The truth about customer empathy and why it matters

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We toss the words “customer empathy” around quite a bit these days, especially in CX circles. And while most of us agree it’s vital to have and show empathy with customers, many rarely go beyond the statement to truly capture the touchpoints necessary in understanding consumer emotions.

In reality, the best customer-centric organizations leverage customer empathy to create a more positive journey for all customers, and they’re rewarded for it with loyalty.

Customer journey maps should highlight the moments where empathy is critical to the emotional path your customers take with your brand. Many maps focus on the big ways to delight and disappoint, but customers interact in both big and small ways with your brand. Don’t reserve empathy for only one set of customers or only the big touchpoints.

Beyond theory: How to practice real-life empathy for customers

We show customers empathy when we really appreciate what they are experiencing. Here’s my recommendation for how to show empathy for your customers: step into their shoes, in their real lives.Don’t be afraid when documenting customer emotions. It’s one thing to be slightly disappointed; it’s another thing to be full-blown frustrated as a customer. The distinction is important, and should be made clear (not watered down) when reporting on the emotions your customers are experiencing – the only path to true customer-centricity is the customer path, full stop.

Empathy means acknowledging the experience AND emotion of a customer. So journey maps that reflect touchpoints as only key interactions like “pay at the cash register” miss ways to show real customer empathy. That interaction is one of many steps for the customer.

In reality, each touchpoint along the customer journey leads to an emotion. You can help everyone in your organization practice empathy for the customer by documenting those emotions on your journey map.

For example, here are some additional points to consider about the in-store experience:

  • Where’s the register?
  • What if customers can’t find it?
  • How does that make someone feel?
  • Is there a long line or even confusion about where to line up?
  • What’s the signage like?
  • What if the customer doesn’t receive the sale price as promised?
  • And on and on and on…we must ask lots of questions and look for the places where negative and positive emotions are likely to occur.

Customer empathy requires deep reflection on the entire consumer journey

Positive emotions are great – it’s easy to pat ourselves on the back over something we know our customers like. (“Our customers LOVE our loyalty program.”) The loyalty program is universally recognized as one solid and positive touchpoint on the journey map, and so we move on to the more challenging ones without deeper reflection.

Think of the benefits and opportunities if we ask those more compelling questions! What do customers love about the program? How does it make them feel? They might be crazy about the way the program works, except when it doesn’t. Customers feel incredibly disappointed – or even mistreated – when the program doesn’t work for them.

Highly loyal customers have more emotionally invested in the brand relationship. Practicing customer empathy helps you identify critical relationship-building touchpoints, and teaches you how to create even more delight around them.

Why does identifying these touchpoints and understanding the emotional outcomes matter so much for customers AND your business? Because real empathy with your customers leads to better business results.

Empathy matters, and it’s not just about the big interactions around channels with your customers. Emotions drive customer decisions, so taking care of them is the most important job you have!

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This post originally appeared on ExperienceInvestigators.com, and is syndicated here with permission. 

Jeannie Walters
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Jeannie Walters

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