Empathy—how it's table stakes for product designers and web developers.

Why is empathy so important for those who build and design sites and apps?

At first glance, empathic thinking seems like a skill set for teams that interface directly with customers on a daily basis, such as support. But today, that's just not enough. If your goal is to build an amazing online experience for your customers, then empathy must become everyone's job.

Empathy reveals what numbers alone can't.

Sinéad Cochrane, senior product researcher at Intercom, teaches her product team to think of empathy in three parts:

  • Take on their perspective. Put yourself in your customers' shoes when they experience a problem.
  • No judgment! Realize that time is better spent developing solutions to problems rather than casting blame.
  • Consider emotion. Prioritize problems that cause users serious frustration over smaller bugs.

While traditional quantitative analytics can tell you some of what you need to know about your site or app, they'll never be able to tell you the full story. Understanding and sharing the feelings of your users is key to finding qualitative insights and customer-oriented solutions to UX problems big and small.

Read between the line graphs.

Next time you're sorting through quantitative data, try viewing it through an empathetic lens. Take that line graph or error log and imagine the tactile, tangible customer experiences those numbers represent.

Visualizing the people behind the numbers helps offset psychic numbing, a concept alluded to here and covered in detail in our post Do User Metrics Make You Heartless?

Say that 0.8% of your users experienced a particular error. If you have 50,000 visitors to your site, 0.8% means 400 of them experienced the error. What happens when we think of the 400 users empathetically? Imagine sitting in an auditorium with 399 other people, all experiencing the same problem...

Empathy puts the heart back in quantitative, user analytics. It's grounded by a real user's lived experience. Engineers and web developers who think empathetically have a more holistic idea of how to troubleshoot bugs and make product improvements.

3 methods to help cultivate empathy.

1. Talk to customers.

One of the best and simplest ways to empathize with someone is to talk to them about their experiences. Participating on customers support calls is a great way for engineers to hear problems as they arise and pick up on a little old-fashioned nuance.

2. Collaborate in themes, not teams.

Cross-pollination isn't just for bees. Ideas flow better when employees get to work with those of different stripes. Experiment with re-structuring the work flow to run on themes, not teams.

What are themes? At FullStory, we sometimes organize around the concept of themes. Themes remove the typical hierarchy of the team placing interested parties from traditionally separate teams on equal footing. Engineering, design, sales, and support personnel all get in the same room and collaborate on a particular theme.

Organizing around themes fosters a balanced, empathetic approach to the effort in which each job function has an opportunity to represent a viewpoint that aligns with their objectives. The effect is greater empathy.

3. Watch user sessions.

The in-crowd already knows that session replay is a powerful way to step into your customer's shoes and gain insights on individual user behavior. Empathy is a natural outcome.

Replay exactly why an error happened or where a user got confused. FullStory users have found session replay to be an indispensable time-saver for their engineers.

Watching session replay, engineers can get right to what caused the issue quickly in the console, with the added bonus of empathy.

Replay also helps design overcome the curse of knowledge, a.k.a. the blindness to their own design.

Make empathy a common practice.

Practicing empathy helps you understand your customers' pain points, and it reveals powerful ways to build better products and improve design. Product developers—engineers and programmers—and designers stand to benefit by putting empathy to work on their projects.