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Putting Empathy at the Core of your Business: A Customer-Centric Approach

Putting Empathy at the Core of your Business: A Customer-Centric Approach

“To emerge successfully from this global crisis, brands must build experiences that help them engage with their customers at an emotional level.”  ~Sharyn Leaver, SVP of Research at Forrester

The COVID-19 pandemic has made our colleagues and clients privy to our most sacred of spaces and interactions at home. Our spouses, kids, pets, roommates, technology troubles, or any number of issues become part of our daily conversations and occasionally make a “guest star” appearance, whether intentional or unintentional, in our meetings.  Although there are days it might be hard to see the silver linings of COVID-19, one silver lining is the renewed spotlight on the importance and power of empathy. Compassion is a necessary mechanism in order to survive the new, home-turned-workplace.

Reexamining a Soft Skill

We can use this renewed focus on empathy to improve our business. A focus on customer empathy could be the difference between big profits and going out of business, especially as the business landscape continues to be shaped by COVID-19. Harnessing and measuring empathy is possible by using quantitative and qualitative research methods and metrics including customer satisfaction, customer retention, and product innovation. 

Empathy is the ability to fully understand, mirror, and share another person’s expressions, needs, and motivations. Although the ability to empathize has long been seen as just a soft skill and  marker of emotional intelligence, understanding how empathy can be harnessed and measured as a tangible investment that expands business value, might require more creative thinking. 

Harnessing Empathy with User Experience

“Brands can build a well of [customer experience] equity if they embrace a disciplined approach to envisioning, designing, and delivering a consistently high-quality experience. When consumer spending resumes, brands with experiences that engender customer loyalty will benefit the most.” ~Sharyn Leaver, SVP of Research at Forrester

We typically think of empathy as an individual and private practice, but empathetic practices can be built into business strategy and processes. A good starting point is with user experience research and design professionals. A UX professionals’ job is two-fold: to advocate on behalf of the user and help colleagues understand users to prioritize customer needs. 

Forrester reports UX professionals help companies understand a customer’s digital experience that results in big payoffs:

  • Investment in UX see a lower cost of customer acquisition, lower support cost, increased customer retention and increased market share 
  • When compared to their peers, the top 10 companies leading in customer experience outperformed the S&P index with close to triple the returns. 
  • On average, every dollar invested in UX brings 100 dollars in return. That’s an ROI of a whopping 9,900 percent. 

UX professionals can help a business expand their value using empathetic practice such as quantitative and qualitative research methods to guide product designs.

User Interviews

User interviews are a relatively quick method to gain customer feedback and perception of products. Interviews are typically one-on-one sessions with a line of questioning that allows for open ended answers.

UX researchers must create a rapport with the participant. Additionally, it is important to invite stakeholders to watch interviews or interview clips and insights with stakeholders so they can also empathize with research participants. 

  • Empathy Mapping

    An empathy map is a visual method of capturing a holistic view of end users by capturing what a user says, does, thinks, and feels in different quadrants. As the name suggests, this visualization helps UX practitioners and stakeholders empathize with the user and see the juxtaposition between each quadrant. 

Cognitive Mapping

Cognitive Mapping is a method used to visualize a customer’s mental model as they work through a process or concept. This method helps clients and stakeholders clarify abstract or complex customer thoughts and processes.

Customer or User Journey Mapping

Customer journey maps are a method of mapping used to visualize the process a user goes through in order to accomplish a goal. This map includes a scenario and different phases for one or a few users. 


Surveys are a flexible method for capturing end user insights and opinions without being intrusive. Surveys such as customer satisfaction surveys (CSAT) and the System Usability Scale (SUS) allow customers to answer qualitative and quantitative questions independently. Then the UX research team can analyze findings and present the results to stakeholders.

Usability Tests

Usability tests are a way to understand how end users might move through specific tasks in a user interface. This method is used to uncover any issues with the design as well as user behavior and motivations.

These methods help us understand what drives users’ behaviors and guide teams towards the next steps in the design of a product. Additionally, this research process helps teams discover areas of opportunity which unlocks the potential for innovation to ensure customer adoption and retention.

Measuring Outcomes of Empathy

While the power of empathy can be harnessed through research as well as implementing the design methods outlined above, it is important to measure the ROI of empathetic product practices. Methods for measuring outcomes of increased empathy towards the customer experience include customer satisfaction, customer retention, and tracking innovation over time. 

Customer Satisfaction

Abby Covert, author of How To Make Sense of Any Mess, wrote “The impact of UX is crystal clear: the more satisfied your users are, the more likely they are to do whatever it is you are encouraging.” 

Customer satisfaction can be measured by a series of questions to determine what customers think about products, service, and other aspects of their experience. Surveys can include questions aimed to capture both qualitative and quantitative data that can be used to measure product reception and as a benchmark for customer satisfaction over time.

Customer Retention

A straightforward way to understand if your products are resonating with and working for users is by measuring customer retention. Are you retaining customers? Are you gaining new customers? If so, then you are on the right path. If you are losing customers, it might be time to examine where your product is missing the mark.


During a widespread global and cultural shift brought about by COVID-19, it is important for companies to revisit potential opportunities for product updates, change, and disruption. While customer satisfaction and retention are traditional forms of tracking returns on embedding empathy into business practices, companies can also expect to see an increase in innovation. When a business commits to listening to customers and truly empathizing with customer needs, they may begin to notice and understand new solutions in the form of updates or products that keep customers coming back again and again. 

Leveling Up with Empathy

As a user researcher, creating genuine rapport with customers is crucial and mutually beneficial to understanding pain points or unintended uses of product. Improving these pain points can help companies retain customers and keep them satisfied with products. These practices can be adopted by the organization to expand business value that pays off in dividends.


Covert, A. (2014). How to Make Sense of Any Mess: Information Architecture for Everybody. S.l: Createspace.

Forrester’s US 2020 Customer Experience Index Reveals CX Quality Improved Dramatically Over The Past Year · Forrester. (2020, June 15). Retrieved September 30, 2020, from https://go.forrester.com/press-newsroom/forresters-us-2020-customer-experience-index-reveals-cx-quality-improved-dramatically-over-the-past-year/

Gibbons, S. (2019, August 11). Cognitive Mapping in User Research. Retrieved September 29, 2020, from https://www.nngroup.com/articles/cognitive-mapping-user-research/

Gibbons, S. (2018, January 14). Empathy Mapping: The First Step in Design Thinking. Retrieved September 29, 2020, from https://www.nngroup.com/articles/empathy-mapping

Kucheriavy, A. (2017, October 11). Council Post: Good UX Is Good Business: How To Reap Its Benefits. Retrieved September 30, 2020, from https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbestechcouncil/2015/11/19/good-ux-is-good-business-how-to-reap-its-benefits/

Parmar, B. (2018, March 26). The Most Empathetic Companies, 2016. Retrieved September 30, 2020, from https://hbr.org/2016/12/the-most-and-least-empathetic-companies-2016

Pernice, K. (2018, October 7). User Interviews: How, When, and Why to Conduct Them. Retrieved September 29, 2020, from https://www.nngroup.com/articles/user-interviews/

Wahba, P. (2016, August 18). Here’s How Walmart Is Reigniting Its E-Commerce Growth. Retrieved September 30, 2020, from https://fortune.com/2016/08/18/walmart-ecommerce-2/ 

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