Customer empathy – five simple tips

“Before you criticize a man, walk a mile in his shoes. That way, when you do criticize him, you’ll be a mile away and have his shoes.” – Steve Martin

When we carry out pretty much any work associated with the development of technology, it helps if we can consider things from the point of view of our customer. By customer, I mean the person who will ultimately use the product we are working on.

Seeing something from another person’s point of view (or walking in their shoes) can make a big difference in providing them with something of value. It does not always come easily. Customer empathy might be something we have to develop, or work on. With that in mind, here are five simple sets of suggestions and questions which might help:

  1. Consider the multitude of ways technology affects how we communicate, socialise, work and carry out all sorts of day to day activities. How deep does our dependence on technology run? How does it affect us if we can’t do the things we need to do?
  2. Think about your own feelings when you use technology. What do you like? What confuses you? What makes you want to take a sledgehammer to your computer or phone?
  3. Look back on your perception of quality and value. Did you think your Nokia 7210 was a quality product? Did your perception change when you first tried an iPhone? If our perception of quality changes, what does this mean for the product you are working on and the people who will use it?
  4. Observe the variety of ways in which different generations use technology. Do your parents or grandparents enjoy using websites and apps? If you see young children using mobile phones or tablets, what do they find easy? What does this tell you about usability?
  5. Who are your customers? Perhaps you use this product yourself (that might make this a little easier). If at all possible, spend time with the people who use, or will use your product. Ask them what they use it for, what they like and dislike. Try to understand how people will actually use it, not how we think they should use it.

For more on this, I recommend Steve Krug’s excellent book called ‘Don’t Make Me Think’. It is a book about web and app usability, but I also think it is a book which really helps with customer empathy.


A bite size blog (see here for an explanation of these). If you are interested in the subject of Empathy in the development of technology, you might want to look at this post which explored the Empathy Gap in IT.


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