What does it mean to have empathy for a user?
Empathy is having the ability to feel what others feel. It is putting yourself into someone else’s situation and letting yourself feel alongside that other person. When we have real, true empathy for a user we are allowing ourselves to feel their pain points and moments of delight.
Psst, users…are humans.
Sometimes this is the hardest thing to remember. Users are humans. They are real-life beings who breathe, have families, set goals, and experience pain that they are looking to experts to solve. That’s where we come in. Users look to us to solve a need and add delight to their lives. It’s easy to get pulled into business objectives and requirements and forget that real individuals have to interact with our products or services.
Why is it so hard to maintain empathy?
We are who we surround ourselves with, so if we find ourselves in a situation where users take a backseat, it can be really hard to keep our sense of empathy. It can be an exhausting experience trying to ensure that all stakeholders understand the importance of the user, their happiness, and their attitude toward your product or service. It’s hard to have team members understand that having emotion for the user isn’t weakness. That emotion is having a thorough understanding of someone else’s needs and desires to the point where you feel what they feel. You feel their pain; you feel their joy. It’s easy to mistake emotion in business for weakness, but it’s actually the best strength you can have. It’s passion. Caring for other humans is never a weakness. It’s difficult to fight for the user continuously, to fight for what’s right and what we can all be proud of at the end of the day.
Let me tell you, though; it’s so worth the fight. It’s a great feeling to see someone who struggled or had even the smallest amount of pain interact with something in an enjoyable and efficient manner.
How do we stop fighting and cultivate a culture of empathy?
Bringing understanding to others around us will take patience. It’s a behavior change to feel alongside your users, and like any behavior change, it’s going to take time. If you break it down and introduce increments of change, it can be easier to gain buy-in.
Encourage your team members to find a rhythm that works for them. Maybe they make one phone call a week or go in person once a month to visit a customer. The great thing is that there is no wrong way to build relationships, so each team member can do whatever works best for them.
I try to talk to at least 3 to 5 customers a week; whether that is calling someone and having a quick “how’s it going” chat, sending an email, or scheduling a usability session. That’s what works for me, but building relationships is different for everyone.
Walk the Walk
Empathy is a word we hear everywhere now, so sometimes the meaning gets lost. Encourage your teams not just to say they care about the user, but prove it. Making decisions based on conversations you have had with your customers is demonstrating that you care for their needs and desires. Challenge your team members to think about the user continuously and never to forget why your business exists. It exists because humans had a need and you are fulfilling the need.
Sometimes we don’t have time to be connecting with users or it isn’t within our comfort zones, that’s okay! There are other ways to remember the user and their needs and desires.
- Hang up photos of users in your office with their needs, wants, and memorable quotes.
- Create real, meaningful user personas which talk about user behaviors, goals, and risks. Once you make these personas, make them visible and use them to guide decisions.
- Use real names when you are talking about users, it’s an incredibly simple way to have everyone remember that you are designing and producing experiences for real people.
- Pass along feedback or key learnings from conversations to the rest of your organization.
Compromise & Maintain Integrity
The user can’t always win. Sometimes there are business objectives or requirements that will trump the optimal experience, and that’s okay because that’s life. We can’t always get what we want, but the important thing to remember is to compromise and know your limits. If there is a business objective that goes against the core of how your company has decided to treat their customers, maybe that’s an opportunity you don’t take.
Remember that emotion isn’t weakness.
If you take away nothing else from this post, I want everyone to remember that having passion for the user is an incredibly impressive quality. Caring for other humans in any capacity is honorable and takes a lot of courage.