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Building Customer Empathy

The role of empathy in customer experience is an increasingly popular – and important factor – in how we understand and manage our customer relationships.  While this seems like inherently a very simple way to think about customer relationships, many of us don’t factor this into our strategies today.  For instance, a very large majority of companies out there today measure their performance from the customer’s perspective in a solicited way, often with a survey.  Think about the types of questions that are asked.  How did we do?  How well did we meet your expectations?  How can we improve?

Now, what if the company started to truly feel more empathetic to customers?  What if, even in a survey format, questions like “how did this experience make you feel?” were included?  What if a culture of customer empathy was built to drive the company to finally achieve the stated customer focused vision?  It truly is a game changer.

To understand how to build customer empathy in your organization, let’s first think about the definition.  Empathy means the psychological identification or experiencing of feeling, thoughts, or attitudes of another.  As CX professionals what this means is having awareness of what customer experience and feel when interacting with your products and services.  Listed below are a few recommended and fairly easy ways to start building customer empathy within your company:

  • Ethnographic research.  Until you go out and actually observe your customers using your products and services, you are looking at data to tell you how it works.  It can be very eye opening to observe this first hand, particularly if you have key leaders and decision makers participate.

  • Customer immersion rooms.  This is becoming a great way for a broader internal audience to understand the customer experience in a first-hand way.  Many companies are starting to use this technique, which involves setting up a room to include the various interaction points that customers use.  Examples are live customer service calls, customer portal views to use and try to accomplish tasks, invoices to review and reconcile, etc.

  • Sharing the customer journey.  Customer journey mapping is a popular way many companies today are trying to understand customer experiences.  The issue with many journey mapping activities is that after a map is created it just sits on a shelf somewhere.  Use these findings and maps to share broadly within your company how the customer currently experiences products and services, and ideally how they would like it to be.  Some companies also use customer journey maps as a regular part of employee trainings.

As customer empathy and emotion become more commonplace within the CX discipline, start to evaluate how you would grade your company on being customer empathetic.  Is it truly about the improving how the customer feels, or more about what the customer is doing for you? 

Do you have any examples of how you have effectively built customer empathy in your company?


Katie Kiernan

VP, Consulting Services

About the Author

Katie Kiernan

Katie works directly with a wide range of companies on the design and strategic deployment of customer strategy programs. She is especially trained to assist clients in translating customer intelligence into meaningful conclusions, providing recommendations, and developing action plans that will have a favorable business impact. Katie has been with Walker since 2000.

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