Empathy: Putting Yourself in Your Customers’ Shoes

By Chief MSgt. Luis Reyes
Exchange Senior Enlisted Advisor

Recently, I received a note from a not-so-happy shopper.

He was frustrated and upset because he did not receive the Serta mattress he had ordered. He posted a message on Facebook about not receiving his mattress and contacted an associate at headquarters who deals with customer complaints. He even sent me an email in which he name-dropped the associate with whom he was speaking on the phone. I passed the message along to our resolution team.

Our associate’s response was amazing. She truly understood the shopper’s frustrations.

The difference between ‘sympathy’ and ’empathy’

The associate put herself in the customer’s shoes and handled the concern from his perspective. Her interaction was based on empathy, not sympathy.

Sympathy is “feelings of pity and sorrow for someone else’s misfortune.” Empathy is “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.”

While two people may never share the exact experiences, there are some experiences that are common, such as high school graduation, the birth of a child or, in this instance, a delayed delivery. We are sympathetic to others when they suffer a setback or are feeling blue.

Feeling, relating

While we may not have been through the experience, we feel for the person dealing with the issue (sympathy), and sometimes we have suffered a similar setback and can relate (empathy).

Chief Reyes meets Fort Gordon’s Marquette Nixon. He presented her with one of his coins for her exemplary customer experience skills.

We should try our best to empathize with our customers.

In the situation I described, the associate could have stated, “Oh, wow, sir, sorry to hear that. I apologize, but there is not much more we can do. You have to contact the vendor for resolution.” This would have been a “sympathetic” response.

She didn’t. The associate connected with the customer through empathy.  The result was proactive action and, with the help of her team, coordination with third-party vendors to ensure the customer was taken care of, and the problem was solved.

‘Remember the Golden Rule’

If you put yourselves in the customer’s shoes and treat them as you would like to be treated—remember the Golden Rule—you will succeed and customer service satisfaction levels will rise.

Take a moment to listen to your customers, process what they say, put yourself in their shoes and act on their behalf.  People want and need to know you care.

While you might not be able to relate (empathize) with every issue, do your best to try. When customers connect with you and feel you understand what they are going through, they will be more willing to work with you.


If you want to learn more, watch this short video by Dr. Brene Brown, author and research professor at the University of Houston, on sympathy vs. empathy.

So how empathetic are you? Find out by taking this quiz.

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  1. Juanita Holliday on July 30, 2018 at 9:00 pm

    This is awesome customer service, I wish all of our associates, supervisors and managers would learn from this and practice this more often. Great Job.

    • Steve Smith on July 31, 2018 at 1:04 pm

      Ms. Holliday:

      Thank you for writing to your Exchange Post. I will pass along your comments to Chief Reyes.

      Steve Smith
      Editor, The Exchange Post

    • CMSgt Luis Reyes on September 15, 2018 at 9:20 pm

      Juanita, Thanks for the note. I appreciate you taking the time to read the article.

  2. Mrs. Hill on August 1, 2018 at 5:48 pm

    This was a good read and we our happy to say that we really push for this type of behavior in all associate. We go over these type of opportunities in Onboarding how to take care of customer’s needs at all cost.

    Meaning we will exhaust all avenues of customers service to get 100% customers satisfaction before we let them leave our Exchange.

    Great exposure of what really happens in the field because we really do have some Awesome folks working here at the Exchange.

    • Steve Smith on August 1, 2018 at 7:58 pm

      Ms. Hill:

      Thank you so much for writing to your Exchange Post. I will pass along your comments to Chief Reyes, the writer.

      Steve Smith
      Editor, The Exchange Post

    • CMSgt Luis Reyes on September 15, 2018 at 9:22 pm

      Mrs. Hill,

      Great to hear that Exchange personnel are trained early on to have the “Courage to use good judgement,” one of the Exchange’s core values. Thanks for taking the time to read. Have a great weekend!

  3. Patricia Kinard on August 9, 2018 at 5:29 pm

    This was excellent Customer Service. That’s the problem a lot of people don’t put themselves in the other person’s shoes, if they did it would be a better and happier outcome. Fantastic Job

    • Steve Smith on August 9, 2018 at 7:27 pm

      Ms. Kinard:

      Thank you for writing to your Exchange Post. I’m sure Chief Reyes, who wrote the article, will be happy to hear your comments. I am passing them along to him.

      Steve Smith
      Editor, The Exchange Post

    • CMSgt Luis Reyes on September 15, 2018 at 9:23 pm

      Spot on Patricia! Thanks for reading.

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