Empathy Map — A guide to understand your customers by Really Good Innovation

Really Good Innovation
6 min readJan 15, 2021

‍What is user empathy?

User empathy is about seeing things from a user perspective.

Our understanding of things is limited by our own experiences. Trying to understand customers, with all their feelings, emotions and sensations helps us to build great value providing products and services for them. User empathy helps you to make decisions that benefit the customer and that they can identify with.

What is a customer empathy map?

An empathy map is a collaborative tool that, similar to the customer persona, helps to better picture your target user.

Compared to the persona, it is however even more focused on a deep understanding of the customer to empower the team’s work. Empathy mapping is all about being empathic and gaining insights into your target segment. How else would you be able to really understand your customers’ needs?

What does an empathy map look like?

Empathy map by Really Good Innovation

Customer empathy maps are often split into four quadrants or sectors, while newer versions mostly use six. The different sectors include what the user persona says, thinks, does, feels, hears and sees and thereby tries to dive deeply into the real user needs and find their pain points. For example, what is the real reason why people want a specific product? What is their deeper motivation?

The strong focus on empathy is the first step in design thinking and is key to improve any user experience.

The concept was originally developed by consultant Dave Gray, who also wrote the influential book “ Gamestorming”, where he gives great insights into how to communicate better and generate ideas.

You got it? But maybe you would like to see what a final result could look like? We found a beautiful example of a filled out empathy map here.

So how can you use this template to have an impact?

How to use the empathy map

‍1. Who is my customer and what is my goal?

The first thing you need to do is to sit together with your team members to clearly define who you want to focus on. The more clearly you can define that, the better. If you have no specific segment in mind yet, try to define a persona that describes generalized characteristics of your main customers.

After clearly defining your target customer, you also need to think about the goal that you want to achieve with this empathy map. If you are looking into product innovation, you might want to focus on other aspects as if you try to cross sell some of your services or enter a new market.

2. What do I need for an empathy map?

- Empathy map template / or draw yourself (print out as big as possible)
- Sticky notes
- Big markers
- A whiteboard (if available, otherwise a table or a wall and tape to attach the template)

3. How do I use the empathy map?

In order to apply the map and understand user behavior, we have to go outside and talk to our end users. Build empathy by understanding their daily routines, their habits and their thoughts. Observe them in their environment and listen closely to them in user interviews to obtain real data. Have the print out of the map available, as well as sticky notes and markers.

While diving into the template (detailed explanation below), write your findings on sticky notes, discuss them in the team and then put them on the map. Find overlapping learnings with your team members and cluster the notes into bigger themes. In the end, discuss new hypotheses you and your team have from the insights and talk about how you want to test them (btw. the test cards are a great tool for this!).

What can we observe?

The most obvious part in your user research is to look at what customers DO and SAY, as this can be directly observed. The two fields at the bottom are therefore filled out the quickest. By asking the right questions, you can listen to what the customers says about what they want, what they dislike and what they would absolutely pay for. Listen for specific keywords and write down quotes that could be important.

This can be combined with an observation of the behavior of customers (e.g. Where do customers go on the website? What articles do they click on? How long are they in my physical store?). Make small drawings or describe in a lot of detail what you observed about what people DO.

What do the customers perceive with their senses?

Next to the “saying” and “doing” perspectives, it is also relatively straightforward to find out what customers HEAR and SEE (left and right side of our empathy map). While it is possible to use observation as a possible tool to gain insights (e.g. observe what customers are looking at or what sounds they focus on), these quadrants are well addressed through interviews. What things that customers see and hear, influence their actions the most? Ask them about specific situations and let the user reflect on what they would focus most on with their senses.

What do customers think and feel?

To find out what customers THINK and FEEL (the upper two sections in our empathy map), you need to be very open to get to know them. Ask them how they feel in specific situations and let them tell stories without Interrupting them. Ask for example “when was the last time you did…”. Also, ask follow up questions like “What did you feel in that situation? What did you think? What struck you as surprising?” By focusing on storytelling and letting them guide the conversation, you will gain many insights that are incredibly valuable for your business.

Empathy map template

This empathy map template was designed by Really Good Innovation, so you can directly print it, or use it as inspiration to draw your own empathy map.

Empathy Map by Really Good Innovation

Of course, you can also add dimensions or leave some out. The key aspect when using this tool is to understand customers from different angles and get a picture from their point of view that is as complete as possible. It is thereby also important to let the user guide the conversation. If they want to talk more about their feelings than about what they see and hear, let them and ask follow up questions. If one part of the map is empty at the end, don’t worry. Just ask yourself: Do I really understand this person? And what are the implications of this for my business?

Key takeaways

Why to use the empathy map?

We are often so much caught up in our own assumptions and see the world from a very subjective perspective. In order to build real value for users, we need to be able to look at things with different eyes.

This is where the empathy map comes into play. By observation and interviewing, we want to find out what customers see, hear, say, do, think and feel. Use a template and sticky notes to capture the findings.

Why do you need the empathy map to innovate?

Innovation is all about combining existing knowledge in a value creating way. In order to do that however, it is crucial that you have a deep understanding of your target customer. Without this knowledge, your new products will not provide the value that you intend and your market expansions might not work out the way you imagined.

Spend some time to clearly define your customer and then use the empathy map to engage in a deep conversation with the people you want to do business with.

Check out other innovation tools, templates or book recommendations on www.reallygoodinnovation.com

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Originally published at https://www.reallygoodinnovation.com.



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