I’ve been in the research business for quite some time and it’s always fascinated me to think about the interesting dynamic and co-dependency between insights and empathy. Both are products of a comprehensive Voice of the Customer (VoC) process. Luckily, an organization that invests in and embraces both will benefit from this continuous cycle that creates a strong connection between its brands and its customers.
I think of insights as being a deep understanding that enables one to confidently take an action that drives a customer response (such as buying a product). Empathy, on the other hand, in our context is a deep understanding of the customer that enables one to feel the emotions that the customer feels so that a connection can be made. So, while empathy feeds insights, insights direct us to territories we need to build empathy in.
Psychologists Daniel Goleman and Paul Ekman defined three different types of empathy: cognitive, emotional, and compassionate that I find useful in detailing the role that empathy plays in fueling insights.
As a researcher, I’ve found the most success in helping my clients build empathy through qualitative or in-context research approaches such as in-home interviews and creative team simulation activities. The main idea here is that the closer you can get to being able to “step into your customer’s shoes” either by being in their environment or feeling the emotions they feel, the more able you are to form empathy for them.
Lastly, the more you work on creating insights and building empathy, the more you discover that they are both contagious. The more you have, the more you’ll want… and the more effective you’ll be at developing products and messaging that hit the mark with your customers.