Here at FullStory, we go all in on empathy. We preach it. We practice it. Our product was built for it. During interviews, we gauge prospective employees for their levels of it. In our three core principles, you’ll find empathy listed first.

What drives our emphatic embrace of empathy? The answer is simple: We believe it’s almost impossible to create great customer experiences and user-friendly products without it. And in today’s heightened customer-centric environment, delivering in these areas is absolutely essential for businesses to separate themselves from their competition.

We believe it’s almost impossible to create great customer experiences and user-friendly products without empathy.

In this post, I’ll recap my talk from the 2018 Opticon Conference and give you specific ways you can tap into the power of empathy to build better products. You’ll get a feel for how using empathy and data together is the perfect combination for producing results that matter: enthusiastically happy customers and incredible business growth.

Empathy Now!

Before we go any further, let's set the stage by checking in to see what the world’s foremost authority on caring for other people’s feelings, George Costanza, has to say on the subject.

The show whose unofficial motto is “No hugging, no learning” wouldn’t appreciate the fact that, well, all we do around here is hug and learn.

And one of the things we've learned is that not only is practicing empathy toward customers the right thing to do, but from a business sense, it's the smart thing to do.

From Sympathy to Empathy

What's the difference between sympathy and empathy, and why do we focus on the latter? To have sympathy means you feel sorry for someone else's misfortune. But to have empathy, you've got to be willing to dig a little deeper. You have to feel someone else's misfortune as if it were your own.

As research professor and best-selling author Brené Brown explains, empathy goes further than sympathy because it bridges the gap between the person experiencing difficulty and the person responding to it. Whereas sympathy is more of a "spectator sport," practicing empathy means that you meet someone where they are by first connecting with something in yourself that knows the same feeling. It's more vulnerable, more personal, and much more powerful.

Hear Brené Brown explain it in her own words:

“I always think of empathy as this kind of sacred space when someone’s kind of in a deep hole. And they shout out from the bottom and they say, ‘I’m stuck. It’s dark. I’m overwhelmed.’

"And then we look and we say, ‘Hey, [as we climb down into the hole with them], I know what it’s like down here. And you’re not alone.’

"Empathy is a choice. And it’s a vulnerable choice. Because in order to connect with you I have to connect with something in myself that knows that feeling.”

Empathy draws its power from going beyond simply acknowledging a problem at a distance to internalizing another's problem as your own.


How Can Software Help Make Practicing Empathy Easier?

So we understand the power of empathy. But how do you invoke that power when building products? To answer this question, let's first talk about the two kinds of empathy: affective and cognitive.

Affective empathy is more inherent. It's part of who you are as a person. It explains why some people are more likely than others to cry during sad movies; when a character suffers a breakup, for example, someone who has affective empathy might automatically release the floodgates right along with them.

Cognitive empathy, on the other hand, is more like a skill. It's something you can learn, practice, and hone. And just like any other discipline, it becomes easier when you have the right tools.

Yes, tools—and specifically FullStory's platform—can help you empathize. How?

We capture the entirety of each customer's digital experience, just how it happened, making it easy for teams with a stake in that digital experience to reproduce it. Our technology essentially lets you try on your customers' shoes and walk a mile in them. And when you experience their experience, the vicarious result is, well, empathy.

Watching a replay of someone's digital experience is so immersive it's revelatory. It's common for people to literally exclaim, "Aha!" while playing back a customer's experience. And when those experiences are bad, they're groan-inducing bad.

You feel it.

Make Frustration Signals Your Friends

It's pretty amazing what happens when you can finally see your customers' struggles and desires unfold in crystal clear detail. With traditional, normal analytics, you have an idea of how many customers encounter an error or issue. But you have no idea what that bad experience truly was like for them—or how frustrating it must have been.

Did you know that when a customer's experience on your site or app doesn't go as planned they actually, literally try to convey how they feel? It's true:

... They may get frustrated and rage click.
... They may get confused and dead click.
... They may get fed up and abandon a form.

All of these are examples of digital body language or frustration signals that in the past have been difficult for analytics to pick up on or explain. Yet with FullStory, you have the technology to analyze these signs of frustration in aggregate and replay individual experiences, as needed, so you can see what it is your customers are trying to tell you. The best part? With the insights you get from empathy, you both know how to respond as well as have a sudden, strong motivation to take action and make the necessary fixes immediately.


How You Can Solve Every Experience With Empathy

Whether you manage an eCommerce site serving millions of shoppers or a SaaS product relied on by a dedicated set of loyal customers, empathy for the digital experience works to unite your teams around the customer.

Consider how everyone from product managers to customer support agents, designers to marketers, and more can activate the power of empathy to understand and improve the digital experience.

Product teams: For your product team, having a finger on the pulse of the customer's experience is the secret ingredient to building something truly exceptional. While measuring engagement—your daily active users, conversion rates, Net Promoter Score (NPS), Customer Conversion Score (CSAT), etc.—is a critical step, it's just the beginning. From there, being able to dig deep into your digital experience, analyzing engagement at the level of your most loyal customers—or replaying sessions from the onboarding of new customers—that's the kind of nuance you need to solve for a better digital experience. The blend of being able to search and analyze the experience quantitatively while also being able to dive deep into the empathy-laden qualitative experience—that's what FullStory was made for.

Support Teams: When the customer experience goes wrong, your customer support team is there on the front lines ready to make it right. That's why giving them the tools to understand everything that customers go through is so vital to CX success. Thankfully, through integrations with platforms like Help Scout and Zendesk, support tickets link directly to the replay of the customer's struggle. Agents see exactly what's going on and how to solve issues without the need for back-and-forth. That's profoundly empowering. For support professionals, it's game-changing.

As for empathy? Your support team will be able to relate to the customer on the other side of the screen—because they'll feel their struggle and want to solve it.

Developers: Things just get better from here. Deploy empathy to your engineers. Show them exactly what software bugs look like from the eyes of the customers who experience them. You'll be able to say, "We have this problem. This is how many people are experiencing it. And here's what it looks like."

Your engineers won't have to guess anymore. They'll have all the info they need to reproduce the bug. And just like support, the empathy engine will kick in and your developers will want to solve the bug.

Design and UX: Go ahead and put some empathy jerseys on your design and UX teams, too. As they watch sessions to see how customers interact with the latest landing page, redesign, or A/B tests, they'll be able to understand UX gaps and breakdowns in the conversion funnel and be better able to identify with the people they design for.

... And Anyone Who Has a Stake in the Digital Customer Experience.

I could go on. Sales, marketing, customer success, the C-Suite—everyone can benefit from this one shared source of truth. And when you empower all areas of your organization with the technology to put empathy front and center, it becomes easy to solve all types of issues your customers experience and to keep your company's empathy tank on "Full."


Investing in Empathy Always Yields Happy Returns

Too often as digital product managers, developers, designers, and marketers, we forget the people we're creating for. We forget that our primary responsibility is making customers happy.

And if you want happy customers, you have to build the kinds of products and digital experiences that delightfully solve their problems. That's where empathy delivers in spades—and acts as a competitive advantage that will drive the future growth of your business.

If you feel that—that is, the potential of empathy—and want to learn more about how software can turn on that power for your organization, we're here to help. We'd love to know more about the digital experience problems you face and help you solve them.

You talk. We're here to listen.


Presentation Recording From Opticon 2018

You can watch my full talk from the 2018 Opticon Conference below: