Eight Ways to Build Customer Empathy


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Customer empathy is absolutely critical to a company-focused culture. Without empathy, employees focus on their own problems, rather than your customers’. They build overly-complex products based on what they want to buy, rather than starting with customer needs. And they certainly don’t understand the emotional context of your customers.

Both Forrester and the Temkin Group have begun focusing much more on the emotional elements of an experience, which is spot-on. Emotions are the greatest driver of loyalty – and of disloyalty.  And you can’t solve them without empathy.

Here are eight ways to help build empathy in your company. Add your own in the comments!

  1. Show videos of customer interviews. Videos really help to show the angst a customer faces when waiting on hold during a time of crisis, or of trying (and failing) to use your product in its intended way. We were working with a hospital client who couldn’t understand why they were getting such low scores for one particular procedure. They had caring staff – their surveys continually said so. But while the staff was rated highly, their NPS and other overall scores were very low. In our research, we continually found that their patients were very anxious, and thus had a hard time navigating an experience that might have been easy for them at another time. Seeing multiple videos of customers talking about getting lost and confused in the hospital helped staff to realize the emotional context of their patients – and led them to reconsider how they design their experience.
  2. Give them a customer challenge. Your employees only know their own experience, which can make it hard for them to see how it feels for your customers. I’ve heard great examples of health insurance companies giving their employees devices that blur their vision, then having them read the same forms their customers do. Putting yourself in your customers’ shoes like this helps employees better understand the customer experience first-hand.
  3. Have them directly serve customers. Amazon requires executives to regularly spend time in the call center – not just listening to calls, but actually taking them. How better to help them understand how customers actually feel? This also helps create employee empathy – another great outcome.
  4. Have employees from the field share their customer stories. Not “stupid customer” stories – but situations where customers are confused or frustrated. Again, this also helps create empathy for your front-line employees.
  5. Play call center calls. I’ve written in the past about how UnitedHealth Group uses recorded calls to help drive empathy. You should, too.
  6. Do a shop-along. We have our retail clients accompany their customers as they shop. Don’t just go shopping on your own – you know too much – but go with a customer. Don’t answer any of their questions – just listen and ask questions. You can learn a ton.
  7. Create a customer journey map. You knew this had to be there! Journey maps are outstanding ways to truly understand your customer experience.
  8. Build a customer room. A customer room is a specific room focused on communicating about your customer needs. Customer rooms are great ways to align your teams on the importance of the customer journey. They’re even better when they can travel to your multiple sites, and let employees learn more about the customers they may not interact with all that often. Have them sign a customer pledge while you’re at it!

Developing empathy is particularly important for corporate teams, who don’t interact with your customers every day. But don’t forget your front-line employees. It’s also important to remind them of the emotional context of your customers.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Jim Tincher
Jim sees the world in a special way: through the eyes of customers. This lifelong passion for CX, and a thirst for knowledge, led him to found his customer experience consulting firm, Heart of the Customer (HoC). HoC sets the bar for best practices and are emulated throughout the industry. He is the author of Do B2B Better and co-author of How Hard Is It to Be Your Customer?, and he also writes Heart of the Customer’s popular CX blog.


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