Testing for Empathy as Part of Support Employee Screening

A few weeks ago I was giving a speech in Minneapolis, and an audience member told me afterwards that she had read my book, “Lessons Unlearned,” and incorporated my content on common personality types in customer support into their employee screening process. In the book, I talked about the four personality types I found in most support organizations, and how the customer experience and productivity metrics are impacted by each type. Here’s a graphic to help illustrate:

Four Common Support Personalities

Recently I’ve had a few conversations with support managers and executives about how hard it is to find the right people to work in customer-facing roles. One word that keeps coming up is empathy: many new employees simply don’t have any emotional connection to the customer or their problems. CSAT surveys say the agents sound bored, uninterested, and not invested in helping solve the problem. I have experienced this myself, and as a customer it is not fun being treated as if I’m keeping them from reading their all-important Twitter feed, or interrupting them watching a video on Netflix. The worst is when you explain your problem and hear an audible sigh.

In doing some research on measuring empathy, I ran across this online test on “social intelligence,” originating from a Harvard study. In the test, you are shown 37 pictures of people’s eyes, and you select the word that best describes the emotion that person is experiencing. When I took the test, I studied the picture and came up with my interpretation of the emotion before looking at the word choices, and usually found a pretty close match. Here’s a link if you want to try the test yourself: http://socialintelligence.labinthewild.org/mite/

If you are struggling to hire employees that are empathetic with customers, consider using this test or something similar as part of your screening process. Yes, I realize phone support employees are not looking directly into the customer’s eyes (unless you are one of the vanguard companies offering video support), but my opinion is that high visual social intelligence scores would translate to empathetic listening as well.

As a little experiment, it would be interesting to ask a group of your employees to take the test and capture their scores. Include some agents with the very highest and very lowest CSAT averages and see if this hypothesis holds water. If anyone tries this experiment, I’d love to hear the results.

Thanks for reading!

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4 Comments on “Testing for Empathy as Part of Support Employee Screening”


  1. […] A number of weeks in the past I used to be giving a speech in Minneapolis, and an viewers member advised me afterwards that she had learn my ebook, “Classes Unlearned,” and included my content material on widespread character varieties in buyer help into their worker screening course of. Within the ebook, I talked concerning the 4 character varieties I discovered in […] Ragsdale’s Eye on Service […]

  2. Nick Sellers Says:

    Interesting post, John,and very topical given the attention being paid to the customer experience. Of course, customer support is only one point of contact affecting the customer experience but it’s a very important one and can seal customer sentiment for ever, one way or another.

    As customer support is really what contact center outsourcers do, it’s especially important that they seek, find, hire and prepare the right people for success in the job, whether this is straight customer service or certified engineer-level support.

    The recruitment process does identify folks that will struggle to perform. But they are also excluded during training and, possibly into early support delivery in a well-managed operation. This ought to minimize the instances you described so clealry above. Effective coaching from day to day removes agent doubts about how they’re performing.

    An outsourcer stands to lose a lot if the job done for the client is substandard – effectively every seat on an account is a risk if wrong choices and preparations are made. On the flipside, an outsourcer can look after individuals because the range of programs they manage for clients provides other options that may suit better.


  3. […] A couple of weeks in the past I used to be giving a speech in Minneapolis, and an viewers member advised me afterwards that she had learn my e-book, “Classes Unlearned,” and included my content material on widespread character varieties in buyer help into their worker screening course of. Within the guide, I talked concerning the 4 character varieties I discovered in […] Ragsdale’s Eye on Service […]

  4. Faryal Hassan Says:

    In order to deliver a good customer experience, it is indeed necessary that employees have empathy towards them and go out of their way to resolve issues. Until and unless employees are on board with delivering the ultimate experience, customer success cannot be achieved.
    Found this post really insightful!


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