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Mark Hastings: Using Empathy As A Tool To Effective Billing Support


Mark Hastings is a highly skilled Customer Support Manager with a wealth of experience in overseeing call center operations. In his role at MuniBilling, Mark has successfully managed and optimized the customer support function, ensuring exceptional service delivery to clients and establishing a reputation for excellence.

As the Customer Support Manager at MuniBilling, Mark's dedication to delivering outstanding service has earned him a strong reputation within the industry. His expertise in call center management, coupled with his commitment to customer satisfaction, makes him a valuable asset in ensuring positive customer experiences and maintaining long-term client relationships.


Q: Billing Specialists are often people who wear multiple hats in a utility. They may be doing billing, answering customer calls, inputting technician data, or even more.

Why should a billing specialist or any customer support rep at a utility focus on learning empathy skills? 

Empathy is one of those soft skills that play a critical role in today's workplace, especially in customer-facing interactions.

There’s a famous quote by Brad Meltzer that says “Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.”

However, developing empathy can be challenging, especially when customer calls or office visits disrupt workflow and concentration, especially for those people who are wearing so many different hats.

It makes a lot of business sense too, especially for Utilities looking to improve their operations. The ability to understand and empathize with those who seek assistance significantly enhances the level of support provided, which in turns increases customer satisfaction and often times reduces long term customer support issues.

It is essential for billing specialists and customer support representatives alike to prioritize the cultivation of empathy skills, such as practicing active listening, because regardless of whether they are engaging directly with customers or performing back-office tasks, the primary objective remains assisting others.



Q: You mentioned Active listening as a very practical part of developing more empathetic skills for customer support.

What are some ways customer support agents incorporate active listening to better understand what their customers need?

It really comes down to the fact that you really need to hear and identify those frustrations and difficulties of others. If you can’t hear and process that actively, you typically won’t carefully listen to their concerns and address them in a satisfactory way.

Empathy empowers and enables active listening because the representative can place themselves in the customer’s position thus asking better clarifying questions in order to find a good solution.

Developing active listening skills is crucial for effective communication. I try and use these tips to train the MuniBilling customer support team on active listening:

  • Stay fully present: Maintain full presence in the conversation, giving your undivided attention to the speaker while avoiding distractions.

  • Avoid interrupting or interjecting: Refrain from interrupting the speaker and allow them to express their ideas without interruption, practicing patience.

  • Use non-verbal cues: Show active listening through non-verbal cues such as nodding, smiling, and appropriate facial expressions, indicating your attentive involvement in the discussion.

  • Paraphrase and summarize: After the speaker finishes a thought, rephrase or summarize what you understood to ensure clarity and demonstrate your comprehension.

  • Ask questions: Engage in the conversation by posing relevant questions that clarify ambiguities and display active processing of information.

When you leverage those active listening tips, you tend to naturally fall into more empathetic responses, because you’ve actually truly heard those issues and can more likely respond in an emphatic way.


Q: After you understand the problem you need to be able to provide fast answers.

A lot of people in customer support organizations rely on scripting or knowledge-bases to make sure that answers are correct and uniform across multiple shifts or teams. Often time those can come off cold or non-empathetic.

How can utility billing specialists strike a balance to rely on a script and personal experience while still leveraging empathy in those conversations?

When you’re creating scripts or knowledge bases, what you’re really doing by collecting and documenting common customer issues is providing the team, both present and future, institutional confidence.

When those scripts are presented as a resource instead of a “you must say these things in these scenarios” kind of item, people tend to make the answers their own and answer in a more confident and empathetic fashion.

Of course, nothing replaces that personal experience dealing with people and their problems, but when you have resources available, you give your support representatives the confidence to answer questions, even if they don’t have that experience.  

I’ve found a key is to coach, or create the opportunity to self-coach if you’re a single-person customer service department, by even just recording yourself and listening back to those conversations. It’s an extra step that takes time, but really is a great way to improve your own customer support skills.


Q: As a Customer Support manager, you need to know a lot about the MuniBilling platform. What in your opinion is the best feature of the system? 

In my opinion, the customer's General Page is the standout feature of the system.

This page serves as a comprehensive overview, encompassing all the essential information found on the remaining pages. By simply referring to the General Page, users can find answers to almost any question or inquiry.

It really provides everything you need to know about a customer including the parcel number and account number, enables customer impersonation on the portal, displays bill information, account activity, and payment details and so much more.

This is the one feature that my team cannot live without.

Without it, we wouldn't be able to handle the volume of calls that we get from our Managed Services Customers

Additionally, it lists all of the services the customer is billed for, tracks service calls, allows for the creation of service calls, and showcases 180 days of usage information.

With its ability to encapsulate the Meter page, History page, Service page, and portal information, the General Page truly stands out as the most valuable feature of the system.


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Mark Hastings is a passionate product manager, overseeing MuniBilling's implementations process. If you're interested in learning more about our product and services, signup for a personalzied demo of the MuniBilling system. 

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