How to Keep Empathy at the Heart of Customer Support – Alice Murdoch, Player Support Project Manager with Keywords Studios

This is a guest post from Alice Murdoch, Player Support Project Manager with Keywords Studios

When you think about customer support on a large scale, it’s easy to forget that every one of those support tickets represents a human-to-human interaction.

At Keywords Player Support, we handle around 20m support tickets a year and we constantly challenge ourselves to keep this in mind. 

Professionals within the customer support industry love to discuss topics such as automation and bots but one of the consistent drawbacks of these technologies is one of the most effective skills that a support agent can develop – empathy.

We all like to think that we understand empathy and how it helps us build better relationships. But we’re not all equal in how we interpret or express our emotions.

So what we each think of as empathy doesn’t automatically translate into actions that we can take to give players a better support experience.

Fortunately, empathy in a support setting can be coached and is something that we, at Keywords Studios, focus on to elevate our customer support interactions from good to great.

Empathy doesn’t always equal apology

A common misstep for inexperienced support agents is to apologise to players by default. This stems from misconceptions that players have encountered a problem and they want an apology.

Players don’t contact us for commiseration; they want us to fix the problem. 

Over-apologising runs the risk of validating a problem that doesn’t exist and leading players to the wrong conclusions. 

It can even be perceived as groveling, which triggers negative emotional responses from the player base. It can sound fake or insincere and this is the opposite of what we want to achieve by conveying empathy.

An apology should only be offered in cases where it is both justified and meaningful, i.e. in response to a report of a known technical issue, or when a legitimate mistake has been made.

The next step in empathy coaching is to break interactions down into individual steps that we can walk through with support agents. They are:

  • Listening Actively 
  • Building Connection 
  • Taking Action

Listening Actively

Active listening challenges us to take on board what the player is communicating and, crucially, understand it from their perspective.

We can use a few conversation techniques to achieve an active listening stance in our replies. 

  • Paraphrase the player’s description of the issue
  • Ask them questions about their issue
  • Summarise the situation in bullet points
  • Clarify by restating the situation in a different manner
  • Encourage them to share their perspective

Understanding the full context of the player’s issue, including what are the possible next steps and what outcome the player would like to see, will help you respond more effectively.

This approach can result in a few more messages exchanged with the player, which takes more time, but can result in a better outcome for the player and improves their perception of the game and its developer. 

Building Connection

When a player contacts a company with a customer support issue, some naturally suspect that they’ll get an automated or ‘cookie-cutter’ response. 

Building a connection will only truly work when it is obvious to the player that the response is coming from a fellow gamer, who has taken the time to listen actively to their message. 

Even small gestures can help build connection, such as if an MMO player reports a problem relating to their Mage character, a proactive support agent may mention that they too have been playing as a Mage this season.

This can be a challenge for a support agent with a quite limited communication window to build this connection but the small touches go a long way. 

Taking Action

Every player who submits a support ticket wants you to immediately fix their problem and compensate them for the trouble. 

Alas, this isn’t possible 100% of the time but you still want your responses to convey some kind of action.

Asking them for more information is also an action but you should always value the player’s time and not ask them for information that you could work out or look up yourself. 

You should also guide the player towards taking any action on their side, and emphasise why it may help. The player is already upset about the issue they’ve reported and don’t want to feel bossed around as well.

The bottom line is that a response without any action is almost always going to be disappointing.

It may seem contradictory to break down a fundamentally human condition such as empathy into action steps like this.

When we coach empathy in a customer support setting, we are not trying to emotionally enlighten our support agents but rather want to equip them to get on the same wavelength as the players they are responding to, efficiently and consistently.

The ultimate goal is a more personal, more effective support experience for the player which is the greatest interest of everyone involved in that exchange.

Alice Murdoch has been a Player Support Project Manager with Keywords for the past three years. Helping teams grow in experience and success is part of what makes her role interesting. In a former incarnation, Lead Community manager, she happily leverages on Customer support and Community management skills to find creative solutions. 

About Chris Wallace

Chris is a freelancer writer and was MCV/DEVELOP's staff writer from November 2019 until May 2022. He joined the team after graduating from Cardiff University with a Master's degree in Magazine Journalism. He can be found on Twitter at @wallacec42, where he mostly explores his obsession with the Life is Strange series, for which he refuses to apologise.

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