What is the empathy gap?

Posted on May 28, 2020
4 min read


When it comes to creating a world-class customer experience, you need to mind the gap—the empathy gap, that is. But before we dive right in, let’s first set the stage. Briefly, don’t worry.

The CX industry is constantly changing—no, evolving—to keep pace with the needs of consumers. A global economy means businesses are forced to pivot and adapt—one day, that might be due to a global pandemic, and the next it'll be something different. So whether you’re building the next best SaaS product or redesigning your mobile banking app, the old motto still rings true: you are not your user.

Despite the success you’ve had so far, there’s always so much to learn about your customers. And believe it or not, most brands aren’t as customer-centric as they think. Enter, the empathy gap.

What is the empathy gap?

In general, the empathy gap refers to the idea of not being able to relate to the emotions, needs, and feelings of others because they’re naturally experiencing the world around them differently than you are. 

Many brands suffer from what’s been coined the empathy gap. Studies by Gartner and PwC, respectively, found that while 90% of customer-facing employees said they understood the needs of their customers, only 38% of consumers feel the employees they interact with understand their needs. 

This is a major problem and begs two questions:

  • What causes the empathy gap?
  • And how can I close the empathy gap that might exist in my organization?

What causes the empathy gap?

 Think about the last time you asked for advice from a friend. Have you ever been in a situation in which, before you even got to finish explaining your problem, you were overwhelmed with advice that wasn’t even relative to you? Maybe your friend assumed that what makes them feel better would also make you feel better. Or by drawing on their own experiences they’ll be able to understand yours. The fact is, while you’re sure they had the best intentions in mind, they ended up trying to fix a problem that wasn’t yours.

Now translate that story to a business case. Building products and experiences in a vacuum will likely result in an empathy gap because you’re not truly in tune with the needs of your intended users. Quite simply, you may be solving problems that don’t exist.

Collect customer feedback to close the empathy gap

It’s nearly impossible to predict the needs and actions of others. Which is why you probably shouldn’t. While it’s true that great product ideas can be stumbled upon, the most successful, lasting ones need testing and iterating to meet the needs of a wide audience, not just the needs of some.

If you haven’t guessed already, there’s no better way to understand what your customers need than by asking them. Here are a couple of tried-and-true methods for doing this that can save you time, money, and resources.

1. Usability testing

Through usability testing, designers, product managers, marketers, and researchers alike can uncover and understand how real people respond to products and experiences. From what they like and dislike, to where they get stuck and confused, to areas of improvement, the valuable insight gathered from these tests are sure to be eye-opening.

One of the fastest and easiest methods of testing is remote usability testing—a method of remote research that uses an insight platform to record the screen (and voice, depending on the software you choose) of test participants as they interact with your product or experience in their natural environment—at home, in their office, or a specific location.

2. Customer and user interviews

While setting up interviews (and even focus groups) can be a massive undertaking, it doesn’t have to be. With remote customer interviews, for example, you can conveniently connect with your customers in real-time through interactive video conferencing. This is particularly useful if you want to observe non-verbal cues to draw additional insights that usability testing may not uncover.

Fast-track your way to great CX by minding the empathy gap

Take the guesswork out of your next product enhancement, website redesign, or newest innovation by collecting feedback and bridging the empathy gap between you and your users. There’s nothing wrong with making mistakes, but if you can catch them (and fix them) before it’s too late, everyone will thank you.

As mentioned earlier, the world can change on the drop of a dime, and that means your customers will change too. If you look to these situations as opportunities to grow—and keep the empathy gap small—you’ll truly become an organization that keeps the customer at the center of all that you do.

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