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The role of empathy in contact centres

customer care Customer Engagement
customer care Customer Engagement

The XM Institute has labelled 2023 The Year of Empathy, calling on those specialising in experience management to make a difference to the lives of customers in an increasingly uncertain world.

The breakout of war, environmental disaster and economic uncertainty have left people feeling increasingly stressed, burnt out and impatient.

This heightened stress is often taken out on those working in customer-facing roles, who must balance their own mental health with the requirements of their role, which at its core, is being an empathetic voice on the other side of the phone.

We talk to TSA Group frontline experts on how empathy is embedded in the customer service experience.


In a world grappling with a cost-of-living-crisis while adapting to life post-Covid, contact centre team members are becoming much more than simply a voice on the end of the phone.

When customers engage with a contact centre team, often they not only need help with solving or assisting their personal situation, but they also need someone who is willing to listen while offering support. So, it seems fitting that 2023 has been marked as, ‘The Year of Empathy,’ by the XM Institute, with those who specialise in the field of experience management being urged to ‘make a difference in the lives of customers in an increasingly uncertain world’.


There are three types of empathy, the institute explains:

An ability to consider and understand the thoughts and feelings of others

Being able to vicariously share other people’s thoughts and feelings

A knack of sensing what others need from you

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With contact centre teams often being the first port of call in tackling disastrous, troubling, and sometimes devastating circumstances that customers find themselves in, Krystal Valentine, TSA Group Channel Manager, says ‘The Year of Empathy for 2023,’ is well-timed.

“I definitely believe it’s been a long time coming,” she says.

“We’ve seen a chain reaction of events from Covid and that’s impacted trades across the world and hence, impacting jobs and I feel like we’ve landed ourselves in 2023 in a new world that we’ve never really experienced before.

I think the year of empathy is a very fitting name to 2023.”

Darrah Doyle, a TSA Group Operation Manager, says it has been a strange couple of years during the pandemic where many people were feeling anxious and isolated, with it becoming somewhat of ‘a shared trauma’.

“There was no end – it didn’t end at a particular day, and we couldn’t just debrief,” he says.

“We just carried it on into the next couple of years and it impacted every contact centre – our team members, their leaders, our families.

I think we’re now at a stage where everybody’s kind of been able to take a step back and reflect a bit, so I think empathy in 2023 is super important.”

The importance of people’s emotions and feelings of isolation have been under the spotlight in recent times, Claire Ross, Senior Operations Manager, at TSA Group believes.

“I think it’s really important for organisations to stop and include people’s feelings as a part of the way that we operate now – it’s not just data, it’s not just numbers,” she says.

“It’s not just a conversation to get to the end of a phone call. We actually need to consider people’s feelings as a part of our day-to-day role.”

Embedding empathy within a customer experience involves a level of emotional intelligence, and a mix of listening, understanding and a sympathetic ear.

“What really strong team members do is they bring the customer along on the journey with them,” Mr Doyle says.

“So you’re like, ‘That’s not a great thing that’s happened to you, but I’m here now to help you, so let’s move through this’.”

The wellbeing of contact centre staff is also just as important as customers, with a recent survey analysing the state of health and well-being of contact centre employees revealing 96 per cent felt acute stress on a weekly basis.

Keeping calm and placing themselves “in the shoes of the customer” is important in situations where a team member is beginning to feel like a punching bag, Ms Ross says.

“Sometimes it’s not actually personally directed at the team member,” she explains.

“The caller is just in a really bad situation, so pausing and kind of removing yourself from that situation, and also having a really clear escalation pathway for those team members is important.

They need to know they can go speak to their team leader if they’ve had a hard call and they can understand what that next step will be for them as well.”

Every time a person has an interaction, they perceive it through three dimensions: success, effort, and emotion, according to the XM Institute.

And it is emotions which have the most significant impact on how people recall their encounter.

In relation to customer service, Ms Valentine says tone of voice and perception play a huge role in customer experience.

“Customers can’t see us, they can’t see our body language, but they hear our tonality and the emotion and the response that we have to that situation,” she says.

“If we’re starting to disengage, become frustrated, or anything like that – whether that was our intent for them to hear that – they’re going to perceive it in that way, and that’s going to leave a lasting impact on them and on the brand as well.

“I think it’s important to regulate that tonality and keep calm to be able to effectively assist the customer.”

TSA Group helps companies across Australia build lasting customer relationships by ensuring our operators keep empathetic customer care at the heart of every interaction.


TSA are Australia’s market leading specialists in CX Consultancy and Contact Centre Services. We are passionate about revolutionising the way brands connect with Australians. How? By combining our local expertise with the most sophisticated customer experience technology on earth, and delivering with an expert team of customer service consultants who know exactly how to help brands care for their customers.

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