by George Ray
As we get closer to Christmas, we’re naturally thinking about what we’re going to give the people who are on our Christmas list. We typically go through a process that attempts to help us by asking ourselves “What would my brother like for Christmas?” or “What would my 12-year old nephew want?” To accomplish this (and to come up with the perfect gift), we practice ‘empathy’. Merriam Webster defines empathy as ‘the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner’. In other words, when we ask those questions, we try to place ourselves in the mindset of the person who will be receiving our gift. By doing so, we hope to give them something that they will value, appreciate, or enjoy.
Empathy is an important concept when it comes to your business. As you think about your goals and objectives for the new year, now may be the perfect time to practice empathy with regards to your clients, and prospects. The idea is to project yourself into your clients’ experience with you, your firm, and staff in order to gain a deeper level of understanding of your client — by placing yourself ‘in their shoes’.
To accomplish this you can use something called an Empathy Map that was developed by David Gray and his visual thinking company, XPLANE. The map is described in his book Gamestorming – A Playbook for Innovators, Rulebreakers, and Changemakers. Its use for businesses is also discussed in Business Model Generation by Alex Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur where it’s referred to as a ‘really simple customer profiler’. Osterwalder says that ‘it allows you to devise a stronger business model, because a customer profile guides the design of better value propositions, more convenient ways to reach customers, and more appropriate Customer Relationships. Ultimately it allows you to better understand what a customer is truly willing to pay for.’
Your use of the Empathy Map should include a visual representation of your ideal customer in the center. Around the customer are six areas that will help you to brainstorm the needs of your customer by ‘empathizing’ with them about their needs and desires. The map helps to get the process out of your head (where it usually stays when thinking about buying Christmas gifts for your family) and onto paper (where it will do you and your staff a lot more good). To help you, I’ve created a map that you can print and use for this exercise. Empathy Map TBoFA 121113. (You’ll also find other examples by doing an online search.)
It’s wise to start with some basic demographic characteristics such as income, marital status, education, portfolio size, etc. Much of this information can be found with a little digging through your CRM, financial planning software, and asset management reports. After pulling together a basic ‘objective’ profile of your typical client, the true value comes from ‘getting inside his head’ (developing a ‘subjective’ profile). You’ll then want to ask the six following questions (which can be recorded in each of the six areas on the map):
1. What does my client see? His environment. What does it look like? Who is around him? Who are his friends? What types of offers is he exposed to?
2. What does my client say and do? Imagine what he could be telling others. What is his attitude? Are there conflicts between what he says and what he does?
3. What does my client hear? What does his spouse say? His friends? Who really influences him? Which media channels are influential?
4. What does my client think and feel? What goes on in his mind? What is really important to him? What are his emotions? What moves him? What keeps him up at night? What are his dreams and aspirations?
5. What is my client’s pain? Biggest frustrations. What obstacles stand between him and what he wants to achieve? What risks might he fear taking?
6. What does my client gain? What does he truly want to achieve? How does he measure success? What are strategies that he might use to achieve his objectives?
The goal of producing an Empathy Map is to create a customer viewpoint for continuously questioning your business model assumptions. Understanding your customers’ needs and desires will enable you to better determine if you have the right Value Proposition for your business. It will help you determine if your customer will be willing to pay you for this value. And, it may help you determine how to better reach new customers who have the needs and mindset that match your Value Proposition. The point is to truly understand and empathize with their situation so you can design and provide a better product or service — as well as create deeper relationships with your clients.
So, what does your client want for Christmas? The same thing we’re all are interested in — your empathy.