Empathy: A Mile in Their Shoes

Jan 15

Written by Aaron Clutts

A woman’s internet goes out, forcing her on hold for hours with the provider in hopes of restoring service. While on the phone, she is bombarded with recordings that suggest she log onto the provider’s website to expedite the process.

A family can’t get their Christmas lights up because the extension cord’s prongs – one skinny, one fat – don’t fit into the holes of the light strings they just purchased.

A political candidate mails out several large, glossy postcards every week to remind voters that their most important concerns on election day should be green initiatives and sustainability.

What do these three situations have in common – besides high levels of irritation? They have zero empathy for the end user.

On a grand scale, empathy means to understand and share the feelings of others. Often empathy gets mixed up with sympathy. The latter cares how you feel while the former feels along with you. I’m not here to bemoan the lack of hugs and greeting cards in the workplace but it’s imperative we understand all angles of customer experience.

Companies spend billions of dollars making sure you see and hear their messaging. They have the fastest this and the most powerful that. They rely on expensive data so they can plaster quarterly PowerPoints with pie charts and bar graphs. They like to think they know what you want. Somewhere along the line the importance of user experience between their product and the customer gets lost in the shuffle.

As a creative, part of my job is figuring out how the shoe feels on the other foot. And how it looks. And how easy it was to buy. And so on. This needs to happen on all levels of interaction beyond color and font selection. We must ask who is seeing it. When will they see it? Are they supposed to do something after seeing it? Are we prepared if they do call or email us about it?

We can’t know what everyone is thinking at every moment, but we can do our best to walk through the experience a customer will have before, during, and after they come in contact with us and our brand.

Or, we can leave it to chance, cross our fingers, and hope the customer who was on hold all day doesn’t flood the internet with negative reviews. Let’s choose preemptive actions instead.