Whenever emotions run high in a customer interaction, especially when things are going wrong, it’s easy to get caught up in a customer’s emotional world so when responding to customers, it’s important to know the difference between empathy and sympathy. Many people interchangeably use the words but knowing the difference when to sympathize and when to empathize, can help you give a more appropriate response.


• Sympathy (To Sympathize) involves identifying with, and even taking on, another person’s emotions. A sympathetic response is, “I’m really angry about those centerpieces, too.”


Empathy (To Empathize) means acknowledging and affirming another’s emotional state. An empathetic response is, “I can understand why that makes you angry.” 



When a service provider wallows in a customer’s misfortune, there are two victims instead of one. As a service professional, you need to see the clear difference between what happened and who it happened to—and work on the former to bring things back to normal.


What’s the Difference?

Responding to customers with sympathy—getting as upset as they are—puts you on an emotional roller coaster and can leave you worn out and frazzled at the end of the day. The trick is to be emotionally aware and sensitive without becoming too emotionally involved. When you respond with empathy, you stay calm and in control of yourself. Only then you become at your absolute best: ready, willing, and able to help your customer meet his needs or solve his problem.

Showing empathy for customers allows you to be professional and caring at the same time. It also makes customers feel that they are important and whay they are saying matters. Empathy cannot be handed out by a machine; it’s something one person does for another.

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