According to James Fallon, a neuroscientist at the University of California and author of The Psychopath Inside: There are two kinds of empathy:
- Cognitive empathy:
Which is our ability to know what other people are feeling (happy, sad, nervous, scared etc).
- And emotional empathy:
Which is our ability to actually feel what other people are feeling (happiness, sadness, nervousness, fear etc).
That is, unless you’re a psychopath?
In which case you know what other people are feeling (cognitive empathy) but lack emotional empathy so don’t care one jot.
See, the ability to know what people are feeling has played a huge part in our social evolution.
We use these two forms of empathy to measure and gauge the emotions of our friends and family, our work colleagues, and of course strangers and potential enemies.
Can you generate more sales enquiries based on an empathetic understanding of your audience, most of whom you’ll never meet in person?
The answer is, yes.
And the solution is quite simple.
Step 1: Get the universal basics right
Most people on the web these days frequent sites like news portals or social media platforms or use the same search engines.
In other words, most people are routinely exposed to similar design layouts and processes, designs and layouts and processes that big brands have spent a fortune refining.
As a result, most people come to expect and look for similar layouts and visual symbols on every site they visit.
So don’t upset or frustrate your customers by reinventing the wheel.
Look at the big sites that you use every day and wherever you can adopt the same common approaches and best practices to structuring information and controlling user interactions.
You can even take a lesson from Nature.
We don’t love design that uses the golden ratio because it is universally appealing or mathematically precise.
We love it because it is beautiful.
Our primal instinct to seek out and favour beauty isn’t rational — it’s primal, instinctual, emotional.
Which is lucky, because we buy on emotion.
So if 38% of people stop engaging with a website if the content/layout is unattractive – if it makes them frown – design for a smile.
Step 2: Aim for a smile
Before you start designing (or creating content) most designers (and content creators) start by using a customer profile (or reader persona).
I first came across the idea in 2009 on ProBlogger, Darren Rowse admitted to secretly creating one-page biographies of his target readers to personalise the blogging experience, inform his content and attract advertisers.
An excellent two-part guide on how to undertake customer profile (or persona) research appeared on Smashing Magazine in 2014.
Here, interaction designer Shlomo Goltz observed:
The value behind customer research lies in the power of a one-page document to help understand the goals, motivations, and behaviors of the people who will use your site.
In a nutshell, it helps you create a working digital portrait of your ideal client.
- “Why People Buy”. First understand what they think, how they behave and why they buy.
All these insights will help you create a rich profile of your customer and help you design a great customer experience just for them.
- Reverse engineer the “5 Levels Of Customer Awareness”.
The single most effective method to clarify your message so your customers will listen.
- Aligning “Solutions to Problems” (correctly). The #1 mistake to avoid when identifying the things that really, really matter to the customer.
The extent to which you solve problems in the mind of your prospect will determine the value you are creating.
You see, your design and your content have to work together to address not just the informational and motivational needs of your target audience – it has to be empathetic and take account of their feelings too.
If your target audience needs you because their problem makes them sad, empathise (in the design and content) with that pain and show them (with the design and content) how you can make them smile again.
This might seem an odd thing to say, but your job really is to make your customers happy.
Let’s take another example.
As a startup, one of the common hurdles you have to overcome is TRUST.
So knowing that your target audience will initially be wary of you and will be immediately scanning the design and content for reassurance, ensure that security certificates and endorsements and testimonials are front and centre.
Just remember that once you’re established, your design and content might need to empathise with other emotional feelings than distrust and evolve accordingly.
Step 3: Walk in their shoes
Once you’ve got the universal best practices ticked, created a viable and rich user profile, one that understands the emotional motivations of your target audience, it’s time to take a walk in their shoes.
Using your empathetic understanding of your target audience, imagine that you have the same problem (and with it the same emotional distress that that problem causes them).
Now go to your website and ask yourself:
- Am I in the right place to start smiling again?
- Do I get what I’m looking at in an instant?
- Do I know where I need to go or what to do next?
- Is the final solution delivered in a way that truly makes me happy?
If you have a big smile on your face from start to finish, you’ve cracked it.
If not, time for an emotional rethink.
Step 4: Measure the ROI of empathy
Empathetic design works because it adopts the universal elements of good design and the customer experience that make most people happy most of the time with a narrower focus on solving very specific problems with very specific emotional connotations.
Put simply, by understanding their pain, your site can make your customers smile again.
But for you (and your accountant) to keep smiling, make sure you keep monitoring and measuring user interactions and the costs behind things like:
- Customer acquisition
- Customer retention
Remember that your business goal (making money) is intimately tied to how well your brand can empathise with both the financial and emotional needs and motivations of your customers.
Lose sight of those feelings even for a moment and your customers might well feel the hairs on the back of their neck stand up when they meet you.