Customer Profiling Using the Empathy Map

© | Dima Sidelnikov

In this article, we look at 1) where product development should start, 2) the empathy map, 3) the elements of an empathy map and 4) a case study of eStudent.


Most successful organizations have a strong focus on customer research but fail to incorporate their customers’ perspective in the product design and even the business model design stage of the business. A smart way to go about business model design is to view it from the lens of the customer. It can lead to discoveries and insights which could help the company gain an edge in the competitive market for customer mindshare.

Apple is a classic example of incorporating customer needs into product design. When Apple launched its first of its kind iPod, the market for music players was relatively low, and illegal downloading of music was the norm. The conditions were discouraging for launching an application that required consumers to buy their music online. However, Apple had cottoned on to a key customer gain; a singular medium on which they could sync and access all of their digital content. By providing such a medium, Apple launched itself into the stratosphere as one of the leading technological companies in the world with a dedicated customer base.

Major companies invest a significant sum on attaining insight into the social and psychological makeup of their customers through employing teams of anthropologists and sociologists. However, they do so just for creating a customized product or service design. They may also find it lucrative to incorporate these experts when designing the business model for their company. Customers’ insights can be especially impactful on value propositions, distribution channels, customer relationships and revenue streams.

The approach asks for a shift from an organization specific perspective to a customer-centric approach. Companies have traditionally myopically considered what it wants to sell the customers, how they can be reached with the minimal expenditure of resources, the nature of relationship the company wants to form with the customer, and how it will earn money from its targeted customer segment. Conversely, the customer-centric approach demands that the company focuses on the jobs the customer needs to be done or his or her aspirations and how the company can help them achieve both. They must evaluate how the customer wants to be reached, for what value they are willing to pay and the kind of relationship they want to form the company. The company must also be cognizant of what customer segment to target. Most might invest in targeting their current or traditional customer segment, but they must not overlook the possibility of upcoming segments and methods of targeting them to improve their market shares.

Do you know your customers?

When an entrepreneur is asked who his customer is, it is easy to get lost in targeting everyone that their product or service would appeal to. Direct and indirect consumers are invariably linked to the business because the entrepreneur is trying to think big. However, it is crucial for the efficacy of the process to commence the discussion with who the business’ most important customers are and work from there. Starting the discussion from there, the entrepreneur must then evaluate what kind of pains this segment has, who these people are and why they would buy from your business over other solutions available in the market. Creating an empathy map for this most important customer has a twofold purpose. It helps you mold your value proposition towards the customer who will pay for it and whittle away the unnecessary things. It will also help you map out what kind of customer relationships to foster with this segment and the tactics required to create these relationships.

How to discover your prospects world view

Every person has a unique world view; a detailed descriptive model of how they think the world works. Tapping into your most important customer’s world view could mean deep insights into their wants, needs and psychology for your business.

A world view typically dictates the answers and reactions to the following questions;

  1. What should I do next?
  2. What is truth and what is false?
  3. What actions should I take to reach my goals
  4. How can we make others understand our intentions?

There are many actions one can take to hack into their target customer’s world view; taking interviews, reading comments on the blog of your website,  and utilize other online media where your consumers are likely to post opinions and views such as Amazon reviews, blogs, social media, etc.

Difference between worldview and personas

Entrepreneurs often mistake a world view with a persona because both concepts seem to overlap. However, persona refers to a group of people who have similar consumer behavior patterns i.e. regardless of their demographics they share buying patterns, their usage of customer services are similar, and they have similar behaviors, motivations, and attitudes.

A world view on the other hand highlights why a consumer has these behaviors, attitudes and motivations as well as the reason behind their buying behavior. Hence, a world view is the foundation of the persona.


Customer profiling using the Empathy mapMost of the examples quoted here refer to major companies with the resources available to hire and utilize teams of sociologists and anthropologists to help them understand their customers’ world views. However, a new business rarely has the capital available to invest in consumer research at the same level. An equally effective yet much more wallet friendly approach could be to use visual thinking company, XPLANE’s empathy map to understand your consumer segment. Any good product, service or design is only good if it matches what a customer desires in the product. Hence, to understand what the customer wants, we can use the empathy map, one of the most simple consumer profiling tools available online. This tool allows us to move beyond the typical metrics of demographics and delve deep into the consumer psyche by understanding their environmental context, their emotions and reactions and their future goals and priorities. All this information will help a new business develop sounder, more appealing value propositions, focus on a type of relationship which suits the customer and invest in distribution channels which match customer preferences.

In short, effectively defining your customer’s world view and persona helps accomplish the following goals;

  • Creating a more streamlined and focused strategy;
  • Reaching your customer in a more rewarding way;
  • Gaining insight into how your customer thinks;
  • Identifying and employing the winning tactic when faced with a customer negotiation;
  • Creating more attractive value propositions.

What is Empathy?

It is an irrefutable fact that customers who feel that a company genuinely cares about them will be more loyal. To ensure that customers buy into this emotion, an organization must display empathy in all of its dealings with its customer segments, including at the product or service design phase. The following two definitions explain the meaning of empathy in this context;

  1. The intellectual identification with the feelings, thoughts or attitudes of another;
  2. The vicarious experiencing those feelings, thoughts or attitudes.

People often confuse empathy and sympathy. Sympathy is the feeling of sorrow or grief you feel for another’s misfortune, but you remain external to the situation. On the other hand, empathy occurs when you place yourself in the other person’s shoes and immerse yourself so completely in their world view that you feel the way they feel.

Empathy map basics

Segment your customers

The first step is to group your consumers into distinct segments based on their demographics and personas. Once these segments have been created you need to prioritize your top three most lucrative segments.

Humanize your segment

Once you have your top three segments, you need to make them real, relatable people in your mind. This can be done by assigning fake names and building an entire person through adding details such as their age, educational level, income etc. in this way it becomes easier for you to empathize with this representative of your segments.

Empathize with your segment

In a team put your representative from each segment on an empathy map. Then start asking the following main questions and thinking of the answers from the representative’s point of view. Since this is a group exercise, this will result in a comprehensive list of answers to the questions;

  • What thoughts does this customer normally have and how does he usually feel?
  • What or who does the customer normally listen to?
  • What does the customer see?
  • What does this customer say and do?
  • What is this supporter’s pain?
  • What is his gain?

Validate your empathy map

Once you have this comprehensive list mapped, it is necessary to validate it with actual customer responses. You can have a test group of sample customers from the segment itself answer the same questions and correct any responses if you feel the need to.

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Customer Empathy Map

© Flickr |

The Empathy Map is built around the senses; how we receive information through them and how we interpret this information. It also takes a look at customer gains and pains.

Element 1: See

Customers are constantly creating a persona for your brand in their minds based on what their senses perceive regarding your company. Hence, all visual elements linked to your brand need to be consistent in the message they are sending out. Alignment in your web presence, social media profiles and reviews needs to occur for your customers to form a brand personality that is consistent with the one you want to achieve.

Some questions you can use to profile your customer for this element are as follows;

  • What do they see?
  • What does their environment consist of?
  • Who are the other individuals who form a part of the customer’s environment?
  • What kind of product offerings do they see?
  • What kind of issues and challenges do they usually have?

Element 2: Hear

As with the previous element, all audio content connected to your brand needs to be in cohesion. Advertising and promotional content are generally closely monitored by the marketing team of any firm. However, simple yet impactful mediums such as how your customer representatives or internal call routing system also sounds leave major impressions with your customers.

The following questions can clarify what the customer focuses on where the auditory sense is taking into account;

  • What kind of ideas, information and opinions are being shared with your target customer by their friends and family?
  • What kind of things do they hear at work?
  • Who are the people they are most influenced by?
  • What are the mediums and tactics used to influence them?

Element 3: Think and Feel

It is paramount for the owner of a new company to be aware of how customers are responding to the product or service. For a company to capture and keep its customers, they need to be cognizant of who their happy customers are and whether they are willing to act as champions for your product, as well as those who are indifferent or outrightly unhappy about your product. Keeping an eye on and investing in the latter is a prudent strategy because these customers may end up maligning your brand image.

Following are questions to consider for this element;

  • What is their core yet unexpressed priorities?
  • What causes an emotional reaction for them?
  • What are their dreams and goals?
  • What worries keep them up at night?

Element 4: Say and Do

As an entrepreneur, you need to be plugged into the level of convenience you offer customers with your product and service. You also need to keep your ear to the ground, so you know what customers are saying about you, garner improvement areas if any and deliver on these areas.

  • What is their behavior when they are surrounded by people?
  • What, according to them, are their priorities?
  • What is the gap between what they express and their actual actions?
  • Do they act as influencers and opinion leaders for others?

Element 5: Customer Pains

These are the problems and challenges that the customer faces everyday. They refer to unmet needs and desires which cause negative emotions within the customer.

  • What are their main concerns or causes for frustration?
  • What stands between them and reaching for their aspirations?
  • What are the methods they employ to reach their goals?

Element 6: Customer Gains

These are elements that add to the customer’s quality of life. They may not result from an expressed need, but they make the customer’s life easier and more convenient through their existence.

  • What are their expressed goals and needs?
  • What is their metric for measuring success?
  • What are the methods they employ to achieve success?

Extreme Characters in Empathy Maps

When looking for an innovative and completely fresh business model, it may be fruitful to invest in research into extreme users of your products and services. Extreme users are people who do not fit into your regular customer segment. They are on the periphery but observing their usage of your product or service opens up the possibility of a whole new market for you.

These users are heavily invested in your products, or they use your home customized versions of your customers. Hence, if you as a company are seeking to solve customer pains such as sweaty feet or blisters, a good customer segment to connect with could be people who have to wear uncomfortable shoes on a regular basis like dominatrices.

Talking to such extreme users could open you up to game-changing breakthroughs that previously hadn’t occurred to you. And because these consumers represent an untapped market they will be more forthcoming with their feedback and recommendations because they are heavily invested in your product.


eStudent is a university-based social networking site which aims to provide a platform for new students to connect with each other and discover activities of their interest on or around their campuses. Hence, each University will have its estudent network exclusive for its students. An empathy map for this blog will contain the following;

  • The customer university may see that the information on the network is disorganized and wonder if any of the students will use it or not. They may see that it has too much information or that their university isn’t included on the platform.
  • Universities may hear that all plans are already posted on facebook and hence question the efficacy in investing in the system. They may also wonder at the lack of usage the network provides to older members of the University.
  • The clients thoughts can include the privacy level the network provides whether they need to create log-ins if they have to pay for using it, etc.
  • The target customer may say that the webpage does not offer much visual appeal.
  • The customer pains would be the high investment required to develop the network as well as whether the information exchanges is valid or not.
  • The customer gains are introduction to new people, and finding activities 24/7.

Image credits: Flickr | under Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic.

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