The Most Complete Guide to 6-Part Customer Empathy Maps, Ever

The customer empathy map

In the working world, diagrams are some of our best friends–tools like customer empathy maps, process diagrams, and fault trees organize our thinking and perfect our business strategies.

Mind maps are intuitive, and you can learn more about fault trees here, so today we’ll be talking about customer empathy maps and the steps you can take to build one that’s legitimately useful.

To understand what a customer empathy map is, you have to know what a buyer persona is, too.

So… what’s a buyer persona?

Lean back in your chair for a second and visualize the ideal customer for your business, service, or product.

  • What do they do all day?
  • What factors do they consider in their buying process?
  • What are their key goals in relation to the products you’re offering?

(For example you sell reasonably-priced nonstick cooking pans, and Dave Cook is the head chef of a small kitchen who wants to buy nonstick pans–perfect, eh?).

Depending on the size of your business, you may already have great buyer personas.

But you might also not have any at all. And if that’s the case, then today is going to be a good day–the customer empathy map is a souped-up, fire-flower-boosted buyer persona diagram.

Why do we need buyer personas?

  • Do you already use buyer personas in your business?
  • Not sure if you want to make customer empathy maps?
  • Have you been doing fine without buyer personas and customer empathy maps, and are you wondering if they’ll be useful?

We know time is an investment, and we’ll be honest–creating these maps takes time.

Don’t believe us?

You can track it all with Toggl–some buyer persona projects take days or even weeks.

No matter what you sell, it’s important to know exactly who is using your product.

The best kind of product design always, always, always keeps your customers in mind–when you’re thinking about new features and design elements, they should definitely be considered.

Keeping them in mind will improve your product and maximize its usefulness.

Buyer personas help you answer these questions:

  • Who is my ideal customer, and what are their demographics?
  • What are their current behavior patterns?
  • What are their needs and goals?
  • What do they value (ex. efficiency, convenience, price, quality, etc.)?

The answers you glean will affect your marketing strategy.

If your product is a budget toolset, then your ideal customers are cost-conscious shoppers who don’t care about design.

Your marketing strategy would focus more on the set’s value-for-price rather than on its beautiful, sleek minimalism (learn more about perfecting your marketing strategies with the 4 P’s).

The purpose of marketing is to win over customers and, ultimately, to sell to them.

And in order to sell to customers, you need to present your products as the solutions to problems they’re having. Brainstorming about these customer archetypes helps you 1) identify their problems and pain points 2) build a tailored marketing strategy and 3) sell awesomely.

What’s the difference between an empathy map and a buyer persona?

Buyer personas are one-page documents that cover the basics of your customer’s personality. Empathy maps are more intense, more complex, and more incisive. They rarely fit on one sheet of paper.

And what’s a customer empathy map?

Don’t confuse empathy for sympathy: empathy is where you feel and share someone’s feelings, attitudes, and experiences. You relate to them on a human level.

Sympathy, on the other hand, is when you feel sorry for their troubles.

With that knowledge, a customer empathy map is a tool that helps you connect to your ideal customers. Used right, it helps you craft products that truly enrich their lives.

In the past, companies have focused on selling their products to customers, choosing to do research on how they can earn money from their targeted customer segments.

Whether the customer liked the product or not was not important; all that mattered was making sure they bought it.

In comparison, a customer-centric approach requires businesses to address customer aspirations and solve problems for them.

Other benefits of customer empathy maps:

  • PDF buyer personas aren’t quickly customizable. Movable modules are much easier to fix, edit, and change.
  • CEMs provide greater connections and increase your company’s emotional intelligence.
  • Unlike buyer personas, where one person usually works on and finishes it, CEMs encourage collaboration.
  • CEMs allow people to experiment with their visual creativity.

As we build a marketing strategy, we face dangerous cognitive biases that trick us into stereotyping our customers. Mind-reading your target segment is never a good idea: what you think they want is often different from what they actually want.

Ultimately, working based on perceptions is unproductive and dangerous–instead of winning Princess Peach’s heart, you’ll lose her to Bowser.

That’s why you’ll need to do some in-depth research about the customers that make up your user base. They help you stay honest with yourself so that you don’t accidentally punch your own strategy in the face.

So, what is a customer empathy map made of?

Insects have six legs, and customer empathy maps also have… six… legs?

Okay, kind of. Here’s what an empathy map looks like:

A bug with five legs wouldn’t be an insect, and an empathy map that’s missing one of these six sections can’t be called an empathy map.

Here are the six parts ya need:f

  1. How the customer thinks and feels
  2. What the customer hears (how they are influenced)
  3. What the customer sees
  4. What the customer says and does
  5. Their gains
  6. Their pains

#1 How does your customer think and feel?

What preoccupies Princess Peach’s thoughts when she’s wandering around the castle, or when she’s shopping for a new race car? How do different products make her feel, and what inspires her to whip out her credit card?

This section points the laser on your buyer’s feelings, so you’ll need to stalk research your buyer’s emotions and connect them with your product’s features.

  • How does Princess Peach react to ___________?
  • What are her fears?
  • What are her aspirations?
  • What are Princess Peach’s core values?
  • What values are always on her mind?
  • What is her thought process?
  • Does she make decisions based on impulse, or through careful analysis of each option?
  • What words inspire different emotions in her heart?
  • What is her overarching life philosophy?
  • Does she believe that life is fair, or unfair?
  • What are her other thoughts about life in general?

#2 What do they hear?

This section isn’t about the kind of music your ideal customer hears–unless, maybe, you’re Spotify or iTunes.

We get advice–usually unwanted–all. the. time.

And chances are, your customers do too. Constantly.

They get advice and recommendations from their friends, their college classmates, their teachers, their parents, their ex, their obnoxiously nosy second-aunts-twice-removed, the people they follow on Instagram…. *phew*. Suffice to say, most buyers are influenced by the people around them.

This section aims to solve the mystery of whose advice matters the most, and how that advice reaches them.

  • Who influences Princess Peach?
  • Is she more persuaded by her coworkers, her friends, or her family?
  • Does she listen to her family and friends when they make suggestions?
  • What does she trust the most? A broadcast on Nintendo TV, a comparison website, an online forum like Reddit, or a Facebook group?
  • Do certain channels of communication inspire more trust than others?
  • What kind of things does she hear at work?

Knowing how information arrives in your customer’s life will help you send the right messenger.

#3 What does your customer see?

Bowser’s castle is a spooky place. Just look at it:

Dark, drab colors? The ominous mouth-shaped entrance gate? The bolt of lightning illuminating the night? The fact that EVERYTHING IS ON FIRE???

All of these design elements convey one thing: that you shouldn’t mess with the castle, and you probably shouldn’t even go inside.

Like, at all.

Your company’s design elements will build a persona for your brand in your own customers’ minds, so make sure that they’re on board.

Align your web presence, social media and content copy, document designs, product mockups…

There are a million ways to mess up your visual marketing, so make sure your web presence, social media and content copy document designs, product maps, and all that other good stuff is aligned.

  • What does Princess Peach see?
  • What’s in her environment?
  • Who are the other individuals that she sees on a daily/regular basis?
  • What kind of ads does she usually see?
  • How does your competition reach out to her? (Use the 5 forces to analyze your competition to the max).
  • Which ads does she interact with the most?
  • What designs and aesthetics inspire her?
  • How does she respond in public and private situations?
  • What problems does she face as a result of her surroundings/location?

#4 What does your customer say and do?

Fortunately for everyone on the planet, we live on Earth–not in the frigid, lonely vacuum of space. Humans interact with other humans every day, communicating through their phones, with their voices, and via a whole bunch of online and offline channels.

You already solved the mystery of who influences your customer–so now it’s time to figure out who your customer influences.

In this section, you can also include direct customer testimonials.

Your customers are people with distinct and complex personalities, and they interact with the people around them in many different ways.

Learning about what your customers say and do can help you figure out their true motivations.

For example they might say they’re altruistic, but do their actions match up? Do they dedicate more time to helping others or to making lots of cash money?

  • Do Princess Peach’s actions match up with her words?
  • What actually matters the most to her?
  • Do their actions influence others? Positively or negatively?
  • What does she do after a conversation ends?
  • Does she freely share information, or does she hold back information that might benefit others?
  • What is the gap between what she expresses and what she actually does?
    (For example: she might say she hates Bowser, but she always seems to get caught by him).
  • How does she act when she’s alone vs. when she’s with others?
  • How does she portray herself, and what is her self-image like?

#5 What causes your customer pain?

There are plenty of scary, stressful triggers in the world, and some of them will affect your customer.

This is one of the most important sections of the empathy map because it’ll help you present your product or service as a solution to some of these pain points.

Better yet: after building these customer empathy maps, introduce features that will help them solve problems they didn’t even realize they had.

  • What does Princess Peach fear the most?
  • What does she not fear at all?
  • What frustrates her on a daily basis, in the home or at work?
  • What obstacles have prevented her from achieving her goals?
  • Why hasn’t she been able to succeed as she would have liked?
  • And what might block her in the future?

#6 What helps your customer gain?

When a customer spends money, they want to obtain something of value.

So it’s important to frame your features as tools that can help add that to their lives.

Even better–impress them by offering more value than they expected.

By making your product or service an integral part of their success, you can build brand loyalty and inspire your customers to share your company with the people around them–people that you’ve already researched in the previous section.

  • What kind of success has Princess Peach had so far in life?
  • How does she measure that success–what defines “success” for her?
  • What tools did she use to achieve her goals?
  • Is she happy with your product/service?
  • And what future successes does Princess Peach have in store for herself?
  • What long-term goals does she have?
  • What are short-term goals or “wins” she’s aiming for?
  • What would make her the happiest person in the world?
  • What successes can she achieve by using your product?

The customer empathy map is the perfect tool for companies who want to creatively approach their customers and build authentic connections with them.

Spend a few hours with your team and throw a post-it note party!

The insights you gain from this visual tool can help you find (and steal) your customers’ hearts, and you’ll get closer to your teammates in the process.

What’s not to love?

April 24, 2018