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Effective Thinking

Key Steps to Build Customer Empathy

This is an excerpt from EffectiveUI’s white paper: 5 Ways to Transform the Patient Experience.

In previous blog posts, we have discussed the necessity for healthcare companies to evolve how they deliver care. Kristen Cromer’s post, “5 Ways to Transform the Patient Experience,” outlines key steps to successfully disrupt a company’s way of doing things to remain competitive in the ever-changing healthcare industry.

In the second installment in the series, “A Deep Dive into Knowing Your Patients/Customers and Designing for Them,” I discussed the value of customer/patient research and how insights can be used to inform business and design decisions.

This blog post is the third installment of this series and focuses on the importance of building customer empathy. Moving forward in the disruption process, it is important to build customer empathy and understanding.


Key to creating a patient-centered company is providing leaders the needed tools to build customer empathy. Empathy — the ability to understand and share the feelings of others — is essential to successfully serving customers/patients. If leaders understand how and why customers feel what they do, then they are better equipped to solve customer problems and meet customer needs. Most importantly, it also allows leaders to understand how their daily decisions affect patients and customers.

After you conduct user research, an internal empathy-building campaign can help disseminate outputs from the research process. If you have not completed user research yet, building empathy is a great way for leaders to learn about customers/patients. Below are some empathy-building practices that have helped our clients.

Invite key players to observe customer interviews and contextual observations. This provides all organizational units the opportunity to have firsthand experience and feedback from patients and customers. UX expert, Jared Spool has found that exposing key influencers to user research for two hours every six weeks produces a more user-focused process and better user experience. Aim for direct, face-to-face exposure during interviews or usability sessions. If face-to-face exposure is impossible, ensure that session recordings are available as soon as possible.

Share user personas and other outputs from the research process. Make personas and journey maps accessible to all employees by placing them in work areas and conference rooms. Then encourage everyone to refer to them during meetings, conversations and daily work. Call personas by their names to remind everyone that they represent actual people with real stories. You can read more about how we create personas and journey maps as explained by EffectiveUI Lead Experience Architect, Ari Weissman.

Spend time with your customer service representatives. Customer service team members know what customers/patients need more than anyone else at your organization. They spend their entire day solving customer/patient problems, so tap into their knowledge base to learn about the customer’s world and their perspective. Also, try to spend a few hours a month listening to support calls — here you can get a better viewpoint for how your product or service works in the real world.

These activities will build customer empathy and provide company leaders and employees with a common understanding of customer and patient needs. However, keep in mind that these activities must be part of an ongoing initiative to regularly build and update how your company understands the customer. Having regular empathy activities exposes employees to a variety of customer/patient experiences, showing them the big picture and helping them to identify major trends and patterns. Start small with one of these activities, get feedback from those who participate and then try another activity — you will be surprised by how quickly conversations and decisions become focused on solving customer problems.

You May Also Like

5 Ways to Transform the Patient Experience
A Deep Dive Into Knowing Your Customers/Patients and Designing for Them
5 Ways to Transform the Patient Experience (white paper)