Health IS Technology Blog

Empathy Maps for Improving Customer Satisfaction

Collaboration empathy maps

In any product production, be that websites, educational materials, or lipstick, consumer research is absolutely vital. If developers don’t know who their consumers are, they have no way of knowing what type of products they want and need. One of the best ways of generating this knowledge of consumers is through empathy maps. Daniel Hutcherson, designer at IBM Cloud Garage Method, in a video about empathy maps described the motivations behind this research as this:

“Incorporating design research into our method helps us really connect to these people that we’ve never met before, these people that we’re designing for. But to change someone’s life for the positive, you really need to get to know that user.”


What Exactly are Empathy Maps?

Empathy maps are tools that teams use to understand their customers better, and thus create more user friendly products. Oftentimes, the map is assembled on a whiteboard with team members each writing down their ideas on Post It notes and sticking them up onto the board. The most common layout for an empathy map is an image that stems out into six sections. Like the one above. Here is another example:

USF Empathy Map

USF green and gold not required, but you can never have too much green and gold. On the map the team works together to answer the following questions about their customers:

  • What do they SEE? What’s happening around them?
  • What do they SAY? To colleagues, friends, their boss?
  • What do they DO? What’s their attitude and behavior?
  • What do they FEEL? What are common emotions they experience?
  • What do they HEAR? What do their friends, boss, family and others say?
  • What do they THINK? What are they worried about? What do they want to achieve?

It’s ideal that every single team member present adds at least one idea to each question. Of course, the more ideas the merrier! Once every question has been discussed, each team member should share any insights the exercise provided. This is also a great way to bubble up hypothesis or ideas about customers that may be worthy of deeper research.

Let’s run through a quick empathy map together:

Let’s say we work at YouTube, and our team is in charge of the official YouTube Music channel.

YouTube Music Channel

The first thing we want to do is come up with a persona of the customer demographic we’re catering to in this exercise. Our customer is Susanne. She’s a twenty-year-old college student. She works part time at her school’s bookstore and lives on campus. Next, we need to brainstorm what Susanne, our customer, might be thinking or feeling when she navigates to our channel. Here is what I write on my sticky notes:

  • Thinking “Did the new Kesha music video come out yet?”
  • Feeling stressed over classwork and hoping for a break with some tunes

Next, we brainstorm what Susanne hears while she’s on our channel.

  • A nearby friend’s asks that she play his favorite singer’s new song
  • The sound of people partying or talking in the background

Then, we need to look at what Susanne might be seeing around her:

  • A party scene or group of friends
  • An office or study room

And so on. Doing this exercise will force us to think about what our target customer wants from our channel, and how we do better to meet their needs. Stepping outside of the process and trying to see it from their perspective as it evolves over time, also brings us back to a customer-oriented approach.


How do Empathy Maps Make a Difference?

There is a term used in agile organizations called the “MVP”. This stands for “minimum viable product“. The MVP is “a new product or website that is developed with sufficient features to satisfy early adopters. The final, complete set of features is only designed and developed after considering feedback from the product’s initial users,” (Techopedia). Teams who engage in empathy mapping, though, know the importance of understanding their minimum viable audience just as much as finding their MVP.

CopyBlogger explains that to have an MVA, you need the following:

  • You’re growing your audience organically thanks to social media sharing among existing audience members and earned media
  • You’re receiving enough feedback from comments, emails, social networks, and social media news sites in order to adapt and evolve
  • You’re gaining enough insight into what the audience needs to solve their problems or satisfy their desires beyond any free education

All of the above points that lead to an MVA will help you to understand your audience better. Focusing on the customer before focusing on the product produces much more user-friendly results. The customer will always be able to tell if something was created with them in mind or not. That’s why empathy maps are so important: they make sure that developers, designers, and other team members are all thinking about the customers in human terms, not monetary ones. Dr. James Patell of the Stanford design school describes it as thus: “We must fill in two blanks: Our users need a better way to ___ BECAUSE ___. The because portion is a big deal.”


What Comes After the Empathy Mapping?

Once the team has finished with the empathy mapping collaboration, there is still work to be done. No one can ever know too much about their customers; there is always more research to be conducted. Teams should continue keeping track of their customers’ reactions to their products and how they change over time. No matter how teams have conducted their customer research in the past, there is no situation where empathy mapping won’t improve the process.

Have you ever created or used empathy maps? Are you interested in trying? Let us know on our Facebook page!