eBook: 25 Tips for Amplifying Empathy

Happy CX Day 2014!

25 Tips to Amplify Empathy_COVERAs I mentioned in my 14 Customer Experience Trends for 2014, this year will be the “Year of Empathy.” Given the focus on this key area, Temkin Group created the Amplify Empathy movement. So when we were thinking about our CX Day celebration, it seemed like a perfect fit for us to do something about empathy.

That’s why we created this free eBook: 25 Tips for Amplifying Empathy.

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The eBook discusses these tips from a wide variety of companies:

1410_25CXTipsThe bottom line: Pick a few tips to replicate and amplify empathy in your organization

Winners of the Amplify Empathy Challenge

In my post on customer experience trends for this year, I named 2014 as “The Year of Empathy.” Empathy is a critical component to any customer experience effort. To help ignite the discussion on this important topic, we launched the Amplify Empathy Challenge as part of the overall Amplify Empathy Movement.

We asked people to share how they’ve raised customer empathy within their organizations and Temkin Group committed to awarding up to $2,500 for the best ideas. We had a number of great submissions, which made it hard to decide, but we selected the five winners below (all receiving a $500 Amazon.com gift certificate). We added the titles to their entries, but the rest of the description is exactly what they submitted on the Amplify Empathy site.

The bottom line: Keep finding ways to #AmplifyEmpathy within your organization!

Amplify Empathy Winners

Here are submissions from the five Amplify Empathy winners:

Empathy Mapping in Workshops

Aaron Cooper, Customer Experience Architect, Prime Therapeutics

“I integrated empathy mapping into cross-functional design workshops, focused on generating customer-centered ideas to inform redesign of experiences within digital channels.

These workshops were hosted in a main corporate office, and brought directly to stakeholders via an on-site session at one of our call center locations. This was an excellent way to build empathy across the business, by bringing the opportunity directly to key team members.

Each team in a design workshop was composed of 4-5 people – a mix of developers, system analysts, business leads, customer experience professionals, call center agents and other team members. Each team was given two scenarios, based on one of our five personas. The scenarios provided a description of the persona, their context, needs, specific tasks and “how might we” statements to stimulate thinking. The workshops were structured as a series of rapid sketching sessions, kicked off by empathy mapping before sketching began for each persona’s scenario.

During empathy mapping, each team member contributed real, recent customer experiences. Call center agents offered particularly rich descriptions of customer thoughts, feelings, statements and actions (Think, Say, Feel, Do) to feed the conversations. Directly after empathy mapping, teams individually and collaboratively sketched, then reviewed and consolidated concepts, then voted on ideas. I tied the idea voting directly to customer experience metrics (eg. ease of doing business – see Forrester), plus a colored dot for “breakthrough idea, if…” to emphasize ideas that had innovative characteristics. By weaving key performance indicators into voting, very early in the design process, team members had another way to evaluate the efficacy of ideas.


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Robin Williams Provides Lesson in Empathy

I’m a huge fan of Robin Williams’ work. He was a brilliant artist who unfortunately lost his battle with internal demons.

I remember many scenes from his movies and TV appearances, but nothing is more vivid to me than one of his discussions with Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting. Williams plays a psychologist who is trying to help a brilliant, yet troubled inner-city Boston kid (WIll Hunting played by Matt Damon). In this scene on a bench in the Boston Public Garden, Williams is explaining to Damon the difference between intellectual knowledge and emotional understanding.

Here’s an excerpt from the beginning….

“So if I asked you about art, you’d probably give me the skinny on every art book ever written. Michelangelo, you know a lot about him. Life’s work, political aspirations, him and the Pope, sexual orientation, the whole works, right? But I’ll bet you can’t tell me what it smells like in the Sistine Chapel. You’ve never actually stood there and looked up at that beautiful ceiling. Seen that…”

The scene provides a parallel commentary on the difference between analytics and empathy.

The bottom line: RIP Robin Williams. May the spark you brought to our lives continue to live on.

Three Steps For Happiness to Fuel Organizational Empathy

Over the last couple of months, I’ve delivered several keynote speeches. In many of them, I’ve discussed organizational empathy (often as an element within People-Centric Experience Design). One of my key messages is that happiness creates empathy.

EmpathyHappyAs shown in the blog post Happy People Are More Productive Employees, happy people are more empathetic. So how do you take advantage of this information?

Here are my three simple steps:

  1. Be Happy. If you’re not happy, then you won’t have much capacity to think about other people, employees or customers. So how do I recommend being happy? By being grateful. A growing body of research shows that the act of being grateful actually makes people happy. So take some time every day to focus on the things that you are grateful for.
  2. Hire Happy People. Your organization probably screens employee candidates for professional experience, skills, and maybe even cultural fit. But those only tell a portion of the story about successful employees. If you want to build organizational empathy, screen candidates to make sure they are typically happy. Another way to say this is: Don’t hire unhappy people.
  3. Keep Employees Happy. HR processes focus a lot on hiring, firing, reviewing, and adjusting employees’ titles and compensation. But these are not the key drivers of employee happiness. What does motivate employees? Four intrinsic rewards: The sense of meaningfulness, choice, competence, and progress. Make sure that you focus on providing those things to your employees.

The bottom line: Happiness drives empathy.

Like Digital Cameras? Thank Sony’s Organizational Empathy

I read an interesting article by Sony’s former VP of Brand and Strategy in Fast Company called How Sony Learned That Product Features Don’t Matter. The article discuses how Sony adjusted its digital camera design based on a rich understanding of how consumers were interacting with them. Here are some excerpts from the article:

People would snap informal pictures in the middle of the action and share them with people right on the spot using the instant display on the back of the camera. Picture-taking and picture-sharing added to the fun and action of the occasion in the moment. They wouldn’t be the best quality pictures–oftentimes people would take several pictures of the same shot–but now that they were “free” and disposable, getting the perfect picture was no longer as important. Sometimes images would then be saved, printed, and displayed, but many would remain in the camera forgotten after the moment passed.

This kind of behavior had not been anticipated by our product designers. They had assumed, as most of us had, that digital cameras represented a new, more convenient method of gratifying old, reliable emotional needs–to preserve memories of special occasions by putting images in photo albums and hanging them on walls. Many of our efforts had been focused on helping people take high-quality pictures and on transferring image files from camera to computer for printing and storage.

All the improvements you saw in Sony’s digital cameras during the decade of the 2000s–larger, brighter instant displays, easy gallery-style browsing, wireless instant sharing options, and ever smaller camera sizes–were spurred by these kinds of empathic insights into how people felt about cameras and about photographs.

My take: Sony was able to evolve its digital cameras based on the company’s ability to master the three characteristics of organizational empathy: Perceive-Reflect-Adjust.

  • Perceive: Customers used their new digital phones in a different way than Sony originally anticipated.
  • Reflect: Sony sent employees to go watch customers as they used their phones to discover what they actually wanted from the device. They discovered that users actually wanted to look at the pictures immediately and often took many, lower-quality pictures of the same picture.
  • Adjust: Sony made larger, brighter instant displays, easy gallery-style browsing, wireless instant sharing option, and smaller camera sizes to fit this customer need.

The bottom line: Find ways to Amplify Empathy in your organization!

Introducing Amplify Empathy, Join the Movement!

In my CX trends for 2014, I labelled 2014 as the “Year of Empathy.” Rather than just observe “empathy” coming to life this year,  Temkin Group has decided to help accelerate this trend. How? With an initiative that we call Amplify Empathy.

3b bat hWe created Amplify Empathy as a catalyst for individuals to amplify empathy within their organizations. The Amplify Empathy page includes links to relevant content, a process for sharing ideas, and a badge for those who pledge to amplify empathy .

We also are announcing the Amplify Empathy Challenge where Temkin Group will award $2,500 to people who submit the best ideas for amplifying empathy.

I invite you to join the Amplify Empathy movement and make 2014 the “Year of Empathy.” Please join us on this journey by visitn the Amplify Empathy site, sharing your ideas, taking our Amplify Empathy pledge, and spreading the word. Tweet it out with #AmplifyEmpathy.

The bottom line: We succeed because we care.

Building Organizational Empathy: Perceive-Reflect-Adjust

Most people have an innate ability to be empathetic, but organizations tend to dampen this natural instinct. While a typical customer interaction cuts across many functional groups (a single purchase, for instance, may include contact with decisions by product management, sales, marketing, accounts payable, and legal organizations), companies push employees to stay focused on their functional areas. This myopic view is often reinforced by incentives focused on narrow domains, which creates a perceived chasm between customer empathy and employee success.

After examining much of the academic, medical, and business research on the topic of empathy, we developed a simple model for enhancing empathy that we call Perceive-Reflect-Adjust:

  • Perceive: Understand how someone else feels
  • Reflect: Examine how your actions affect those feelings
  • Adjust: Make changes to improve how someone else feels

P-R-A is a helpful model to follow for triggering individual empathy, but how can organizations apply P-R-A within their operations? By infusing it across the four customer experience core competencies:

Empathy4CompetenciesThe bottom line: Look for opportunities to Perceive, Reflect, and Adjust.

Amplify Empathy Badges

If you have taken the pledge to Amplify Empathy, then download and display any size badge you would like…

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Amplify Empathy: We Succeed Because We Care

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What is Amplify Empathy?

Amplify Empathy represents a hope, a cause, and a heartfelt desire that companies will work towards developing a deeper understanding of their customers’ needs, and that they will use this knowledge to serve those needs better. More specifically, Temkin Group created the Amplify Empathy movement to encourage individuals to help build stronger empathy for their customers within their organizations.

As part of our commitment to Amplify Empathy, Temkin Group will continue to research and write on the topic of organizational empathy. As a primer, check out these posts:

Join the Amplify Empathy Movement

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We hope that individuals will pledge to Amplify Empathy within their organizations and will share their successes with others.

To take the pledge, simply write, “I pledge to Amplify Empathy,” in the comment box below, and proudly display this badge wherever you like.

We hope that you will also share descriptions of your Amplify Empathy efforts within your organization in the comments below. Use the hashtag #AmplifyEmpathy to get the message out on Twitter.

The $2,500 Amplify Empathy Challenge

To encourage people to share their best practices, Temkin Group choose five people who we believe submitted the best ideas for Amplifying Empathy.

Temkin Group selected winners of the Amplify Empathy Challenge based on its evaluation of the ideas submitted on the Website. The criteria that it will use include the innovativeness of the idea, the success that it has achieved, and its ability to be replicated by other organizations.

Congratulations to the winners (see blog post) who each won an Amazon.com $500 gift certificate:

  • Aaron Cooper, Customer Experience Architect, Prime Therapeutics
  • Diane Stover Hopkins, Innovation Strategy Executive, Beacon Health System
  • Kristi Roe, Director-The Patient Experience, Carolinas Healthcare System
  • Lisa Henken-Ramirez, Vice President, Customer Experience, NetSpend, a TSYS Company
  • A Lee Massaro

Continue to submit your ideas below and tweet them at #AmplifyEmpathy

The bottom line: Together, we can Amplify Empathy!

Martin Luther King Teaches CX + Empathy

Today, many people are celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr. Day (it’s a Temkin Group holiday). To honor MLK’s memory in a way that ties with the content of this blog, I decided to share some of his quotes that discuss empathy with a connection to our four customer experience core competencies. I’ve added a question to think about after each quote:

Purposeful Leadership: “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” How willing are your leaders to trade-off short-term results for longer gains in customer experience and loyalty?

Compelling Brand Values: “There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must take it because conscience tells him it is right.” Is your brand clear, strong and well understood enough by employees so that it empowers them to do the right thing, even if it means breaking some rules.

Employee Engagement: “We may have all come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.” Are you focused enough on making sure that employees understand and are committed to the goals and direction of your organization?

Customer Connectedness: “Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into friend.” Are you treating important customers well enough so that they are more than just satisfied, and become raving fans?

The bottom line: I have a dream that 2014 will be the Year of Empathy!

Join Me in Making 2014 the Year of Empathy

As you may have read in my customer experience trends for 2014, I’ve labelled 2014 as “The Year of Empathy.” Hopefully many, many people will embrace the concept of empathy within their organizations and not just treat it as the word du jour. To help in the effort, I’m going to make empathy an ongoing theme in this blog.

Here’s my challenge to everyone reading this post: Join me and the entire Temkin Group team in making empathy come to life within your organizations. As a start, watch and share this video by the Cleveland Clinic: Empathy: The Human Connection to Patient Care.

The bottom line: If you could stand in someone else’s shoes would you treat them differently?

14 Customer Experience Trends for 2014 (The Year of Empathy)

It’s time to identify key customer experience trends for next year. We did a pretty good job of identifying 13 CX trends for 2013 and many of those trends will continue on into 2014, so they remain on this year’s list. We expect CX to gain even more momentum next year as 2014 brings us deeper into what Temkin Group has labeled the Era of CX Professionalism. Based on what we see emerging in CX, we believe that 2014 will be The Year of Empathy, which is the 14th trend. Here are 14 CX trends to watch for in 2014, followed by some advice for each item:

  1. 2014CXTrends2Renovation of VoC Programs. Large organizations spend millions of Dollars/Euros/etc. per year on collecting customer feedback. Yet, all too few of them gain the value they could—or should—from those investments. Only one out of five organizations has reached Temkin Group’s two highest levels of voice of the customer (VoC) maturity. In 2014, we expect many companies to scrap their overly burdensome customer surveys in favor of more targeted feedback. They’ll rely less on multiple-choice surveys and more on topic-specific surveys and text analytics of unstructured content like comments on surveys, calls into the contact center, social media conversations, and chat sessions with agents.
    ADVICE: Don’t worry too much about trending historical data. A feedback system that helps you make improvements now and into the future is far more valuable than one that only enables you to compare yourself with the past.
  2. Lots of Customer Journey Mapping. One of the most effective tools for customer experience professionals is Customer Journey Mapping (CJM), which is why so many people read our CJM posts in 2013. These tools identify key areas of improvement and opportunities for innovation and can help build organizational empathy. In 2014, organizations with customer experience ambition will most likely develop their own CJMs. However, despite all this activity, many companies will still misuse CJMs by mistaking touchpoint analysis with CJMs and forgetting that a CJM is merely a means to an end—not the ultimate goal.
    ADVICE: Think of CJMs as a learning experience, not as an output. Be clear about how you want to use them before you start and focus on a few targeted areas. And make sure CJMs are created from your customer’s perspective.
  3. Integration of Customer Behavioral Data. While feedback is a form of customer insight, it is by no means the only form—or even the best form. Companies can glean a lot of insight through an understanding of what customers have done, what channels they’ve used, what products they’ve purchased, and what service interactions they’ve had. These data sources provide the rich content required to fuel predictive models. In 2014, we’ll see the continued trend from 2013 with more companies blending together customer feedback data with troves of other data they have in CRM and other systems about customer transactions and value. This will enable companies to accurately target experiences to reduce churn, improve metrics (e.g., satisfaction, NPS), and increase customer lifetime value. Consequently, data scientists—especially those who can speak with business people—will continue to be in high demand.
    ADVICE: It’s easy to get overwhelmed when you start integrating multiple data sources, and it can quickly devolve into a pure “big data” project. Don’t let that happen. To stay on track, focus on the analysis you want to do and start by integrating only the data required for that analysis.
  4. More Anticipatory Service. As companies gain a deeper understanding of customers through research and analytics, they will use that information to develop more individualized customer experiences. Look for companies to route callers to the phone agents who are most likely to help them based on the anticipated reason for the call. Companies will also train front-line employees with different scripts based on anticipating a customer’s needs/interests/emotional style, and will even teach them to proactively recover from service issues before customers can even complain about them by detecting potential changes in customer loyalty.
    ADVICE: Get into the habit of asking, “what’s next?” When you’re working on anything related to customer experience design, think about what the customer is likely to do after they finish the experience you’re examining and find a way to make those next steps easier.  CJMs can be a great resource for this type of thinking.
  5. Experience Infused into Product Development. We’ll see more companies create products with customer experience embedded throughout the entire development process. What will this look like? Product teams will define usability requirements, set minimum experience thresholds for product launch, and design the entire service lifecycle. Fidelity Investments evaluates all new product and experience efforts using a CX scorecard that determines the level of customer experience risk involved in a proposed project. Its “Customer Lens” process delivers more customer-centric experiences by incorporating standards and checkpoints into business cases and new product development methodologies.
    ADVICE: Most new products and services overly focus on functional requirements. To break this pattern, create ease-of-use requirements, defining things like how quickly a customer can set up and start using the product/service or how long it will take for customers to realize the value proposition defined by the product.
  6. Consolidation of CX Process Methodologies. Large companies often have several efforts focused on creating customer-centric processes. As customer experience efforts highlight the need to redesign more operational processes, companies will combine customer experience efforts with other process improvement efforts such as lean sigma and design thinking. These combinations“–like GM’s effort to bring together customer experience and product quality–will merge process-centric tools with the power of deep customer empathy. We’ll also see more companies following firms such as Intuit that are embedding design thinking across their organizations (check out the Stanford d.school).
    ADVICE: If your organization has a LEAN or SIGMA effort underway, then embrace it — but make it more customer-centric. Combine some of the deep empathy pieces of design thinking with the more efficiency-focused other process methodologies.
  7. Contact Centers Morph into Relationship Hubs. For years, companies have relied on their contact centers to deal with customer interactions—from technical support to requesting medical coverage—but contact centers are on the verge of a major change. Driven by a shift in technology capabilities and consumer behavior, leading companies are refocusing the primary purpose of contact centers from handling individual calls to building customer loyalty. These changes will morph contact centers into what I’ve called Relationship Hubs. In 2014, Relationship Hubs will establish success metrics tied to long-term customer loyalty. Belgacom, a Belgium telecom provider, changed its key call center metric from average handle time to a combination of two metrics—first call resolution and likelihood of customers to recommend the company.
    ADVICE: Identify what your customers really want when they contact you. If it’s a service interaction, then they are likely looking for a speedy and complete resolution to their issue. Shift your measurements that drive rep quality ratings from efficiency to fulfilling these customers’ needs.
  8. Deeper Appreciation of Employee Assets. Companies are beginning to see the deep connection between employee engagement and customer experience. Engaged employees are more than twice as likely to stay late at work if something needs to be done, help someone at work even if they’re not asked, and do something that is good for the company even if it’s not expected of them. In 2014, we’ll see more employee surveys, executives developing employee engagement goals and objectives, and managerial training focused on employee engagement.
    ADVICE: Our research shows that employee engagement is not a matter of compensation. Leaders across the organization have the ability to provide what’s really important to people, intrinsic rewards. Start training your managers on what truly matters to their employees and measure their ability to engage employees.
  9. Mobile, Mobile, Mobile: Personal Health Monitoring Takes Off. This isn’t about mobile phones: it’s about digital experiences integrated into everyday life. More consumers will have smart phones and tablets, and these devices will have more apps and more sensors that enable consumers to do more things wherever they go. We’ll see a surge of personal health monitors, such as Nike’s FuelBand and Sleep Cycle Alarm Clock. In 2014, health plans and health care providers will begin integrating these remote monitors into their offerings.
    ADVICE: To make these programs work, health care companies (plans and providers) will need to consider the end-to-end experience from initiation through ongoing use. These firms don’t typically have the expertise of designing into everyday life, so they should hire outside firms such as IDEO and Continuum to help shape these offerings.
  10. Mobile, Mobile, Mobile: Retail-Digital Integration. Mobile is such an important area that it generates two of the trends. Companies will increasingly integrate mobile into their product offerings and service experiences. They will integrate mobile with other channels, particularly focusing on combining desktop applications with mobile apps being used in physical stores. In 2014, every major retailer will need to have a strategy for putting customers’ mobile phones to use when they are in their stores.
    ADVICE: Retailers need to stop thinking about digital channels as an alternative to retail channels, and instead, embrace experiences across them. Create a cross-functional retail-digital task force to identify the best way to capitalize on the mobile habits of their shoppers.
  11. Software As an Experience Continues. The initial rise of cloud-based software (a.k.a. SaaS, or software-as-a-service) focused on renting access to software instead of the historical approach of selling licenses. That makes sense, considering that Net Promoter Scores for tech vendors are more correlated to customer experience than product performance. As cloud-based software expands, we’ll see these offerings cater more explicitly to the needs of customers. How? More simple, highly focused, specialized applications (like smart phone apps), more focus on quick initial usability, more sharing of best practices (usage, not technical), and customization based on behavioral analysis of users.
    ADVICE: Start measuring how your customers use the software and use these measures to identify what drives happy and renewing customers (as well as unhappy customers). Use what you learn to help customers gain more value from their software. This effort will require a shift in the focus of account management from sales and enrichment to success and renewal.
  12. Resurgence of Purpose. As more companies push forward on their CX journeys, they’ll find that there’s nothing holding their efforts together. The desire to improve customer experience will fall victim to other priorities if the effort is not tied to the core values of the company. But many organizations focus intently on their operations that they’ve lost sight of their raisons d’être. I expect more companies to articulate and recommit to a core set of values like those of Zappos and Whole Foods, customer promises like that of TNT Express, and mission statements like that of the Dallas Cowboys.
    ADVICE: Check out one of the principles of People-Centric Experience Design, Align Through Purpose.
  13. CX Certification Accelerates CX Education. The Customer Experience Professionals Association will be launching its Certified Customer Experience Professional (CCXP) certification in 2014. This industry-wide certification will help solidify the role of a customer experience professional and create demand for more CX training. In 2014, look for a surge in companies offering CX training aligned with the categories in the CCXP test.
    ADVICE: If you’re a CX professional with at least three years of experience, consider going for your CCXP certification.
  14. The Rise of “Empathy.” As companies increasingly focus on customer experience in 2014, they will recognize that their organizations lack a deep understanding and appreciation for their customers. It’s not a flaw in the people, just a natural result of an internal focus on day-to-day operations. In 2014, we’ll hear more executives talking about the need to build “empathy” for customers, making “empathy” THE CX word for 2014.
    ADVICE: Check out one of the principles of People-Centric Experience Design, Guide With Empathy.

The bottom line: I hope that 2014 is a great year for CX within your organization!

A&W Canada Sparks Customer Empathy With Real-Time Feedback

I recently had a discussion with Nancy Wuttunee, Senior Director Operating Excellence at A&W Food Services of Canada, about a new feedback system the company is using in its restaurants. The approach is a great example of Guiding with Empathy, one of the principles of People-Centric Experience Design (PCxD).

A&W Canada uses a vendor named Benbria to help it collect feedback via in-store kiosks and a mobile app, displaying the results in real time to employees behind the counter. Customers are asked to give a thumbs-up or thumbs down to three questions:

  • Was your food hot and tasty?
  • Was the service fast and friendly?
  • Was the restaurant clean?


Wuttunee is very encouraged by the results of the system, which was initially piloted at six company-owned stores in Ottawa, and is now in 50 locations and is being rolled out to all of its 800 restaurants. She told me “We’re calling it “Guest Connect,” and that’s what it’s giving to us. The front room employees already have the conversations, but this lets the kitchen stay focused on the guest experience as well.”

One of the surprises that Wuttunee described is that the stores get a lot more thumbs-up than thumbs-down. Unlike normal feedback sources that are often negatively based, this system captures a lot of positive sentiment. So the company built a culture that welcomes a thumbs-down as an opportunity to use the information for improvement.

Here’s what intrigued me about A&W Canada’s approach to sparking customer empathy:

  • A simple real-time scorecard. Customers are asked to rate three things and the number of thumbs ups and thumbs down are listed on the board for employees to see. There’s no trending or advanced analytics, employees can see how customers are viewing their efforts in an ongoing way­­—and use their judgment in making adjustments. The scoreboard is reset at the beginning of each day.
  • No goals or incentives. Companies often jump at the opportunity to slap incentives on every customer measurement, but A&W Canada has resisted the temptation. There are no specific goals attached to these scores, they are just used for employees to understand the experiences of their customers.
  • Behind the scenes management. The daily data feeds aren’t just forgotten, as management receives daily reports. Data and trends are analyzed to spot potential issues at specific stores or during specific shifts as well as to identify successful stores that might have practices worth sharing.
  • Consistency with the overall culture. Wuttunee explained that, “A&W Canada has a climate in the restaurant where employees feel valued and feel like they are members of a team.” So this program is not an isolated “gimmick” to engage employees. The company has an extensive focus on employee engagement, which is demonstrated in its “Climate Goals,” the following seven behaviors that the company believes are required to achieve its mission:

1) I constantly find ways to create an excellent and delightful experience for each of our guests.
2) We listen to understand each other.
3) I invite and share feedback that enables us to improve.
4) I embrace change and actively support innovation.
5) We work together as partners pursuing common goals and shared success.
6) We use our differences as a source of creativity and learning.
7) I recognize and celebrate our big and small wins.

The bottom line: Help employees hear the voice of your customers

PCxD Principle #2: Guide with Empathy

I recently introduced a concept for enlisting the support of employees that uncovers and fulfills the needs of customers that we call People-Centric Experience Design (PCxD), defined as:

Fostering an environment that creates positive, memorable human encounters


Principle #2: Guide with Empathy

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “empathy” as “the ability to imagine oneself in another’s place and understand the other’s feelings, desires, ideas, and actions.” It turns out that most people have an innate ability to be empathetic. While people may want to help others, they are—as we describe in the Six Laws of Customer Experience—self-centered, naturally viewing the world and making decisions based on their internal perspective.

As employees, people tend to have a unique frame of reference which often includes a deeper than average understanding of their company’s products, organizational structure, and operating processes. If left unchecked, decisions will reflect this frame of reference, leading to products and interactions that often don’t meet the needs of customers who have less interest and less insight into these details of the company.

Organizational dynamics add another barrier to empathy. While a typical customer interaction cuts across many functional groups (a single purchase, for instance, may include contact with decisions by product management, sales, marketing, accounts payable, and legal organizations), companies push employees to stay focused on their functional areas. This myopic view is often reinforced by incentives focused on narrow domains, which creates a chasm between empathy and personal success.


Here are some ideas for guiding with empathy:

  • Refer to customers as people, not data. Your data may show that your average customer is 57% female, have 1.7 children, own 1.3 cars, and lives 62% in the suburbs, but that does not describe any real person. To spark empathy, it’s important to talk about customers in a way that employees can relate to them. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan created three “Design Personas” (Mike, Grace, and Lisa) that provide a “face” to key customer segments. Using a self-guided layout and navigation, employees were taken through these customer persona scenarios, exposed to their pain points, and informed of new and ongoing improvement initiatives.
  • Examine your customer’s journey. To overcome siloed internal perspectives, examine how customers go about their lives and just happen to interact with you. This requires qualitative (often ethnographic) research with your target customers. Companies often use customer journey maps to capture this information. These artifacts can help employees across different roles and functions to understand how customers perceive the company. Genworth Financial reviews customer journey maps as part of its new employee onboarding process.
  • Discuss customer feedback…often. Don’t just examine customer feedback on a monthly or quarterly basis; embed it into your day-to-day activities. Every day, prior to the start of their shift, Apple retail employees get together and review feedback from clients who had recently interacted with the store. This daily huddle keeps customers’ needs top of mind.
  • Spread customers’ actual words. There’s something powerful about hearing what customers are thinking in their own voice. Charles Schwab organizes verbatims by themes and topics and then puts them in the hands of the appropriate people across the company. The result: thousands of people read the verbatims including every branch and call center team. Adobe created a Customer Listening Post, which is an immersive room where executives and employees across the company can listen to live calls and review chats with customers.
  • Assume that customers will be confused. After spending many hours per week talking about their company’s products, processes, and organization during work, employees are naturally prone to expect customers to have that same level of understanding. They don’t. This situation often leads to language and processes that customers find confusing. Since this is a natural bias, it can’t be eliminated. However, it can be neutralized if you get into the habit of asking the question: “Would our target customers fully understand this?” Cigna used this concept to drive its “Words We Use” campaign to eliminate confusing language in all of its customer communications.
  • Raise awareness of customer’s emotional state. You can raise empathy by encouraging employees to think about how they make customers feel. Every time a customer interacts with your company, they have a range of emotional reactions. We’ve identified five distinct emotions: angry, agitated, ambivalent, appreciative, and adoring. Why not have your front line employees keep a checklist for identifying which of the five emotions customers have after an interaction. This can be a valuable coaching tool.
  • Empower random acts of kindness. Create an environment that encourages employees to go out of their way for customers. Ritz-Carlton entrusts every single staff member, without approval from their general manager, to spend up to $2,000 on a guest. Disney trains its staff on a program called Take Five. Cast members (employees) are expected to take five minutes from their normal daily duties to do something special for their guests; they call it being aggressively friendly.

The bottom line: Unleash your employees’ natural empathy

Don’t Rely On Empathy

Last week, New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote an Op-Ed piece called The Limits of Empathy. He argues that empathy doesn’t really affect how people act. It’s an interesting article. Here’s an excerpt:

“Empathy makes you more aware of other people’s suffering, but it’s not clear it actually motivates you to take moral action or prevents you from taking immoral action… Empathy is a sideshow. If you want to make the world a better place, help people debate, understand, reform, revere and enact their codes...”

My take: Let’s assume that Brooks’ observations are correct. They still do not discount the importance of empathy with customers and within an organization. Even if empathy is not a significant motivator for a person’s actions, it still has an impact on the people who experience someone else’s empathy.

A strong implication of his thesis, which I totally endorse, is that companies can’t rely on empathy from employees to drive their actions. I often say that heroes don’t scale; you can’t rely on employees to do things just out of the goodness of their hearts.

One of my 6 Laws Of Customer Experience is that employees do what is measured, incented, and celebrated. If company’s don’t create an environment that is conducive to providing good customer experience, then even the most empathetic employees will stop delivering great customer experience, or they will just leave the company. People tend to conform to their surroundings.

The bottom line: Empathy alone is not sufficient

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