Key Steps to Build Customer Empathy

This is an excerpt from EffectiveUI’s white paper: 5 Ways to Transform the Patient Experience.

We have previously discussed the necessity for healthcare companies to evolve how they deliver care. Kristen Cromer’s “5 Ways to Transform the Patient Experience,” outlines key steps to successfully disrupt a company’s way of doing things to remain competitive in the ever-changing healthcare industry.

In the second installment of this series, “A Deep Dive into Knowing Your Patients/Customers and Designing for Them,” I discussed the value of customer/patient research and how insights can be used to inform business and design decisions.

This is the third installment of the series and focuses on the importance of building customer empathy. Moving forward in the disruption process, it is important to build customer empathy and understanding.

Key to creating a patient-centered company is providing leaders the needed tools to build customer empathy. Empathy — the ability to understand and share the feelings of others — is essential to successfully serving customers/patients. If leaders understand how and why customers feel what they do, then they are better equipped to solve customer problems and meet customer needs. Most importantly, it also allows leaders to understand how their daily decisions affect patients and customers.

After you conduct user research, an internal empathy-building campaign can help disseminate outputs from the research process. If you have not completed user research yet, building empathy is a great way for leaders to learn about customers/patients. Below are some empathy-building practices that have helped our clients.

Invite key players to observe customer interviews and contextual observations.

This provides all organizational units the opportunity to have firsthand experience and feedback from patients and customers. UX expert, Jared Spool has found that exposing key influencers to user research for two hours every six weeks produces a more user-focused process and better user experience. Aim for direct, face-to-face exposure during interviews or usability sessions. If face-to-face exposure is impossible, ensure that session recordings are available as soon as possible.

Share user personas and other outputs from the research process.

Make personas and journey maps accessible to all employees by placing them in work areas and conference rooms. Then encourage everyone to refer to them during meetings, conversations and daily work. Call personas by their names to remind everyone that they represent actual people with real stories. You can read more about how we create personas and journey maps as explained by EffectiveUI Lead Experience Architect, Ari Weissman.

Spend time with your customer service representatives.

Customer service team members know what customers/patients need more than anyone else at your organization. They spend their entire day solving customer/patient problems, so tap into their knowledge base to learn about the customer’s world and their perspective. Also, try to spend a few hours a month listening to support calls — here you can get a better viewpoint for how your product or service works in the real world.

These activities will build customer empathy and provide company leaders and employees with a common understanding of customer and patient needs. However, keep in mind that these activities must be part of an ongoing initiative to regularly build and update how your company understands the customer. Having regular empathy activities exposes employees to a variety of customer/patient experiences, showing them the big picture and helping them to identify major trends and patterns. Start small with one of these activities, get feedback from those who participate and then try another activity — you will be surprised by how quickly conversations and decisions become focused on solving customer problems.

About the Author

Riley Conrath is an experience planner who is passionate about understanding human interaction. She crafts and executes research projects alongside EffectiveUI’s clients to help them understand the needs, goals and motivations of their users and customers. While at EffectiveUI, she has worked with Fortune 500 companies and local Colorado businesses to uncover actionable insights and inform business strategy.

About EffectiveUI

This article first appeared on the EffectiveUI blog.

EffectiveUI is the go-to UX partner for high-technology companies, including industry leaders within aerospace and aviation, biotech and healthcare, consumer and industrial electronics, defense, energy, financial services, software and telecom. In making technology more useful, useable and desirable, we help our clients reinvent significant aspects of their business, from the experience they provide to customers, to the tools used to streamline operations, to the products brought to market. We work collaboratively with clients to solve complex business problems and drive transformation through four tightly integrated areas of expertise: user research and insight, digital strategy, UX design and UI development and integration. Learn more at

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