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CX Tools of The Trade, Part 1: Empathy Mapping

Sandra Mathis

Like a dripping, leaky pipe, customer dissatisfaction and churn sound similar. Customers rarely leave without warning; they often signal their discontent multiple times before parting ways. By the time underlying issues are addressed, the damage has added up to a significant cost in terms of time and money, not to mention the inevitable wear and tear on employees. To combat “leaky pipes,” many organizations are turning to Customer Experience. Inside a CX teams’ toolbox are several important tools, which I will break out into a three-part series, beginning with Empathy Mapping, an often misused and misunderstood instrument.

At the heart of all CX tools, Empathy Mapping included, is the belief that creating a sustainable, healthy, and growing company demands an exceptional customer experience— after all, it is anywhere between 3 to 14 times easier to sell to an existing customer than to acquire a new one[1]. And happy customers are your best allies in winning new ones.

DEFINING AND DIFFERENTIATING AN EMPATHY MAP

What I appreciate about empathy maps (and why I’m starting the series with them) is that they are incredibly useful in helping you better understand your customer. Empathy mapping serves to humanize customers— a crucial step many companies, despite their good intentions, tend to leave out. They are collaborative visualizations that teams can also use to represent the thoughts, words, actions, and feelings of a customer segment, which makes them sound suspiciously like a customer persona. While the two are actually very different, they often do complement one another. Customer personas go a bit deeper and wider; empathy maps can actually be leveraged as an input for creating a persona.

Empathy maps are a representation of a customer’s mindset and actions, which are useful territories to understand at the beginning of the customer experience process, especially when you don’t have much customer data to go on. They are often used in lieu of a customer persona both in UX and in CX. This is a mistake. Empathy maps represent a free flow of thoughts and assumptions about the customer, which, if done right, should be revised based on real data— but never instead of tackling a customer persona.

HOW TO USE AN EMPATHY MAP: THE FLOW

Your empathy map should start from what the customer is trying to accomplish (task or overall goal), and articulate what they are thinking, saying, feeling, and doing (actions).

  • TASK/GOAL: What is the customer trying to complete? What do they need in order to accomplish it? This should include the pain points the customer is experiencing which they need to overcome.
  • THINKING: Quotes that capture what the customer is thinking.
  • SAYING: When real data or customer feedback exists, a best practice is to include direct quotes of what the customer has said.
  • FEELING: How is the customer feeling about the experience? What truly matters to them?

TIPS FOR MAKING THE MOST OF YOUR EMPATHY MAP

The power of empathy maps lies in how you use them. A prevailing theme among many organizations is to do them and put them away. But they are designed to be iterative, never one and done.

With that said, there are a few key ways I believe you can make the most out of your empathy maps: 

  • To make take it from being a quick and dirty persona template to something more real, apply as much real data as possible in conjunction with user interviews, qualitative research or existing data. Got qualitative transcripts? Pull some of them out and pepper in real quotes.
  • Always consider the real problems of your customers. What are they trying to accomplish?
  • Often, teams will stop the empathy map after the initial version. However, the value comes when it is used as an iterative process. As you learn more about your customers, add and subtract from the empathy map. The best part? These evolving learnings can also be applied to your customer persona, as well as your customer journey maps.
  • Need something even faster? Use a “mini articulation” to get you started: The (customer) needs a way to (   ), because (   ).
  • If you also conduct qualitative research, the next time you are doing work with your customers and you hear something interesting, give your observing internal stakeholders empathy map templates to complete. Later, take the snippets from those maps and add them to your customer personas and journey maps to keep the customer information relevant.

Like the other tools being discussed in this series, empathy maps are living, breathing documents. Your CX effort, and the tools used to inform it, must evolve with the needs of your customers and market demands. In part two of this series, we’ll continue to address “leaky pipes” with Customer Personas. Stick around.

[1] Marketing Metrics: The Definitive Guide to Measuring Marketing Performance (2nd Edition)