Customer Empathy

What is Customer Empathy and Why Is It Important?

Customer empathy is putting yourself into the customer’s shoes to know where they pinch. It is an effort to become more conscious of the motivations, needs, and emotions of users, in order to better serve them.

More tactically, there is no single ‘right’ way of doing it. People have different, although not entirely unrelated, pictures of what it is. This fact was reflected when UserTesting asked some professionals what they thought of it. For one UX Research Manager at Verizon, customer empathy entails “understanding your customers on a deeper level; who they are, what they’re going through, and what their motivations are”.  CustomerThink CEO Bob Thompson sees it as “employees showing that they genuinely care about customers – especially when things go wrong.”

No matter how you think about the specifics, customer empathy is about encouraging a culture where customers can see that your company truly cares about them.

Why Customer Empathy Is Critical

Customers are now more important than ever. More companies are going to great lengths to ensure that they can please the customer and so retain their business.

Failure to give due attention to customer empathy can be quite costly. When customers somehow perceive that their feelings aren’t given much importance, they can lose interest in what you are offering. A single unpleasant experience by a customer can hurt adoption and recommendations.

Through customer empathy, you show that you realize that users have motivations and emotions. They are not inanimate objects that you can make decisions for all alone.

Emotions are unarguably the leading target for driving customer loyalty. Customer empathy aims at tapping into these emotions. It indicates the realization that users have different motivations and, so, have diverse definitions of success.

Customer empathy helps you to build a better product, by more deeply understanding the problem you’re solving and the ‘why’ behind it. It reduces reliance on hypotheses and places more importance on understanding the customer’s pains and journey. This puts you in a position to develop great, functional, and usable solutions.

How to Promote Customer Empathy

Empathy is key to knowing your customers. It grows out of the quality information that you have gathered about them. You get customer insights through different media, including interviews and observations.

A Senior User Researcher at FedEx Services, describes customer empathy as “a two-step process.” The first entails listening and trying to understand the pain or joy of the individual. After that comes the other step of guiding your product decisions by what you have learned about the customer and their goals.

The following are some of the key steps for promoting customer empathy:

Recognize it – The very first thing you want to do is to stress the need for customer empathy. Everyone should be made to realize its importance to success. Empathy should be firmly integrated into the product development process.

Work with customer-facing teams – Certain teams tend to relate more with the customer while some others have virtually no direct point of interaction with them. You can recruit the help of teams like Sales, Marketing, Billing and Accounts, and Customer Success to learn about customers as well as their complaints and pain points. A healthy working relationship with these teams will be key for displaying real empathy for the customer using the information generated.

Listen – Make customers feel that you’re keen about what they have to say – that you’re listening. Customer-facing teams can help in getting user feedback, but better results are guaranteed through direct interactions. Personal conversations and in-person visits can further drive home the message that you truly deem their thoughts important.

Have a structure – A lot can be achieved when there’s a structure on the ground for information sharing. It will be great if you can have sessions where teams can freely express what challenges and complaints users have. Members of customer-facing teams can also be integrated into the brainstorming process.

Empathy is Key to Strategy

Since empathy is about going through the customer journey, it provides an opportunity to feel what they feel. It lets you identify with both the pains and joys of your customers. This puts you in a better position to figure what’s more likely to make your customers happy.

Customer empathy should, therefore, be ubiquitous in your company. It should, for instance, be seen in the pitches of the sales team or how support responds to calls.

Customers hardly care whether you are making profits; they just want to be happy. You are more likely to gain their loyalty when they see or feel that you’re trying to make them happy.

If you already have the customer at the center of everything you do, customer empathy shouldn’t sound new. It comes in easily when customers are the central focus of what everyone in your organization does.

Your product roadmap should show this empathy, reflecting the priority of creating value for your customers (not just capturing value which serves the business).  Value for customers starts with understanding their needs and desires and working backwards to identify features that address these needs.  This should be reflected in the initiatives you prioritize, as well as a layer below that, I how to approach solving these problems.

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