As the medical field has expanded, so has the awareness that professional stoicism is a mistaken virtue. Patients often complain that doctors and nurses lack empathy and treat the disease, but not the patient. The reality is that doctors and nurses need to relieve stress that builds up as they deal with heavy caseloads and personal burn out. For over 20 years the Schwartz Center for Compassionate Healthcare has provided a model — meeting rounds where medical professionals are able to share their emotional reactions and relieve the built up stress. The model has proved successful in hospitals and its usage is spreading to other care-giving professionals.
As service industries have exploded, so has the demand for more professional customer service responses. Customers often complain that customer service staff lack empathy with the product or service problems customers need resolved. While there may be any number of reasons for lack of empathy, such as poor hiring practices, poor training, or unpleasant environment, there is also the stress build up that can impair empathy. Customer service responders may not lose a patient on the operating table, but they, like doctors, can stress over personal failures, heavy workloads and a barrage of angry customers.
Most often, we recognize the need for emotional support and respond to critical incidents with immediacy and assistance. For example, after one of our branch banks experienced a robbery (where the staff upon entry were met with armed men and made to sit on the floor of the vault), we contacted a psychologist who met with the group the same day. She then met with each individually over time, as needed, and for as long as needed.
What often goes unheeded is stress build up that can affect even the best customer service employees and their managers. IF over time, they respond to endless, unsolved customer complaints, IF over time, they continue to work short staffed, IF over time, they receive only negative or no feedback, and so on, THEN you can expect stress build up and loss of empathy for customers and customer problems.
The Schwartz rounds provide a model for all service industries. Rounds are voluntary meetings where specific stress situations are discussed. Offshoots of rounds include meetings where feelings — anger, frustration, fear — are shared to reduce emotional upheavals. Additionally, training sessions helped physicians learn methods for dealing with personal stress and reducing negative reactions.
If you want your managers and employees to show empathy to your customers, you must provide outlets for stress build up, regular meeting discussions to share common feelings and reactions, and training that will help increase empathy specific to your customer situations.