Walking a Mile in Their Shoes: The Customer Journey for Empathy-Building
Here at EX Squared, we talk about empathy a lot. (You may have noticed.) Our core philosophy revolves around the idea that behind every data point, impression, download or customer ID there’s a real human being, with a unique blend of needs, desires, fears, likes and dislikes, habits and preferences.
At the same time, people fundamentally share the biology and psychology that shapes and influences how we perceive and interact with the world around us. Some of us might love cats, and some of us might love dogs (and some of us might be wildly allergic to both and prefer the company of a goldfish) – but we all love something, crave companionship and the meaning we get from those relationships.
This shared humanity is what makes empathy possible, and such a powerful tool: because we are people, we get other people. The specifics might differ, but the essence of each of us is inherently knowable. Once we apprehend the underlying human drive, we can comprehend the individual and their actions. I might not understand why you prefer strawberry to the obviously superior chocolate…but I have no problem grokking why you like dessert.
Nerdy aside: The recent highly publicized spate of comical (and not-so-comical) ChatGPT AI experiments serves to underline how critical real empathy is in delivering to customer expectations. To be human remains a key advantage when it comes to dealing with other humans. (For now, at least.)
WE’RE ALL THE SAME…AND WE’RE ALL UNIQUE SNOWFLAKES
How does a company wrap its head around this infinite, teeming mass of humanity, to get to the brass tacks basics of selling their product? How can you deeply engage with a million singular points of view – without a million EYES on a million Macbooks?
The go-to marketing tool for coming to grips with this multitude is the customer persona, a fictional avatar representing a specific segment of your potential customers. Based on standard ‘target audience’ demographic data, a persona adds detail and personalization to create what feels like a Real Person. Having an “actual” person in mind when developing products or marketing campaigns triggers that innate empathy we feel for other humans, ensuring we engage more authentically and produce better results. A generic “Head of Engineering, male, 35-5” may or may not vibe with your email subject line; “Josh: Digital Nomad Brogrammer, prioritizes novelty and experience, tech savvy, invested in crypto” will definitely mash that “How THIS New Tech Will Free You From the Cubicle Farm Forever” link.
As important as it is to understand the “who” and “why” of your customer base, that still leaves a lot of unanswered questions and uncharted territory – the What, When, Where and How. Those gaps are filled by mapping out their customer journey, an outline of the ideal path a potential customer takes from total ignorance of your brand, to first purchase, to (hopefully!) undying loyalty. Mapping the customer journey clarifies how your customers experience all of the different aspects of your brand. A thoughtful map will help identify key touch-points that enable meaningful customer engagement – and critical pain-points that can drive customers away.
Keep in mind, however, the map is not the territory. While the customer journey map is a useful tool, rare is the customer that follows the idealized path from beginning to end. A customer might leap-frog from first point of contact – seeing an online ad, perhaps – directly to buying. Another potential customer might seem to be on an endless carousel of reading your content, watching your videos – but never moving past that point to action. Instead of a linear path, the journey is more like a game of chutes and ladders, with customers moving between touch-points in unpredictable ways, sometimes jumping forward, sometimes circling back – sometimes leaving the path altogether.
This is where a deep, intuitive sense of empathy for your customers is so important. Why might a customer circle back, or seem to get stuck at a specific stage? What is that data telling you? What can you do to move them forward on the journey, or return them to the path if they stray? Your customer journey map should identify all of the possible experiences and points of contact a potential buyer will have with your brand, but it is up to the individual to determine when and how – and if! – they engage at certain points. The customer will ultimately choose their own adventure, and assemble their own messy collage of brand interactions. The better you understand the who and the why, the more strategic and successful you can be in affecting the “what” of engagement and buying.
SOURCE YOUR CUSTOMER INSIGHTS FROM UNEXPECTED PLACES
Personas and a map of the customer journey are great tools – if they’re built on real data and insight. In a recent piece for the Business and Financial Times, Kojo Manuel highlights the importance of building your customer journey map on evidence, gathered from multiple sources, instead of relying on conjecture. While market research and data analysis provide heaps of useful information, there are other, often overlooked, sources of critical customer insight.
One of the richest seams of potential customer knowledge is your own staff. As Kojo Manuel points out, your employees – both those dealing with customers directly and those building and administering the systems that support them – have a unique and invaluable perspective on the customer’s journey, key touch-points and pain points. Who better understands customer frustrations than the Service Rep getting an earful of vented spleen every day? Make sure you tap into this vital source of qualitative customer insight, instead of relying solely on quantitative data and metrics.
Furthermore, the employee experience and journey is itself helpful in understanding and enhancing the customer’s journey. As Mr. Manuel puts it, “the employee’s journey in the company […] must be satisfying for the average employee, such that there is a high level of commitment to the company’s cause.” Happy, knowledgeable employees “ensure the customer agenda is integrated with the company’s day-to-day operations seamlessly.”
Mining all of these sources of insight, both the usual suspects and the unexpected, help build a comprehensive picture of your customers, leading to the kind of deep, “intuitive” understanding necessary for ensuring engagement and developing brand loyalty. But identifying all these sources of insight, collecting the information, and most critically, correctly interpreting the data can present another major obstacle to many organizations. Drowning in this flood of overwhelming detail, many brands fall back on easy assumptions and conjecture. That’s when it’s time to bring in the experts.
LEVEL UP WITH EX SQUARED
EX Squared is perfectly positioned to help you evolve your customer engagement model. Our focus on the Whole Product Experience means we look at your brand and customers holistically – from entry to exit and beyond. We understand that nothing happens in a vacuum, that each aspect of your brand plays a part in shaping the overall customer experience.
Most importantly, we think about the humans behind the data.
If you’re ready to create meaningful engagement with your customers, it’s time to dig deeper with EX Squared. Imagining, building and evolving whole digital products that people love is what we do.