Using Empathy to Improve the Customer Journey

May 15, 2015

Empathy is key to improving the customer journey, but to develop it we need to get as close as we can to directly experiencing what users, themselves, experience.

Albert Wenger of Union Square Ventures recently wrote a great post stressing the importance of empathy in creating an excellent product experience. Wenger argues that in order to establish empathy and truly understand their customers’ frustrations and emotions, companies must actually observe customers using their products and / or use their own products internally on a regular basis.

While both sound like no-brainers, doing either is actually harder than it sounds.

Even if you pull in a few random users into artificial environments that simulate real-life scenarios, you’ll fail to capture the full picture. For one, that model isn’t repeatable as your company grows and you need to test three, four, or five products at twenty iterations each. More importantly, product demos isolate the customer journey into a task or set of features rather than a drama filled with outside pressures and distractions.

Our Current View into a User’s Experience is Incomplete

Companies fail to realize that the product or task is secondary to a customer’s life, unpredictable encounters, family, friends, etc. The question needs to broaden from, “How does the customer use my product” to “How does my product fit within someone’s chaotic life and needs at that moment?”

Picture a Nordstrom patron who orders via mobile app for an in-store pickup. Simply understanding the customer’s experience with the application’s features excludes half the story and wouldn’t take into account things like a mother dealing with two annoyed sons when picking up her product from Nordstrom, or frustration that arises when she realizes the product was shipped to the wrong store.

In a separate example, imagine a businesswoman returning from a 15-hour flight from Asia who requests an Uber to comfortably bring her home. It’s crucial to take into account her exhaustion and lack of patience, her interaction with the driver, and her elation after the first sip of water she pulls from the drop-down cup holder of the Black Car.

Developing a Window into the Full Customer Journey

Coincidentally, I first opened and read Albert’s post on my phone right after walking out of a meeting with Mike Mace, VP of Mobile Marketing at UserTesting (an OpenView portfolio company). Mike and I had spent the past hour discussing a new UserTesting product that combines customer mobile screen recording with mobile video capture to grasp the entire customer experience, so you can imagine how deeply this post resonated with me.

Companies these days solely depend on A/B testing to quantify customer preferences and drive goals related to conversion, engagement, transactions, etc. Data-supported decision making is critical but not enough. All sectors, not just quickly-scaling tech companies, need to also spend more time understanding their customers’ frustration and contextual implications on product experience. Simply put, the optimal customer experience can only be delivered If you couple A/B testing with an empathetic understanding.

That’s where UserTesting’s new product offering becomes important. To test a customer’s entire journey, a company can use UserTesting’s web/mobile screen recorder, listen to the user’s voice and see how that product fits into the customer’s life through the mobile camera. To get a better idea of how that works, see the video below:

Some software vendors build tools to boil your customers’ pain points down to a set of numbers in a spreadsheet. Numbers are important in setting and tracking goals, but to fully optimize all areas of your business, including product, marketing, operations, etc., you need to capture how your product fits within customers’ lives. That mentality is spread from a top-down level and should be implanted into both company and individual employee goals.

Photo by Matthew Wiebe

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