In person, we naturally display empathy and active listening through gestures, facial expressions, and through our general energy. How do we convey this without that face-to-face interaction — when we’re behind a screen communicating with a customer?

Demonstrate active listening

In person, we communicate “active listening” with body language such as leaning closer, nodding our heads, having an open posture, or making steady eye contact 👀.

When speaking over the phone, we change our tone of voice, smile and use verbal affirmations (such as a simple “uh-huh” or “ahh”) to show we’re following along. To show that we’re really listening, certain kinds of phrases tend to make their way into the conversation.

Phrases like:

  • “Wow! That must be so…”
  • “I understand how you feel…”
  • “It sounds like…”
  • “I’ve felt that way too.”
  • “I can sense that you’re feeling…”
  • “Let me see if I understand correctly…”
  • “What I hear you saying is…”

The great news is that these same phrases that show empathy face-to-face can also be used to show support for a customer’s situation through text — whether it be in a reply to their emails, tweets, or Facebook messages. Here how we can show customers we hear them and care about helping:

Lean forward while typing

Our body language affects our writing. In preparation for an email or tweet that’s going to need great empathy, try to sit forward, as if leaning into the conversation (not back, as if feeling defensive).

Be honest and let them know we care

Simple phrases like “I hear you” or “I’m sorry” can quickly transform a conversation and begin to build a real relationship. If we goof, we ought to ‘fess up. If we don’t know the answer yet, we should go ahead and say so (and keep in touch until we do).

Use people’s names

It never hurts to use names when talking with people, even over social media. As Dale Carnegie says, “a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.”

Add a personal touch

Making it personal can help, too. Support teams can regularly add a personal touch by making sure to add their first names to their replies or comments (on Twitter especially). That way, people immediately feel like they’re talking to an actual person and not a talking to a wall or faceless brand.

Address the problem (and their feelings)

Naming the problem/topic specifically and addressing their feelings (especially if they’re frustrated or confused). This is a great opportunity to show that we’re listening, we recognize how they might be feeling, and that we’re working to understand them fully and bring about a speedy solution.

Re-read our message out loud

Re-reading our own reply out loud helps to identify areas where our tone could be improved.

Say thank you

Last but not certainly not least, don’t forget to say thank you! Expressing gratitude is a great way to show we’re listening.

Thanking someone for their patience while we find an answer for them, thanking ‘em for sticking with us while we work out a tricky issue, or just saying thank you for being an awesome customer can show that we’re genuinely interested in speaking with them and glad they took the time to reach out 😃