Validation: The Single Most Important Element of Excellent Customer Service

Book Reviews, Relationship Building

“What if making one tweak to your day-to-day conversations could immediately improve every relationship in your life?” reads the back cover of I Hear You.

A bold claim, for sure.

I Hear You, by Michael Sorensen

It’s a claim that stands the test of experience.

Michael Sorensen’s book is a powerful tool for anybody willing to apply its lessons to everyday interactions both at home and in the workplace, including those with our clients, patients, and customers.

Strong relationships with customers are vital to any business that plans on growing. And, if you’re not growing, you’re dying. Where is your business at and where do you want it to be? Depending on your answer to that question, I Hear You may be the perfect book for you.

The Power of Validation

What is this ultimate secret of relationship building?

It turns out the answer is very simple, yet so often neglected. People want validation. People want to know that their feelings are “right.” This truth often goes ignored and instead of validation, we tend to communicate how others’ feelings are wrong.

We invalidate others’ feelings even when we think we’re being positive or helpful. “Giving unsolicited advice or assurance — especially before you validate the other person’s emotions — trivializes their experience,” writes Sorensen.

Further, “What researchers were surprised to find, however, was that passive-constructive responses had the same correlation with negative relationship outcomes as active destructive responses.”

By validating the other person’s emotion, we show empathy. By showing empathy, we prove that not only do we understand what the other person is saying, we also feel the same way they do. Validation reassures the other person that what they’re feeling is justified. When we don’t validate, we necessarily make that person feel worse about themselves and push them on to the defensive.

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Three Misconceptions on Validation

Misconception #1: Only Negative Emotions Need Validation

It’s good to validate both negative and positive emotions. According to Sorensen, “[R]esearchers found that romantic relationships were higher in commitment, satisfaction, trust, and intimacy — and lower in daily conflict — when partners validated each others’ good fortune.”

Misconception #2: You Can Only Validate What You Agree With

You can empathize with someone and not agree with them, and validation is not the same thing as saying “you’re right.” What you show by validating is that you understand where that person is coming from. If they believe you truly understand their feelings, they’ll be more receptive to your point.

Misconception #3: Validation Is All About Repeating What the Other Person Said

Repeating what the other person said is a useful way of showing empathy. However, word-for-word repetitions come off as inauthentic and suggest a lack of work on your end to truly understand what the other person is saying.

How to Truly Listen

In order to validate someone’s emotions, you have to listen to them. Beyond hearing the person speak, truly listening means that you’re putting in the effort to understand the words and where they’re coming from.

During my first years of college, I worked at Kmart in the garden shop. I would frequently have customers come up to me with questions and complaints. I will never forget one situation where a woman came up to me to complain and I rested my head against my hand, which was propped against the table. She asked, “Are you bored?” I never made that mistake again.

To truly listen, you must give your full attention. Stop typing on your keyboard, stop worrying about what someone down the hall might be saying, and pay full attention to the person who’s trying to explain their feelings to you.

With your full attention on them, invite that person to communicate with you. This can be something as simple as, “You seem upset. What’s going on?”

Observe their body language and get a feeling, beyond just the words they’re saying, for what they’re experiencing. Pay attention to their tone of voice, expressions, and body language. Try to match their energy and give small validations along the way so that they know you’re listening. Don’t try to provide a solution yet, it’s not the time. If you’re thinking of a solution, then you’re not giving them your full attention.

A Four-Step Method to Validation and Resolution

Sorensen offers a four-step method for listening, validating, and providing support. This method works for all types of relationships, including those between you and your customers.

The book goes into much more detail and I’ll just provide a very brief glimpse.

The four-step method:

  1. Listen
  2. Validate
  3. Offer advice or a solution
  4. Validate

You will be positively surprised at how well this method works.

Empathy is the Path to Better Customer Service

Clients, patients, and customers are going to get angry. You’re going to make a mistake at some point or the outcome of the procedure will differ from expectations, or maybe you made no mistake at all and the customer is simply angry. It’s okay, these things happen, and how you and your staff approach these situations can make all the difference.

By showing empathy and validating the customer’s concerns, you can reduce their guard and show that they can trust you because you understand what they’re saying. The solution or feedback you provide after validation will be received more positively because the customer won’t feel as if you spoke over them or failed to address the issue.

How many times has a solution you’ve presented been rejected? How many times has this been the best possible solution you can provide?

Maybe those solutions have been rejected because the customer didn’t believe you had their best interest at heart.

Starting with empathy and validation would prove otherwise.

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