Designing for Empathy
Empathy is one of those slippery concepts. We can agree that it’s much needed in customer experience – especially as society moves from one crisis to another. But can we agree on what it means? More importantly, can we measure it?
We recently asked a group of clients to do just that – to score their business on a scale of 1 to 10 for how empathetic it is. We discovered that ratings ranged between 3 and 8 amongst clients from the same business. Each was focused on a different set of variables, and that resulted in different scores.
If we can’t agree on a definition, and a way to measure, our best efforts could go to waste, as we pull in different directions. Achieving good things requires more than just good intentions. What’s needed is foundational thinking, stakeholder alignment, and effective planning. As practitioners of user-centered design, we might argue that we already have that, through such tools as customer interviews and empathy mapping. As designers, we use “empathy” as a shorthand term for the process of understanding a customer’s needs and desires. So far so good.
The question is, how does the customer receive empathy their end? We may feel sufficiently brimming with empathy for them, but how do we ensure that we manifest it in the customer experience itself?
In other words, we are “Designing with Empathy”, and we embrace an empathetic mindset in the design process – but how can we evolve our practices so we are “Designing for Empathy”? Just as we focus on usable, useful, accessible, and delightful experiences, how can we now ensure we are creating “Empathetic Experiences”?
Creating an Empathy Framework
Previous work in usability informs our path ahead. On its own, “Usable” is as vague a term as “Empathetic”. To actually make something usable relies on us having developed an understanding of the various heuristics or dimensions of usability. And we can only compare the usability of prototypes or track improvements in live sites because we have a standardised tools that allow us to measure across samples and over time.
What is required then, is a structured and actionable empathy framework, that allows us to measure across dimensions, and to make concrete and detailed recommendations. Using insights gathered over many years of practice, findings generated from our recent cost of living survey, and drawing inspiration from similar models and tools, this is what we have been working on at Nimbletank.
To begin, we sketched out a definition of empathy, as understanding and feeling another person’s suffering, having both a cognitive and emotional component. Any framework we created needed to facilitate analysis via both of these dimensions.
Next, we considered empathy as an experience. This implies an interaction between two parties, in this case, an organisation and their customer, typically with the customer reaching out with a request for their needs to be met. We identified key points in this interaction – before, during, and after connection – and considered the emotional and cognitive dimensions that occur at each. The before and after are essential for effective and demonstrative empathy. If an organisation is not seen as empathetic then a customer will be less likely to reach out in their time of need. Likewise, however kindly the interaction itself is, if the organisation cannot adequately respond by fulfilling that need, then it falls short of being truly empathetic.
Combining these results in the Nimbletank Empathy Framework:
From Principles to Practice – The Empathy Audit
On its own, the Framework is already a valuable new tool that allows us to analyse customer experiences through the lens of empathy. But at this level, it can be tricky to use it to produce detailed design recommendations. That’s why we’ve gone further, to build on the Framework to produce the Nimbletank Empathy Audit.
Within the Empathy Audit, each Moment contains four Principles, each Principle contains four Best Practices, which (with four bonus global Best Practices) gives us a 100 point tool. Using the Audit to conduct an expert review, we can measure empathy across the customer experience, provide concrete and actionable recommendations, and track improvements over time. Designed to provide guidance rapidly, The Empathy Audit can be undertaken with scores, findings, and opportunities presented back within two weeks.
If you’d like to know more about the Nimbletank Empathy Framework, Empathy Audit, or to discuss your customer experience challenges in general, please get in touch.
Call us on: +44 20 3828 6440