Customer Empathy Mapping

Identifying who your customers are is crucial for your business, however it’s just the first step.

Thinking solely in market segments and demographics only gives you half the story.  For successful design and marketing strategy you need to be able to resonate with your audiences across their entire customer journey.  This is increasingly important as customers are now won and lost at many more points than just the actual product or service.   Understanding (often irrational!) preferences, thinking and behaviour of your customers can give you the competitive edge to develop an intuitive, enjoyable and simplistic experience that will guide them through your customer life cycle. All this can be done with Customer Empathy Mapping!

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

Introduction to Customer Empathy Mapping

Not every business has the budget or ability to carry out extensive user research.  In this case, customer empathy mapping is a reasonably quick and efficient tool that every business can implement, and gives a great picture of what really makes your customers tick.   Customer empathy mapping delivers the following:

  1. The ability to think from your customers’ point of view; an understanding of the “why" behind the choices that they make, so that you can align your experience to match this.
  2. A tool that will improve and quicken your decision-making across all areas of design, strategy and implementation of your marketing and communications activity.
  3. An easy-to-remember visual reference for you and your team to remember to put the customer first.  Empathy maps stick in people’s minds a lot more than a report.


What does a Customer Empathy Map look like?

A Customer Empathy Map can come in various shapes, sizes and colours. However, one thing that remains the same is that the customer is the primary focus and is placed slap bang in the middle of the map.  Around them are then placed 6 categories of customer exploration, 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 before then there are a few things that you need to bear in mind and there is a set process to go through.   We’ve broken down each step into easy to remember actions for you.

  1. Identify who should be involved in your customer empathy mapping sessions.
    Key people to involve are business stakeholders, sales teams, marketing departments, retailers – essentially anyone involved in delivering your customer experience who may need to develop a user-centred ethos.
  2. Identify your primary target audiences.
    The first step is to group your customers into segments based on their demographics and personas (if you have personas, don’t worry if you don’t). Once these segments have been created, limit yourself to the top 3-4 most important ones, otherwise you’ll find that you start to replicate your maps and things will just get too complicated.
  3. Get session participants to step out of the business and into the mind of the customer.
    Empathy mapping isn’t a natural process for many people.  Expecting people to step into the session without “warming them up" could spell trouble and resistance.  This is a simple exercise that works well… Give each member of the group a different persona, loosely based on the types of customers you have.  Ask them to tell you what they have done that morning and what type of day they’ve had so far (in character).  Then, give everyone the same scenario – say they have just received an email from your company with a special offer.  Ask them all to write down how they would behave on seeing this email.  This will help them to understand how insignificant the company can be in customers’ eyes and how the wrong message at the wrong time on the wrong channel can make for inefficient communications.
  4. 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.
  5. Start with the easy section and humanise your segments.
    Use the centre of the map to create a picture of a customer representative of this target audience.  Give them a name, an age, location, job, family status and even draw a picture of them!  This starts to make the customer real for your participants and makes it easier for them to relate to them in the next sections.
  6. Go through each category one by one.
    Ask the session groups to think from their customer’s point of view and fill in each of the categories.  Give them about 10 minutes for each category and a break after each one  to explain what they have found to the rest of the group.  We have listed each category in more detail below.
  7. Summarise what you have found.
    Ask the group, as a whole, to summarise what they have found out about their customers at the end of the session and they key things that they should remember for each target audience.  If you have time, give them a chance to come up with some ideas or solutions for your customers that they hadn’t thought of prior to the empathy mapping session.
  8. Use your 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 sketch


Customer Empathy Mapping Sections

Below we have given a brief explanation of the categories and what you should be doing for each during your empathy mapping session.  They are in order of how they should take place to make it flow well for your participants.

What does your customer hear?

What or who influences your target audience? They may listen to familiar people in their life; like family or friends. Or, they may be more persuaded by co-workers, who are more business-related. They may even be influenced by people of power that they have never met, such as celebrities.

What do your customers hear?

This section also focuses on where your customer gets their information from; which channels of communication do they use. Once you know the answer to this you will have greater success when trying to communicate your product or service to the customer.

What does your customer see?

What do your customers see?

This will show you your customer’s environment; what they are exposed to on a daily basis, the media they see, the competitor adverts they come across, the references to your products and services – in social media, adverts, your web presence etc.  Also, what issues and challenges are they coming up against in relation to your offering? This section helps you identify the visual picture people may be building of your brand.

What is your customer thinking and feeling?

What do your customers think and feel?

This is where you can identify how customers are responding and thinking about your product/service.  This is the most important yet hardest section.  Start off identifying what matters most for your customer – what are their goals and dreams, what keeps them up at night?  what are the key drivers behind their behaviour and likelihood to interact with your brand?  How do they react to certain things and ultimately will they be happy with your product or service?

What does your customer say and do?

What do your customers say and do?

What does your customer say to others? How do they speak to others? Are they opinion leaders and influencers for others?  What type of language do they use? Is there a gap between what they are saying and doing?  This will help you understand if their words match their actions and it will also help you determine a tone of voice to use when communicating your product or services to your customer.

What are your customer’s pains and gains?

What are your customers pains and gains?

In pains you need to understand your customer’s fears, frustrations and any obstacles that they may need to overcome – particularly in relation to the goals you identified earlier. You will also need to include why your customers have these fears and why are they not able to overcome current obstacles.  Perhaps it is something that your company is doing?

In the gains section you can start to identify things that add to the customer’s quality of life. Although not necessarily expressed as a need by the customer, you can see how it can improve their experience and convenience, particularly related to the goals you identified.  Again, this could be something that your company is providing – or maybe your competitor?

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.


Bringing all these sections together will give you a detailed picture of who exactly your ideal customer is. You will have built empathy towards your customer and gained increased knowledge on their needs and pain points. From this you will then be able to understand how is best to communicate to your customer and what tone of voice is appropriate for best connecting them to your product or service.

Customer Empathy Mapping is recognised and used by many successful businesses, with Apple’s inventor Steve Jobs creating the “Apple Marketing Philosophy" which includes how the brand creates 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 so.


 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.  Here’s a blank one if you need one.  (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


Customer Empathy Mapping Sessions – what you might hear..

Don’t forget that this is hard for people.  And finding things hard can make people introverted or negative.  Show a bit of empathy for your participants and try to remember this.  And be prepared for the following questions:

  • 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.