Growth Hacks: The Complete Guide to Building a Framework for Customer Empathy

Growth Hacks: The Complete Guide to Building a Framework for Customer Empathy

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The Complete Guide to Building a Framework for Customer Empathy

This is the introduction of a 3 part series.

Fast growing companies and empathy

Startups are generally good soil for building empathy. Because you have less resources, you wear multiple hats. Maybe you do both product management and social media marketing or maybe both marketing and sales. In this environment, going cross-functional allows you to better understand the user, their frustrations and even how people respond and feel about your product.

Recently, Merci Victoria Grace (former Director of Product at Slack) shared the following anecdote in a talk. The CEO of Slack asks a very simple question to his employees during design reviews when he believes something could be improved:

“Imagine you’re a human being.”

The initial gut reaction to this question is: Well, I am a human being…

But actually, we as designers, engineers, product or marketing managers, or anyone in tech, are generally a terrible representation of most human beings exposed to software. We have much more experience with technology than most of our customers, so it’s easy to fall into the trap of building experiences based on that distorted reality.

As companies grow, with more and more people, meetings, workload, and temptation to outsource research, it is critical to not lose that tight connection with the customers to build empathy and embed ourselves in our customer’s struggles to re-align ourselves with the reality.

Over the next couple of weeks, I’m going to walk you through the framework we’ve built and use at Adobe to ensure customer empathy is at the center of everything we build and grow. Let’s get started with this week’s section.

Building an empathetic product organization

Understanding how people feel is an important skill to have as a human being, and because building products is mostly about understanding and solving people’s problems, empathy is critical in product development. Empathy helps you become a user, feel the pain you should be removing, and develop intuition and hypotheses for building the right product.

But the thing is, if you are the only person feeling that empathy within your organization, you won’t be able to scale and your impact will be limited.

That’s why it is essential to let the voice of the customer penetrate your entire organization, and, by that I mean not just product managers or senior leadership. Great ideas come from everywhere in the team, so everyone should have access to the voice of the customer.

The challenge is, where do you start and how do you build a framework that allows you to scale? The customer empathy framework detailed here will help you achieve that, so let’s dive right in.

Qualitative vs Quantitative

First, it is important to differentiate the two terms. Quantitative gives you signals on where to look and dive deeper. Take the funnel below:

Typical funnel with quantitative data beaming signals on where to look.

Many things could be causing the leak you see between Step 1 (Landing) and Step 2 (Signup). It would be dangerous to jump right to conclusions.

At this point, you know there is something worth looking into, so you should take the time to segment things down using channels, geographies, etc. to see if you can spot any interesting patterns.

Once you have some hypotheses on what might be the issue, it’s time to validate them through Qualitative research. For example, you might want to look at first time users landing on your page and observe what might be causing this leak.

Is it a performance issue in some geographies? A bug? A UX quirk or inaccurate localized copy causing confusion? Queries won’t tell you this.

Qualitative and Quantitative are basically in symbiosis, meaning neither is more important than the other. Quantitative beams signals on where to look, Qualitative helps you understand these signals.

Quantitative tells you the what, Qualitative tells you the why.

Ok, so now that we are clear on the difference between the two, here is Step 1.

Step 1: Become a user

From marketing to engineers, designers, and product managers, everyone should be using the product.

Throughout my career at Adobe, I have always spent an enormous amount of time building tight communication channels with the users I am working for. I was a user myself of the Adobe products before joining the company, so that helped, and when I joined in 2010 as a new junior PM, I kept using the products daily so as to always remain a user first and foremost, and never lose that connection with the product.

In other words, I was not building a better product for them, but for us, the users.

Most of the intuition and ideas came from my own experience using the product. By using it, you build empathy for the pain your users are going through while trying to be successful in what they want to achieve.

So, you are building an app for running? Run. An app for social media? Be on social media. An app for meditation? Meditate. Sounds obvious, right? But it’s easy to let go of this key principle as your team grows and stuff gets added to the millions of things you have to do every day. Remember, it starts here, with using the product.

Now, this should not be just for the PMs, since as many people as possible in the team should be doing the same, but let’s be realistic. The truth is you won’t have everyone in your team using the product as an engaged user, and that’s totally fine.

However, your goal should be to have as many people as possible using it, even casually, to form an opinion and see the product from the other side of the window. It might sound obvious, but I am sure examples are running through your head right now of people in a room making important product or marketing decisions about a product they have never used.

By using the product, it helps everyone respect each other. Why?

  1. Because you show respect to the team. Start by respecting people’s work and they will respect you.
  2. Because you are identifying with the customer, which shows empathy and better understanding of the user.
  3. Because it will help you develop good intuition.

If it turns out to be too hard to get people to use the product, that might be because these folks did not have a genuine interest in the product in the first place. Teaching skills is easy, teaching passion is harder. So it starts with hiring the right people and then it won’t be an effort. People will just use the product naturally.

Next, it’s time to talk to your early adopters, the users who are willing to go through some hoops to use your product even though it’s far from perfect. You need to learn as much as possible from them. Next, we will be covering this crucial step in addition to 3 more steps of the customer empathy framework: seed a community, understand your churned users, and collect NPS.

Go to Part 2 now »

Feel free to reach out if you have questions, thoughts, feedback!


The Complete Guide to Building a Framework for Customer Empathy was originally published in Growth Hackers on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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