In customer experience, we’re often taught to embrace the mantra, “the customer is always right.” This is to ensure the people we work with receive an exceptional experience and return to do business with the establishment. Even when the customer is quite wrong, the purpose of the statement is to remind individuals to treat customers with courtesy and respect. 

However, having such a black and white approach to customer service is not sustainable nor productive for businesses. According to a Hay Group study, 44 Fortune 500 companies they surveyed, found that salespeople with a high emotional intelligence rating produced twice the revenue than those salespeople with an average or lower emotional intelligence score.

Luckily, there is a much better way to improve the customer experience. All it takes is personal development and effort to practice emotional intelligence. What do we mean by emotional intelligence in CX? 

What is emotional intelligence in CX?

Emotional intelligence in CX is the capacity of individuals to recognize their own and other people’s emotions. It is the ability to differentiate between a variety of feelings and label them appropriately. Humans use emotional information or cues to guide thinking and behaviours. In short, the skill of understanding other people’s emotions can help provide context for “why” the customer is at least “sometimes” right.  

Key components of emotional intelligence in CX include empathy, relationship management, behavioural adjustments, and embracing vulnerability. When the awareness of these key components is combined, employees can elevate their emotional intelligence to promote personal and professional growth and increase business outcomes. Let’s break down each component.  


An image showing a team practicing emotional intelligence in CX.

The other flaw in the “customer is always right” approach is that it lacks evidence. With no evidence as to “why” the customer is always right, the human mind has trouble just accepting it because “the boss says so.”  

However, if workers tap into their empathy, they may be surprised to discover the evidence they seek. For example, a customer calls to dispute a service bill. They feel they have been wrongly charged for a service and would like to eliminate the charge on their account. The employee cannot just wave a wand and make the charge disappear. Rather than simply stating, I’m sorry I cannot help you,” or believing the customer is always right, the worker can take steps to relate to the customer on a human level.  

First, identify the problem and the customer’s desired solution. Next, determine what is feasible. Before responding, place yourself in the customer’s position. Try and recall a time you were in a similar situation. How did you feel? What were you hoping to achieve? In this example, you may be able to listen to the customer’s frustrations and build rapport. Let the customer know they are understood, heard, and valued.  

Then, work to resolve the conflict with this awareness. If you cannot reverse the service charge, there may be other things you can do to ensure the customer has a good experience.  

Relationship management 

We cannot determine how another person may want to feel. Instead, we can ask ourselves, “How do I want the other person to feel?” and “What do I need to do to make them feel that way?” It may not be as easy as waving the charge on the bill away, but there are things the worker can do to help usher the customer into a neutral or even positive feeling. Using self-awareness, we can determine what actions we need to take to help the other person not feel angry.  

Respond, don’t react 

When confronted with aggression, dominance, snark, or outright rude behaviour from customers, take a moment to identify the emotion you are feeling. This identification will help strengthen your emotional intelligence. The pause taken to label your feeling will create a buffer of time before you can respond.  

Can you see yourself within the eyes of the customer? Can you put yourself in the customer’s shoes? If so, you may gain valuable insights as to how to proceed with your interaction, delivering an authentic and memorable customer experience.  

Awareness and vulnerability  

It all boils down to awareness. You must be aware of your own emotional response, the intensity of the feelings you are experiencing, and your plan to address those emotions. Likewise, you must also be able to correctly identify the emotion the customer is experiencing.  

Empathy requires vulnerability. It may require you to share an appropriate struggle or challenge in your life with the customer to build rapport. Instead, taking a moment to see the situation from the customer’s perspective and offering a little insight into your own perspective may help you reach common ground.  

Finally, don’t forget to forgive the customer. If you harbour resentment, these feelings will find their way out during the next customer interaction. Breathe, pause, and let go. This is how you move forward throughout your day while ensuring each new customer receives a clean slate of interaction.

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