When starting a business or developing a new product/service, it is important to find out what your customers or employees think and feel about it. How can you better understand and map their thoughts and feelings? A useful tool which can help you put yourself in that customer's shoes is the empathy map. In this article we describe what an empathy map is, what its use is and how you can use the tool to your advantage.
You create an empathy map in order to better understand your target audience. It is a visual tool used to gain deep insight into the needs, conduct, attitudes, goals, motivations and desires of your (potential) end users.
Empathy maps and customer personae are two closely related concepts and are both part of the design-thinking process of putting users and their needs at the centre of solving a difficult problem.
A persona is a detailed description of an imaginary user of your service/product. In addition to the classic personal, demographic and sociographical characteristics, an empathy map takes you even deeper into the needs of customers and their behaviour towards your brand. So an empathy map is a great way to get to know your persona much better and make decisions based upon it.
By understanding the perception of your customers, you can accordingly organise your marketing and sales better and more effectively. You can improve upon that afterwards by mapping the entire customer journey and interactions with your brand, also known as "customer journey mapping", but more about that in another article.
The benefits of an empathy map
By getting to know your (potential) customers through and through:
- Make your value proposition better: that means that you offer customers solutions, the best or most advantageous product;
When starting your business, empathy maps are useful anyway to fill out the Business Model Canvas (enter customer segments). Empathy maps are also interesting in the conception of a new product/service/initiative and generally provide a better "user experience" (UX);
- Can you make decisions and improvements to a product/service which better reflects eventually what a user wants?
- Get a clear view of your customers' purchasing behaviour. And most importantly, regarding the ways you can influence that behaviour;
- Find more appropriate ways to reach customers;
- Can you build a better customer relationship?
- Can you create a customer-friendlier mindset or culture in the company because not only stakeholders but also all employees now better understand the "why" behind users' actions, choices and decisions. In addition, everyone sees at a glance the thoughts, feelings, and conduct of a user group and the key points are neatly summarised.
- Empathy maps are quick, approachable, and inexpensive to use
What does an empathy map look like?
Below is an example of a blank empathy map. As you can see, it puts the information together about your customer in 4 different compartments: what he says, does, thinks and feels.
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There are two typical cases in which an empathy map is useful: to get a general understanding about the type of customers, or to find out how your target audience reacts towards a specific situation, task or product/service.
Compartment 1: Think & feel
In this compartment you write down all the things the customer thinks and feels during the interview (in general) or while using your service or product (user research). So ask your client to think aloud during the interviews that precede the completion of the empathy map.
- In general, what are the motivations of your customer? What dreams or ambitions does he have? What are the goals in his life? What obstacles does he encounter? What does the customer feel good about? What does he feel bad about? Why?
- In user research: what does the customer think of your product/service (easy, difficult, unclear, etc.), what need does the person want to fill, what expectations does he have, how does he feel about the user experience? (impatient, worried, confused, happy, stupid etc.)
Pay special attention to the things that users don't want to say. Try to understand why they are hesitant to share something - are they insecure, self-conscious, polite, or afraid to tell you something? Also take into account subtle signals such as body language and the choice of words and the tone of voice.
Compartment 2: See
As a rule, finding out what the user can see generally involves a closer look at the environment in which the user lives. If the interview is about your product/service, you are collecting what the customer can literally see.
- In general: what is that person's daily environment like, what is his average day? How is the person's interaction with other people? In the family, with colleagues, with friends, with strangers?
- In a user survey: do all the features work? Does your product look neat and attractive? Where and when does he come into contact with the market in which you operate? What do they see happening in that market? What kind of changes can he see with similar companies/products?
Compartment 3: Say & Do
In this compartment you write down everything which your client says and does. Bear in mind any contradictions between what he says and does and elaborate upon them if you notice them.
Consider questions such as:
- In general: how does the person react to certain events? If he is late for an appointment? If he gets promoted or loses his job? How does he behave and does that behaviour change when in a different place? With other people?
- User research: what does the customer say and do when using your product/service? How does he actually proceed? What actions does he take? Which words does he use? Does he also use a competitor's products and why.
Compartment 4: Hear
Here you analyse to what extent the environment has an impact on the user.
Consider questions such as:
- which channels are influential (newspapers, TV channels, social media etc.)? Who can influence the person (family, friends, colleagues, bloggers, influencers, experts, media etc.)?
- What does he hear when he uses your service or product? Which questions will he be asked? What, for example, do his friends or colleagues say? or his boss? Of course, you should start from the relevant environments, according to your product/service.
Pains & gains
In the end, you can divide all the findings between the "pain" and "gain" categories. In "pain" (where is the pain?) you put the user's biggest frustrations and fears, the obstacles that he faced, the risks that scared him. In "gain" (what does the user want to achieve?) collect all the aspects that the user considers positive, as an advantage or success factor in order to achieve his goal. This gives you an overall view of your customer's experience and valuable information in order to improve the customer journey and experience.
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8 tips on filling out an empathy map
- First, determine the objective of the empathy map. Around which customer are you producing the thinking exercise? What do you want to find out and how do you want to influence the behaviour of this type of customer? So think about the main question which you want to ask this person regarding your product/service and then place it at the top of the map.
Make multiple empathy maps for different types of customers. This is how you map out multiple customer segments.
- Before completing an empathy map, you should gather all relevant research data. You base this information upon real data from quantitative and qualitative surveys, observations during in-depth interviews and behavioural analyses, satisfaction surveys, statistics, etc. So question and analyse real customers and don't rely upon your own assumptions and presuppositions.
- Don't do this on your own, but instead gather your team together for this exercise. Accordingly, there will be different perspectives. Don't hesitate to include any stakeholders (interested parties) as well. Then you will have the team and the stakeholders on the same page.
- Gather together the necessary materials (large sheets of paper or a whiteboard), coloured post-its and markers. You can sketch the map yourself (with a photo in the middle) or print examples from the many free templates available online.
Have the participants review all the survey data in advance so that they are already familiar with the data before beginning the actual "mapping".
- As for any brainstorming, provide a moderator, if necessary, who will be responsible for facilitating the work session. The moderator will have a neutral role, will not ask leading or suggestive questions, will not express his or her own opinions, and will ensure that everyone participates in the activity on an equal basis. It is important, however, that everyone can think for themselves first. So everyone writes their own post-its. Only when everyone is finished will the individual analyses be brought together by grouping and prioritising the post-its.
- Synthesise the customer needs and desires. Here you should preferably use verbs and not nouns, which are more likely to lead you to the definitions of the solutions. If necessary, consult the American psychologist Abraham Maslow's five layers of the hierarchy of needs in order to understand the underlying needs of your user and to determine which needs they wish to fulfil in the first place. Think about how your product or service can help fulfil some of those needs and based on what feelings or thoughts that person would purchase your product or service.
- Then show the empathy map to a number of (future) users. This way you can check the assumptions and observations or know that you need to investigate them further. Your (future) users can still answer any outstanding questions.
- Don't leave the empathy map hidden somewhere under the dust. Make it a large poster and make sure it hangs permanently in plain sight for team members.
The video below explains it all again in simple terms.
Use empathy maps whenever customer input is important. Often this is at the beginning of a new development, but also (again) halfway through the process in order to make any necessary adjustments.
Creating an empathy map is a great way to stop thinking in an organisational manner but work in a customer-oriented way. It can trigger a chain reaction which causes product requirements to change, product strategy to change, service delivery to become more efficient, etc.