Perspectives by i-Comm Connect

Emotional Intelligence: The Secret to Success in Customer Service

Posted by Meredith Schmidt-Fellner on April 27, 2017 at 2:05 PM
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The success of a business is closely related to the ability of its employees to effectively connect with customers. The secret to creating authentic connections with customers is a certain quality called “emotional intelligence.”

First, I will discuss what is this so-called “emotional intelligence” and how exactly this social quality can be a key differentiator in the success of employees in sales and customer service. I will then expand upon an essential component of emotional intelligence: listening to what is both said and unsaid by the customer, which has the power to curate positive customer relationships that drive more sales and brand loyalty for years to come.

What is emotional intelligence?

Emotional intelligence (EI) centers around the ability to perceive, control, and express emotions according to those of another. An individual with high EI can put themselves in someone else’s shoes to identify how that person is feeling through empathetic awareness. They can control their own emotions before reacting, while effectively guiding the conversation based on the tacit signals gathered about how the other person is feeling.  It allows for the individuals to find common ground on which to build authentic, personal connections.

Just as emotional intelligence allows people to curate strong personal relationships (a notion repeatedly discussed throughout this season of ABC’s The Bachelor), it also has the power to drive success in business by fostering more effective conversations with customers, that ultimately influence their buying decisions.

Emotional intelligence is a key differentiator in business success

It is not simply enough for a business to have the best product offering in their industry and expect to survive without building strong customer relationships.  The relationship between a company and its customers drives brand loyalty and new sales through enthusiastic recommendations. Employing emotional intelligence in sales and customer service conversations allows employees to connect with customers on a human level, identify the pain points or issues they are facing, and sell or solve around their individual needs.

A few different studies to note highlight how emotional intelligence can impact the success of employees; 

  • L’Oréal measured the performance of agents selected on the grounds of high “emotional intelligence” against agents typically recruited by the company. They found that over the year “salespeople selected on the basis of emotional competence sold $91,370 more than other salespeople did.” (Source: The Business Case for Emotional Intelligence by Cary Cherniss)
  • Coca-Cola trained its leaders in emotional intelligence and found that these individuals exceeded their performance targets by 15%. In contrast, leaders who did not develop emotional capabilities missed their targets by a 30% gap. (Source: The Emotionally Intelligent Salesperson by Dr. Christopher P. Blocker) 
  • Hallmark Communities found that sales associates who developed higher levels of emotional intelligence were 25% more productive than their counterparts with low levels of emotional intelligence. (Source: The Emotionally Intelligent Salesperson by Dr. Christopher P. Blocker)


Employees with high EI can more effectively read the customer’s situation and adapt their sales pitch or problem solving measures around the perceived emotions of the customer. Every interaction with a representative has the power to shape an individual’s buying decision, therefore it is essential that representatives employ emotional intelligence in every conversation. Investing in the emotional intelligence of employees fosters better customer relationships and ultimately drives sales and customer loyalty.

What can I teach my sales and service team about EI?

While there are many different articles that expand upon individual traits associated with emotional intelligence (such as How Emotional Intelligence Become a Key Leadership Skill and 10 Qualities of People With High Emotional Intelligence), I will conclude with a discussion of one of the more nuanced components of emotional intelligence: context.

An essential element of effectively employing emotional intelligence in sales and customer service is listening to what is both said and unsaid by the customer, the individual’s context. Daniel Goleman, the author who first popularized the term “emotional intelligence” explains in his book Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ:

People's emotions are rarely put into words, far more often they are expressed through other cues. The key to intuiting another's feelings is in the ability to read nonverbal channels, tone of voice, gesture, facial expression and the like.

Not every customer will effectively communicate their situation or the external factors driving their behavior. A representative with high EI will consider the external pressures, desires, and stresses of a human being, and effectively look at their entire context to connect with the individual. Sonia Thompson expands on this point in a recent article:

Many times as you’re working with your customers, you’ll find that the key to giving them both what they want and need doesn’t always come by listening to what they say…get good at taking a step back and observing a situation from a broader lens, to help you identify what may be driving your clients’ behavior.

Particularly if a customer is angry, a representative with high EI can remain calm, find common ground, and guide the conversation to find a solution that appeals to both parties. In a sales context, the employee can consider the unspoken pain points of the individual’s job and sell to those areas. Helping the client solve a problem that they are facing makes them feel valued, thus generating more sales and continued loyalty. Practicing emotional intelligence in conversations with customers is the key differentiator in driving sales and building strong relationships, benefitting your business for years to come.

Topics: Customer Service, Call Centers

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