Customer empathy is emerging as one of the keys to any brand’s success, whether it operates in the commercial or consumer spheres. As they navigate a volatile landscape, customers’ behaviours, feelings and needs are rapidly changing. This demands that organisations pay close attention to customer data signals that enable them to be responsive and understanding to customer’s emotional states and requirements.

So, what does it mean to align with customers? A blog from The Upping Company, says it is “a form of customer marketing whereby a business understands the underlying needs of its customers, acts upon those needs by using their language of product features, benefits and comparison to talk to them, which in turn creates a more seamless brand experience and thus generates more sales.”

This capability has become more important in the pandemic, when many people are beset with emotions such as frustration, boredom, grief and anxiety, and when traditional shopping behaviours and business practices have been disrupted. As we move through cycles of economies locking down and opening up—and the highs and lows of vaccine hopes and variant fears—brands need to be nimble.

As customer experience expert, Lynn Hunsaker, writes: “The best way to be nimble and lean to grow—is to tightly align with customers. This requires a vivid vision characterising intentional customer experience (CX): how you want your customers to feel across their end-to-end journey with your brand.”

Here are five tips from Hunsaker and other experts about how to get it right:

  1. Embrace intentional CX as a guiding light 

Hunsaker’s blog elaborates on the idea of intentional CX: “Treat CX as a lens for decisions by all functional areas, to prevent hassles for customers and to generate greater value for customers. Intentional CX means you know what you do, and more importantly, why you do it, and you bake the what and why into all aspects of your business—policies, processes, how you hire and review and reward, how you build products and send invoices, and so forth—very deliberately.”

  1. Tap into employee insight 

Though organisations have access to rich customer data from online marketing platforms and customer relationship management (CRM) systems, there is no substitute for insight into customer emotional states and behaviour from the people on the frontlines of sales and service.

In the words of consultant, Kerry Bodine: “Ask employees how their day-to-day work has changed and ask stakeholders what decisions they’ve made in response to the pandemic. And no, I don’t recommend a survey for this. You need to be able to listen for emotional responses and immediately dig into issues that employees and stakeholders bring up during your conversations.”

A blog post on MightyRecruiter suggests some questions to ask employees:

  • What items do customers often browse without buying?
  • What seems to disappoint customers, what seems to please them and why?
  • What are their favourite products?
  • Which products and services do they complain about?
  • What goods or services do people regularly ask about that are not currently offered by the business?
  1. Immerse in the customer’s world 

As brands seek to respond to customers in a more empathic and nimble way, they need to find ways to constantly keep abreast of changing behaviours, motivations and feelings. While digital data can provide some insight into how customer behaviour is changing, it cannot always explain why or predict what customers will be looking for next.

This is where more qualitative approaches to customer research can enrich the insights companies get from web analytics or quantitative market research. MightyRecruiter, for instance, recommends taking a leaf out of anthropology’s book and conducting ethnographic research, which is about observing customers in their natural location and state.

This offers an unfiltered perspective on their behaviour, free from the biased framing a structured survey or interview might bring to the table. For instance, a marketer could watch how the customer browses a store or navigates a website to understand real-world behaviour. Then, they could ask customers for more information about why they behaved as they did.

Another tool that some organisations find useful in designing or improving products and services is design thinking. Management consultant, David Angelow, argues that design thinking can bring more customer empathy into the customer experience:

“Design thinking’s unique focus on empathy helps businesses frame or re-frame a problem from the perspective of the customer. By framing problems from the customer’s perspective, firms often find breakthroughs, because it aligns ideas and prototypes with the factors most important to the end-user. Empathy helps firms put down the hammer and consider what it’s like to be the nail.”

  1. Look beyond existing customers 

Hanover Research suggests surveying lost and competitor customers for a view of what the company could do better. “Successful companies survey lost customers, asking how they used the product before cancelling and why they cancelled, and observing how they respond to win-back offers. Regardless of their success in winning back lost customers, these companies can use insights gained to adjust their offerings for current customers.”

  1. Cascade customer insights across the enterprise 

A final suggestion from Hunsaker is to nurture a company-wide thirst for customer insights. She recommends mining customer comments from your contact centre and other sources to understand customers better. “Provide a steady cadence of relevant, actionable customer insights to every group throughout your firm,” she writes.  “Make suggestions, tailored for each functional area, for specific ways they might use these insights in their daily decisions and hand-offs.”

Aligning expectations 

Brands that can align with customers’ expectations in a changing world will be able to grow market share as well as retain and grow their business with their existing customer base. Today, that’s not just about insight into customer behaviour, but having the ability to agilely respond to customers’ changing needs, motivations and emotions. This is not a pure CX or data play—it’s about human-to-human understanding.


[Photo by Blake Wisz on Unsplash ]