Increase Empathy to Feedback Processes with User Research

Increase Empathy to Feedback Processes with User Research

According to Stickdorn, Lawrence, Hormess, and Schneider (2018) customer journey maps should always be based on the actual research and user insights so that empathy towards customers could be increased, and their credibility improved. That way, it would be possible to map both direct and indirect touchpoints, increase empathic understanding towards customers within the team, and discover gaps in customer experiences.

Therefore why should the part of the customer journey map covering the entire feedback process be any different? It is a part of the journey map, just a smaller section of the overall higher-level customer journey map. I argue that even more empathy is needed during the journey covering the feedback process. Because many times, there has been some negative experience when the customer gives feedback.

Currently, in my opinion, in customer experience measurement, the focus is too much on survey tools and metrics, and one of the most important aspects has been forgotten. Meaning, the people, customers who give feedback, and employees, who request feedback and handle received responses. It has led to poorly designed measurement models and feedback processes, which have been created only from the organization’s perspective.

Sinkkonen, Nuutila & Törmä (2009) state that an expert’s opinion about customers’ input and needs is always less valuable than customers’ input. There is a risk that when only looking at your own perspective, you might forget some important aspects which are important to customers, and which the planned solution does not fulfill. This might then lead to situations where some products allow users to make mistakes, poor user interfaces, very difficult to find feedback channels, and too complex processes to give feedback.

Customer-oriented approach

In my recent development project, I approached this challenge from a different perspective. As a result of my MBA thesis (Eskelinen, 2020), I developed a framework for developing customer experience measurement in a customer-oriented way. The main conclusion of my thesis was that developing customer experience measurement should always start from the customer, their journey, and what are the most important interactions for them, not for the company which is doing the measuring. I have further iterated the framework with service design and prototyping towards a human-centric direction and decided to select this approach for the development project.

The development challenge was that the case organization measured NPS from one selected touchpoint, the overall NPS grade was high, but the response rate was low. During the development projects research phase, I discovered that most interviewees did not respond to continuous feedback surveys sent to their emails. Context-specific reasons for this behavior were for example:

  • There are so many feedback surveys coming in that people do not have the time and energy to respond to all of them
  • If you have to respond to a feedback survey, it’s irritating
  • So much feedback is requested, that amount should be reduced and not asked after every interaction
  • Sometimes, some questions do not concern you at all. There should be an option to respond that one cannot say.
  • Those kinds of surveys are irritating, in which you have to answer something in every section
  • Are companies requesting feedback just because everybody else is doing it, or are they actually doing something to them
  • Separate feedback surveys are lost in the email inbox
  • No information about what is done with the given feedback
  • It irritates when you do not know when the given feedback will be handled
  • It is frustrating that you have to follow up on issues and use too much time to solve the issue by yourself

With user research, you can discover customers’ context-specific needs and challenges like these listed above. Some universal ones might exist. For example, giving feedback should be as easy and effortless as possible in the channels and tools that the customer is using. If it is easy, customers are more likely to respond to feedback surveys.

But customer requirements vary between contexts and cannot be generalized that much. When designing measurement models and feedback processes, these insights listed above are ignored, which might lead to negative emotions affecting the overall customer experience.

There is a risk that even though the processes would be easy and efficient for the company, they might not be that for different customers. If these concepts are created based on assumptions, there is a risk that they would only serve the company and not fulfill the requirements of the customers. It is crucial to consider the service timeline and what feelings it raises in customers. If customers are not involved in the mapping process, it is very likely that the organization does not understand how the service flow will affect the moods of the customers’. Meaning, which interactions have a negative- and which interactions have a positive effect. (Schneider and Stickdorn 2010, 40.)

According to Schneider and Stickdorn (2010, 44–45), there are always many different touchpoints and approaches which need to be considered. They also mention that to achieve a great customer experience, these various stakeholders varying and changing needs need to be reappraised repeatedly. That is why it is very important, throughout the customer journey, to map different moods and feelings that various stakeholders have. The focus should be on different varying customer journeys, not just one solution for all stakeholders.

It affects how the company faces its customers in this specific situation. One should not forget that requesting and handling feedback is one important part of the customer journey. It is good to remember that customer experience is the sum of all touchpoints that the customer has with the company. If the measurement model has been designed poorly and is, therefore, a negative experience that might lead to the entire experience being negative.

Through user research, companies can also discover context-specific needs and emotions which customers want to experience during the feedback process. For example, during the projects research phase, I found the following insights:

  • Wants to be able to give feedback easily in that same context and that situation in which the issue has happened, not through a separate survey
  • Wants to handle the issue with a real human being, not just with faceless and impersonal systems
  • Wants transparency and proactivity in communication about how their given feedback is progressing
  • Easiness, effortlessness, and that you will be taken into account and that you will be heard
  • Important things are discretion, good manners, and respect for the other party and their work
  • Important things are friendliness, expertise, and desire to help
  • Feeling that you have been served and you get the package what were you seeking without big problems
  • Wants to know that actions will be done based on the feedback and that the issue will be handled easily and effortlessly
  • The discovered problem will be fixed so that it will not happen again, and the root cause is fixed
  • Wants that the issue is handled quickly, possible mistakes are apologized for, and clear corrective actions are presented

When designing measurement models and feedback processes, if these context-specific needs, requirements, and emotions are ignored, it will probably lead to poor solutions. Which then results in a negative effect on the overall customer experience. How can companies provide experiences and emotions the customers require if discovered context-specific insights are not used as a basis for the design process?

My tips for developing customer-centric measurement

  1. Start from the people, not from the metrics or survey tools
  2. With user research, first discover WHAT the real end-user needs/problems you need to solve are, not what you assume the problem to be. For example, in this development project, employees thought that the problem was that customers did not respond to sent feedback surveys. That was actually just a symptom. But in reality, it was quite different, as mentioned above.
  3. Only after you are sure that you know what the real end-user needs/problems are, co-create the best solution just for your own context – with stakeholders (customers, employees, etc.).
  4. Only after that, find out HOW it can be done – procuring the tool, through which the co-created solution can be implemented
  5. Start the measurement from the touchpoints, which are the most important from the customers perspective
  6. Use touchpoint-specific questions suitable to your own context instead of the most common ones (for example NPS)
  7. Create metrics from the customer’s perspective with the stakeholders (customers, employees, etc.), and link them to employee objectives

If you want to discuss more the topic, just send me a message on LinkedIn.

It is not about processes, survey tools, or metrics, it is about people, do you agree?

Author: Lauri Eskelinen

Lauri Eskelinen is a passionate expert and developer of customer experience, measurement, and customer-centric business. He wants to help organizations to change their operations into a more customer-centric and transparent direction by utilizing service design and human-centric customer experience measurement.


Eskelinen, L. (2020). Designing a New Way to Measure Customer Experience in the Real Estate IT Services Business. Available at:

Schneider, J. and Stickdorn, M. 2010. This is service design thinking: Basics – tools – cases. Amsterdam: BIS Publishers.

Sinkkonen, I., Nuutila, E. and Törmä, S. 2009. Helppokäyttöisen verkkopalvelun suunnittelu. Helsinki: Tietosanoma.

Stickdorn, M., Lawrence, A., Hormess, M.E. and Schneider, J. 2018. This is Service design doing: applying Service design thinking in the real world: a Practitioner’s handbook. First Edition edn. Sebastopol, CA: O’Reilly Media, Inc.