Customer Empathy Mapping

Thinking solely in market segments and demographics only gives you half the story, look to customer empathy mapping to truly understand your customer.  

Customers are now won and lost not just at product point, but at every stage of their journey closer to your product.  Understanding the (often irrational!) preferences, thinking and behaviour of your customers can help you develop simplistic and intuitive experiences to guide prospects through your desired life cycle.  Customer Empathy Mapping can certainly help in this process.   

“A product or service only becomes successful once it matches the desires of its customers.”

Introduction to Customer Empathy Mapping

If every business had the time and resource, then all decisions would be led with comprehensive user research.  We all know that business life often doesn’t pan out like this – and this is where customer empathy mapping can step in as a reasonably quick and efficient tool to give a great picture of what really makes your customers tick.   Customer empathy mapping delivers the following:

  1. Allowing your teams to think from the point of view of the customer – understanding how and why they may take the decision to buy your product and aligning their activities accordingly.
  2. A quick decision-making tool for all areas such as design, messaging, branding, channel and technology.
  3. A memorable visual reference that will encourage user-centred design throughout your whole business.

What does a Customer Empathy Map look like?

A Customer Empathy Map always has one thing for sure – that the customer will be right slap bang in the centre of it.  Typically there are then 6 key categories surrounding the customer – covering “thinking and feeling", “saying and doing", “hearing", “seeing", “points of pain" and “points of gain".

customer empathy mapping

How do I do Customer Empathy Mapping?

If you haven’t done a customer empathy map they are reasonably simple to create, but there are some key things to bear in mind.

  1. Carefully agree who should be involved in your mapping session.
    There are different reasons why to invite people to this session.  Core to the group are people who hold the power to make impacts on your customer experience.  You don’t need to have everyone there, but certainly the people who will be able to influence others in their team.  Typically people in sales, marketing, tech, store experience, HR and budget guardians should be in there.  If there are particular sponsors you would like on-side then it is also useful to invite them.
  2. Recognise and agree your target markets.
    You should first group and agree your market segments.  This will be using traditional methods such as demographics and profile characteristics.  You should select the top 3-4 only for the session, otherwise you will start to see duplication within your personas.
  3. Go Off-Site and de-digitalise
    It is a fact of modern life that people find it hard to focus and immerse themselves in one task – especially when at work it has almost become a badge of honour to be too busy.  It is too easy to pick up a phone to check an email or pop outside to check something with a colleague.  Remove the distractions and go off-site with a strict electronics amnesty at the door.
  4. Warm up your participants.
    Some people take naturally to user-centred thinking and others really  struggle.  With a group of people you are not only bringing their input and enthusiasm into the room, but also their preconceptions, grudges with each other and all the other politics that may make it hard for them to give their all to the task.  This is a really quick and cool exercise for getting everyone into the right mindset.  Ask everyone to think of the last customer they dealt with.  Get them to tell you about the experience they’ve had so far with the company (as the customer.)  Then draw up an advert for the company on the whiteboard and ask each person to tell you what their reaction to this advert would be as the customer. This is a powerful exercise to show how the best-intentioned activity on customers can have completely different reactions to those desired – it helps people to start questioning a business-led approach and makes them feel more empathy for the customer.
  5. Break up your participants into groups, depending on how many you’ve got.
    If you only have a very small group, it may make more sense to do all of your customer empathy maps in the one group.  However, bear in mind that this will increase the session length considerably.  Splitting people up and giving them a target audience each is often a more efficient way of running the session and stops people getting bored.
  6. Start with the easiest section (the middle!) and make your customer a bit more human.
    Ask your groups to actually draw a picture of what the persona representative of that customer segment looks like.  Give them details like a name, location and age – and a company/role if they are for a business/employee persona.
  7. Go through each category one by one.
    Giving about 10 minutes for each category, ask your groups to fill in each of the categories.  Bear in mind that some of the categories will be harder than others for people.  Each group should have a turn to talk about what they’ve written in each category to keep momentum.
  8. Summarise what was surprising
    There are bound to be outputs that your groups are proud of/found surprising.  Give them the chance to go over these publicly to really set them top of mind before they leave the session.  If you have time, give them a chance to come up with some ideas or solutions for your customers using what they developed during the session in their customer empathy mapping.
  9. Use the maps!
    Don’t make the most frequent mistake and leave your maps languishing under a desk.  Draw them up into a formal document or even make a persona if you have the time and expertise.  Whatever you do with them, make sure you share them among the company and communicate them in a way that allows people to use them in their every-day decision-making.  Use the participants from your session to take ownership and help deliver them to others.

persona creation

Customer Empathy Mapping Sections

Below is a quick overview of all 6 categories within customer empathy mapping and what you should be aiming to explore in each.

What is it that your customer is hearing?

In this category you need to ask your groups to identify the “chatter" that your customers will be hearing – this could be the opinions of family and friends of your products, or maybe co-workers if your business is b2b.  What might these people be saying about your business or your competitors.  You should also explore the channels they might be using to hear this – such as social media, IM or email.  The output from this category is that you will have a better understanding of misperceptions you may have to tackle and also the channels you should be using to communicate with your customers.

What is it that your customer is seeing?

Ask your groups to step into the daily lives of the customer – which media will they be exposed to – how might they see yours or your competitors’ products in this media, as well as other references to your products such as others using it or celebrities?  What might they be seeing around your company and product – either on your own site or other locations, and how might this impact the picture they are building of your brand?  .

What is it that your customer is thinking and feeling?

This is possibly the hardest section – unfortunately also the most important!  Start off easy with asking your groups to identify what your customer is looking to achieve in relation to your product – what are the key reasons they are going to be thinking about your product or service?  What will be their expectations of your product in relation to their motivations?  What will be their existing perceptions based on what they have already seen or heard about it?  What might be their frustrations and barriers in trying to learn more about it or buy it?  What will they get excited about?

What does your customer say and do?

What does your customer say to others?   This may be very different to the things that they are thinking!  For example, might they be thinking that a product is too expensive for them but don’t want to vocalise this to peers.  How might they be talking to others?  What might be their actual actions in buying/not buying your product – linked to what they are thinking and feeling.

What are your customer’s pains and gains?

In pains you need to outline the barriers and frustrations that your customer may come across during their journey – why will these be frustrating to them (think about them in relation to their goals)?

In the gains section, conversely, you can start to identify the things that make the buyer journey great for your customer.  Again, think about their goals identified in the earlier section and which parts of the experience would be beneficial in relation to this. This could be thing across their online experience, service communications or product interaction.

It sometimes helps in this section to start off by identifying some key scenarios that your customers may go through e.g. researching what is on the market, buying the product etc.

At the end of the session, you will have built a detailed picture of a key set of 3-4 personas for your product.  Using customer empathy mapping your groups will have stepped into the customers’ heads and will have started their migration to becoming user-centred designers within their areas of responsibility.  Bringing all these sections together will give Your teams will now be able to make decisions based on the needs of their customers, not the opinions of the business.   

Customer Empathy Mapping is recognised and used by many successful businesses, with Apple’s inventor Steve Jobs creating the “Apple Marketing Philosophy" including how the brand created an intimate connection with the customer using empathy. He once declared. “we will truly understand their needs better than any other company" and by using Customer Empathy Mapping he was able to do exactly that.

 Customer Empathy Mapping Sessions – what you’ll need

Don’t go unprepared into your session.  You may be dealing with participants who are looking for a reason not to engage with you or are distrustful of the process – don’t give them an excuse to do just that!

  • Print out large copies of customer empathy maps.  (And, by large, we’re talking at least A1)
  • Some coloured pens and lots of post-it notes
  • A timer (and be strict with it)
  • Some easily digestible data to help form your customer segments
  • An idea of when you will give breaks – you need couple of these at least.

Customer Empathy Mapping Sessions – what you might hear..

Don’t forget that this session can be pretty difficult for some people and most will be stepping out of their comfort zone.  It is easy to transfer worries about the session into negativity and you may find people come closed or even outwardly negative.  Show a bit of “empathy" for your participants and try to remember this.  Be prepared for some of the following!

  • We’re just making this up, how do we know we’re getting it right?
    The answer to this will depend on how much actual user research is used as data to build your customer empathy maps.  Often, in smaller businesses, it will simply be using the customer knowledge of your participants.  So, to a certain extent, they’re right.  But, this is the best insight you’ve got and not doing and staying in a business frame of mind will always be a worse choice than doing it and thinking from your customers’ point of view.
  • I don’t understand what you’re asking me to do?
    Especially at the “think and do" and “say and do" stages.  How well these sections go will depend on how well you help your group through them.  Break it down into point by point and keep them focused on your product.  They could go wildly off track if you don’t help them through it.
  • How will this help the business?
    Make sure you set the scene on how customer empathy maps can be used within a business. Use successful examples from real or fictitious companies.  Examples are great at helping people understand something they are unfamiliar with.
  • My mind’s gone blank.
    If this happens, help them out.  Sit with the participant yourself or switch people in and out of groups if you have a group where everyone is doing particularly well and others that are struggling.  Give them scenarios to work with.  It really helps your session if you’ve done your homework and had a rough stab at doing the maps yourself beforehand.

If this all sounds like too much (which it can be) then don’t forget we do this for a living.  We can come into your company, or you can come to us, and we can deliver your customer empathy mapping session for you.  Just contact us to hear more about how we can help you.