Recently, one of our readers sent an email note about the difficulties in getting call center people to display concern for their customer's issues. After talking to a few customer service representatives, I came up with an application of a structured sharing activity called Group Scoop for identifying different reasons for the reluctance to display concern and empathy. This activity can be followed by a debriefing discussion about how to make it easier and more rewarding for customer service people to display concern and empathy during telephone conversations.


To explore different reasons why customer service representatives are reluctant to display their concern for their customers during telephone conversations.


About 40 minutes. You can easily expand or contract the game to fit the available time.


  • Twenty or more cause cards with different statements from Customer Service Representatives justifying their reluctance to display concern and empathy to customers. Here are some examples:
    • Customers feel that we are patronizing them when we try to show concern.
    • I am not a psychologist. I am not paid to treat customers' depression.
    • I don't feel any sympathy toward the customer. I don't want to be a fake.
    • I cannot display concern when I am sure that the customer is lying.
  • Four blank index cards for each player


In the following description, the steps of the game are printed in regular type, while sample segments from an imaginary play of the game are printed in italics.

Prepare a set of cause cards. Before the training activity, prepare a set of cause cards. Each card should contain a probable cause for the Customer Service Representative's reluctance to show their concern during telephone conversations. Prepare at least two cause cards for each anticipated player. If you cannot come up a sufficient number of cause cards, use duplicates.

Ramona is conducting a workshop for staff members at a call center. Twenty participants have signed up for the workshop, including a few supervisors. The day before the workshop, Ramona prepares 40 Here's Why cards.

Get Started. When participants are ready, announce, “I'd like to conduct a group activity that will help us discover why many of us are reluctant to display empathy and concern when we are talking to our customers on the telephone.”

Ramona catches everyone's attention and gives her introductory presentation. Participants look like they are ready for action.

Ask players to write cause cards. Hand out four blank index cards to each player. Ask them to write a statement from a typical customer service representative about why she is reluctant to display concern and empathy toward a customer. Give a couple of sample statements to get the participants started.

The workshop starts at 8:30 a.m., and Sam arrives 5 minutes late. He sees the others writing busily. Ramona gives him four blank cards and asks him to write his statements about probable causes of reluctance to display empathy and concern. Sam thinks for a moment and comes up with these statements:

  • I don't want to appear to be touchy-feely during customer conversations.
  • I feel phony when I display concern, especially when I don't really feel concerned.
  • My client gets sarcastic whenever I attempt to show concern.
  • My supervisors and my co-worker don't display any concern about my issues. Why should they expect me to show concern to the customer's issues?

Re-distribute the cards. After about 3 minutes, collect the cause cards from all players. Add your prepared cards to this pile. Mix the cards well and give three cards to each player. Ask players to study the causes and arrange the cards from the most probable to the least probable.

Ramona collects the cards from the players and adds her own collection. She mixes the cards and gives three to each player.

Sam studies the three cards he receives and arranges them in the following order:

  • Nobody else displays empathy. Why should I?
  • When I am focused on solving problems, I don't have time to display empathy.
  • Showing concern to the customer takes time away from resolving the issue.

Exchange cards. Arrange the remaining cause cards on a large table at one side of the room. Tell the players that they may discard cards from their hands and pick up replacements. Players should not to talk to each other during this phase of the game. At the end of the exchange period, each player should have three Here's Why cards that may or may not include cards from the original set.

Sam takes his cards to the table and rummages there. He discards two of his cards and picks up the following:

  • Showing concern and empathy — that's not who I am.
  • Some customers don't want us to display empathy. They just want a solution to their problem.

Swap cards. Instruct players to exchange cause cards with each other to make their hands better reflect their personal opinions. In this phase, any player may exchange cards with any other player; every player must exchange at least one card.

When Ramona announces the beginning of the exchange, Sam wanders around until Mark stops him. Comparing cards, Sam sees one that says, “The customer is constantly yelling at me. I can't bring myself to display empathy.” He bargains with Mark until Mark agrees to exchange this card for Sam's card that says “That's not who I am.” Before Sam can find someone else to swap cards with, Ramona calls time to end this phase of the game.

Form teams. Ask players to compare their cause cards with each other and to form teams with people holding cards that they like. There is no limit to the number of players who may team up together, but a team may keep no more than three cards. It must discard all other cards, and the three cards it retains must meet with everyone's approval.

Sam goes around the room checking with others. He runs across Vicky, who has excellent cards, and they decide to team up. The two set out to find other kindred souls. Peter wants to join them, and they agree, provided that he drops the card that says, “Displaying empathy makes me want to throw up.” In a few more minutes, the team recruits two other players. They study the combined collection and reduce it to these three:

  • We did not do anything wrong. So why should we be apologetic and sympathetic?
  • What's in it for me? I don't get any benefits from displaying concern.
  • When they do my performance review, nobody gives me any points for being concerned about the customer's issue.

Preparing a Poster. Ask each team to prepare a graphic poster that reflects the three final cause cards. This poster should not include any text. After 5 minutes, ask each team to read its three cards, display its poster, and explain the symbolism.

After some discussion and debate, the team decides that Sam should be the artist and the others give him ideas. During the “show-and-tell” period, Peter reads the three cards and Vicky assists Sam in explaining the poster.

Awards. Identify winning teams in each category like these:

  • Internal consistency among the three final cards.
  • Clarity of the message in the poster.
  • Appropriateness of the illustrations.

Sam's poster receives an award for the most appropriate illustration.