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What is human insight? Why data alone isn’t enough to create great customer experiences

Andy MacMillan  |  April 08, 2019

What is human insight?

Human insight offers a valuable new understanding of your customer that results from listening and observing with empathy and can be used to connect the dots between what they think, feel, say and do. It provides the "why" context that gives organizations the ability to understand customer needs and rethink ways to better serve them. When human insight is used to make business decisions, it becomes the core driver of compelling customer experiences. For as long as businesses have existed, the most successful ones have recognized that commerce is a fundamentally human endeavor. These companies understand they’re selling not just a product but an experience—one that motivates and delights rather than frustrates and erodes trust. Brands have always lived and died based on how well they address these emotions. But the digital age has completely changed the calculus. While the app economy has given businesses an unprecedentedly powerful, fast and scalable route to market, it also has stripped away much of the human-to-human interaction that used to help companies truly know how customers experience the brand.

Data alone isn't enough

It is true that companies must meet their customers where they are—and this is increasingly online, but this shift has created a heightened dependency to rely on data to shed light on the customer. As customer experiences have become more digital, the interactions have become less human, making it harder for the company to learn about, understand, and empathize with their customers. To compensate, many companies have embraced data-driven insight as a seemingly objective way of assessing multiple aspects of the customer journey. And data indeed has great value in enabling businesses to identify important trends and patterns in buyer behavior. Digital breadcrumbs can't replace the knowledge gained when customers used to walk into a place of business and interacted face-to-face. While digital channels and virtual experiences have provided opportunities for companies to scale engagement, they have also contributed to a decline in true company-to-customer connections. Brands shouldn't infer or guess a consumer’s preferences based on click-data, they must create opportunities to see, hear and talk to them first-hand. But all too often, data has become a proxy for the actual customer experience. Companies look to data to show if something pleases or displeases a customer, but they never see the smile or grimace or hear the frustration, that can be a more telling indicator. And that’s a bigger problem than many businesses realize.

Human insight bridges the empathy gap

Data simply isn’t good enough. That’s where human insight comes into play. A human insight comes through feeling empathy, seeing context and understanding needs—it’s about walking a mile in your customers’ shoes to bring new meaning to their motivations, preferences, and decisions. How businesses cultivate memorably positive emotional connections with customers defines their success in the market today. To make the right emotional connection, individuals within companies must deeply understand and empathize with customers—and be able to recognize and relate to their motivations, needs, desires, behaviors, and intent. Brand loyalty comes from delivering offerings that tap into those feelings. Businesses must be adept at breaking down all the phases of customer engagement, identifying pain points at any step and empathizing with them, and then determining, together as a company, what should be done to make the entire journey delightful. It’s true that cutting-edge technologies like artificial intelligence and big data can help companies analyze variables in customer behavior. But to picture the value add of being able to marry data insight with human insight, imagine connecting the numbers with the narratives. So in addition to analyzing shopping cart abandonment rates and conversion metrics for performance measures, a top airline was also able to run an on-demand voice of the customer (VOC) program where they could see, hear and talk to their top-tier flyers about the pains they experienced when trying to book a trip using miles for their family of five through the new mobile app. Rather than a clinical synopsis showing clicks and time spent on task, the company got an up-close-and-personal look at how the experience made them feel. What if everyone was motivated to make that an experience that they'd be proud of, as viewed from the perspective of that customer? This would offer a deeper, more empathetic understanding and provide the company with better intel on how to solve for the problem. The pressure on businesses to get this right has increased. Digital pioneers like Amazon have raised the bar on ease of use, convenience, innovative features, and other qualities. Companies that can’t literally give the people what they want are in jeopardy at a time when customers can switch loyalties with a few taps or clicks.

How to promote customer empathy in your organization

The companies that can build a trusted relationship through real customer empathy have a tremendous business opportunity today. How can they do it? By emphasizing three priority areas:


Companies should cultivate human experience as a core value. And all teams should be able to see, hear and talk to customers - not just the privileged few. As Amazon’s Jeff Bezos said, "If there’s one reason we have done better than our peers in the internet space over the last six years, it is because we have focused like a laser on customer experience." Every business should adopt this philosophy.


Interaction with real customers must be blended into companies’ data-centric digital processes and personas. It should inform every aspect of product design, creation, and support.


Businesses should take advantage of technology—video, live interviews, and other research studies—to continually interact with customers. This feedback loop should become part of the brand’s lifeblood. Just as humans need emotional connections with each other to thrive, successful business relationships rest on the realization that customers are people, not 1s and 0s. It’s one truth that digital disruption will never disrupt.

Welcome to the Experience Economy

Learn how organizations are adapting to meet the ever-changing needs of consumers in the Experience Economy.


About the author:

Andy brings 20 years of enterprise SaaS experience to UserTesting. As a former product executive at Oracle and Salesforce, he saw the critical role that customer centricity plays in creating great experiences. By helping companies become more customer-centric, he has grown multiple enterprise SaaS businesses to hundreds of millions of dollars.