There is one topic that customer experience designers and trainers rarely address: customers die.

And when it happens, as it inevitably will, customer service needs to move from the conventional focus on “delight” to “compassion”. This is when it’s truly service with heart.

Let me give you a simple example.

After a 4-year battle with cancer, and enormous cost, a member of my family has been taken from this world.

Credit cards were used to pay for the medical bills.

So, here’s the situation.

The family has just lost a husband and father. They are coming to your bank because they have to do things that they don’t want to do in their emotional state – to close the credit card accounts.

There are a lot of reward points – in the hundreds of thousands – on the cards. Your bank’s policy is that only the account holder can redeem the points. The only issue is that the account holder has passed away.

One bank empathised with the family. While points were nowhere near the top of the family’s concerns, the bank made it easy to redeem the points. A small gesture. But one that demonstrates compassion.

The reaction of the second bank was a black-and-white contrast to the first. They said, “The rules are that only the account holder can redeem the points.” The response from the family was, “But he’s dead!” To which the response was, “We are sorry, but that’s the policy”.


The message for customer service providers is that, one day, all customers die. This is the time that the guiding principle for customer interactions should be compassion. This goes beyond empathy.

We show empathy when we feel for the other person. We show compassion when that feeling is translated into a desire to help.

Compassion goes beyond the, “I am sorry to hear that” category of statement. It translates to helping relatives to navigate through the rules that have been designed for customers while they are still alive.

There should be clear processes on how to help their grieving loved ones when the customer is no longer alive.

Compassionate Service: Two Calls to Action

So, here are two compassionate service calls-to-action.

Compassionate human interactions: Equip your staff with the relevant emotional and conversational skills to deal with situations when they are informed that a customer has passed away.

Compassionate processes: Anticipate the issues that are faced by families of the deceased. Design your processes in a common-sense way to help them navigate through circumstances that they are being forced to go through with your organisation.

People will say that this strategy will build loyalty among the remaining relatives.

I say that it’s the right thing to do.

Until next time.

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