my emotions for a couple of hours.

Because I felt that negative emotions were too difficult for me to handle, I was dreaming about turning off the feelings. I was convinced that thanks to that I would be able to satisfy our customers, do my job better and remain sane.

But what if human emotions are something desirable in customer service? What if they make it much easier for people to communicate? What if emotions, both good and bad, are something making customer experience unique?

Here's why we should be improving our emotional intelligence (EQ) and why it matters in our lives so much.

What is emotional intelligence according to dr Daniel Goleman

Emotional intelligence, as a psychological theory, was created by Peter Salovey and John Mayer.

Emotional intelligence is the ability to perceive emotions, to access and generate emotions so as to assist thought, to understand emotions and emotional knowledge, and to reflectively regulate emotions so as to promote emotional and intellectual growth.

Daniel Goleman has popularized this idea and developed it by creating five components of emotional intelligence:

  1. Self-awareness - the ability to recognize and understand your moods and emotions, as well as their effect on others.
  2. Self-regulation - the ability to control disruptive impulses, to suspend judgment and to think before acting.
  3. Internal motivation - a passion to work for internal reasons that go beyond money and status (e.g. learning, experiencing, having a happy family).
  4. Empathy - the ability to understand emotions of other people.
  5. Social skills - the ability to manage relationships and build networks.

Sounds familiar? I hope so! Because Daniel Goleman claims that if your emotional abilities aren't in hand, if you don't have self-awareness, empathy or you're not able to manage your distressing emotions, then no matter how smart you are, you are not going to get very far.

Emotional awareness in customer service

Emotions are an essential part of our mind that helps us to develop, motivate us to take action and, in a case of danger, help us avoid the hazard and survive.

But how does it look like in customer service?

Customer service is all about communication. Without emotions, for people, it may be difficult to find common ground because emotions allow us to understand how the other person is feeling. So if you want to adapt our communication to customers’ state of mind, you need to work on improving your emotional intelligence.

According to Psychology Today, emotional intelligence is the ability to identify and manage your own emotions and the emotions of others.

It is generally said to include three skills:

  1. Emotional awareness (including the ability to identify your own emotions and those of others),
  2. The ability to harness emotions and apply them to tasks (e.g thinking and problem solving),
  3. The ability to manage emotions (including the ability to regulate your own emotions, and the ability to cheer up or calm down another person).

All these skills happen to be incredibly useful in customer service!

Cake heart improving emotional intelligence

Basic customer experience emotions

Working in customer support, you will meet many types of customers but only two kinds of emotions: positive and negative ones.

1. Positive emotions: surprise, happiness and gratitude

Now, let’s imagine you’re such a happy customer and you’re contacting the call center or live chat. You’re hoping you’ll have a nice chat, but it turns out that you talk with a professional robot that has no semblance of humanity. It won’t be a pleasant chat for this customer!

But once you start to use your empathy, you’ll be able to understand that this customer is happy and grateful, so you’ll be able to adapt your communication to their state of mind. You might smile, chat conversationally or joke if you feel that’s the right moment. Customers will appreciate that!

And if you'd like to test a new, convenient way of communicating with your customers, give LiveChat a try. It will change your customer support for good.

2. Negative emotions: anger, frustration and disappointment

It’s time for the worst possible scenario: an angry customer. Here are a couple of examples when developing your emotional intelligence can help you to deal with customers:

If you’re talking to an angry or displeased customer, you probably won’t argue with them. If you show you’re angry as well, the whole conflict will escalate. But when you prove to be compassionate and understanding, they’ll more likely control themselves, and you’ll come to a satisfying solution.

When you receive a complaint from a customer, they probably feel disappointment and frustration. As long as you’re aware of that, you’ll know that you should apologize, sympathize with them, listen and reassure that you’ll find a solution of their problem. Thanks to this, you’ll be able to turn customer complaints into compliments.

Be proud of your emotional intelligence and constantly improve it

Emotional intelligence is key personal growth. It helps to understand people and communicate with them more effectively. It helps you to associate body language, facial expressions and tone of voice with emotions. Thanks to that, we can guess how the other person is feeling. It helps us to adopt our style of communication and even the things we’re saying, to how the other person feels.

For customer service, this skill is crucial to be able to talk with customers, solve their problems and make a positive experience.

Here’s an example.

Do you remember that viral customer service story of Trader Joe's? An 89-year-old customer who was snowed in and wasn’t able to drive and buy food. His daughter called several markets asking for delivery, but no one agreed since there was a storm coming. She ended up calling Trader’s Joe who usually doesn't deliver goods.

Emotional intelligence Trader Joe's staff

Now, what would happen if the employee who answered the phone was an emotionless person? Probably, the customer would hear that Trader Joe’s is not delivering any goods and they cannot make an exception because it’s against their procedures.

There would be no happy customer, no extraordinary customer experience and no viral story that became the best PR for Trader Joe’s.

But because the phone was answered by a person that could empathize with this customer, the whole story had a happy ending.

Trader Joe’s staff made shopping for the old man, they delivered it, did not accept any money and left wishing him “Merry Christmas.”

So the very next time you feel upset with your job, and you wish to turn your emotions off, recall this story of an old man. If not these awful, human emotions, this story wouldn’t be such an amazing Christmas gift for his family.

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