Lead With Empathy And The Customers Will Follow

My last image of my dog Bruce. In his last moments he got to be with the three things he loved most: food, ball and me.

My last image of my dog Bruce. In his last moments he got to be with the three things he loved most: food, ball and me.

One thing they fail to tell you when you adopt a dog is that they eventually get old.  Over the past year my chocolate labrador retriever, Bruce really began to show his age and I had been dreading the inevitable for quite some time.  Last Wednesday, I called Rancho San Carlos Pet Clinic to schedule an appointment to have Bruce put to sleep.

Without turning this post into a eulogy, I was completely floored (in a good way) by the way my vet cared for me during this difficult time.  While most customer service professionals are seldom called upon to empathize with the death of a loved one, we can learn so much from those who are frequently in these situations.  Here are a few of my takeaways.

1. Lead Strongly With Empathy- When I called the vet to schedule the euthanasia, the very first words out of the receptionist’s mouth were “I’m so sorry.”  On Friday, as I sat in the examination room, the very first words out of Jeff the vet’s mouth were “This sucks.”  Both of these responses were almost instantaneous and certainly delivered before they had completely gotten a read on my emotional state.  And yet these comments very powerfully gave me a deep sense of connection that Bruce and I were not going to have to go through this sad time alone.

Notice that there are certain situations where you can actually rehearse and prepare an empathy statement.  In the case of someone experiencing the death of a loved one, you can without hesitation respond with empathy.  Think about appropriate responses ahead of time.

2. Reassure With Empathy- When I arrived at the vet with Bruce, I was a mess.  Did the receptionists tell me to pipe down?  Absolutely not.  Instead they handed me a box of tissues and joined me in giving Bruce some love.  Again, I wasn’t going through this experience alone.  They were right there with me.

I ended up staying in the room with Bruce until the end and Jeff was amazing at talking me through every step.  He intently listened to some of my stories about Bruce’s life and interjected some of his own.  He assured me that Bruce wasn’t feeling any pain and that I had made the right decision.  He allowed me to stayed through the entire process and made it clear that he didn’t mind my present emotional state.

3. Follow Up With Empathy- Rancho San Carlos Pet Clinic has always been great at the follow up–hence the reason they are my vet of choice.  On this occasion however, they sent us a signed sympathy card along with a booklet of poems and such to help us as we grieve.  What a wonderful gesture.

My dog Bruce really was quite a dog.  He had an insatiable appetite for food, tennis balls, underwear, socks and a myriad of other items he could swallow.  The moment he saw a tennis ball, his pupils dilated and there was only one thing in the entire universe that he wanted.  While he was a troublemaker, he was the perfect family dog.  He was big, goofy, always friendly and great with kids.

While I will miss having this big, furry animal following me all around the house and wagging his tail furiously when I return home from work, I can rest assured that I did what was best for him.  I’m truly grateful to the folks at Rancho San Carlos Pet Clinic for taking care of Bruce AND me.  I am a customer for life.  That’s exactly the power of customer service experience laden with empathy!

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Jeremy Watkin is the Director of Customer Experience at FCR, the premiere provider of outsourced call center and business process solutions. He has more than 17 years of experience as a customer service and experience professional. He is co-founder of the Customer Service Life blog and a regular contributor. Jeremy has been recognized many times for his thought leadership. Follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn for more awesome customer service and experience insights.

6 comments

  • Jeremy, I am so sorry for your loss. I am sure you know Bruce is up in heaven chewing the world’s best tennis ball that the after life has to offer, looking down and wagging his tail at your entire family. When I wake up and look at my emails, I always look forward to seeing your blog waiting patiently to be opened in my in-box. You never disappoint. And today’s blog is a great one. Lessons learned from a pal named Bruce. Empathy is so very important for without it, we lack the human quality that is so needed in customer service. Great lesson to teach and you present it so well. Thanks for all you do. xo

  • Jeremy, I’m so sorry to hear about Bruce. From everything you’ve said about it, it’s easy to tell he was a terrific dog. It’s clear you cared about him quite a bit.

    I’m glad there are people in this world like the people who work at your vet’s office. I really don’t know how they do it day in and day out. It’s truly remarkable and they’re very much needed.

  • Jeremy, Bruce was a great dog and I’m honored to have spent time with him in the past. He will be missed. It is truly an honorable job to spend time with people who are experiencing their last moments with their beloved pet. Knowing that they took such kind care of you and Bruce is truly beautiful. Not many would see this as customer service but it really is!

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